Michelle Humbertson on Inspiration, Fair Trade, Thrifting and more
Did you know that October is Fair Trade Month? To celebrate, the Sustainable Style Initiative interviewed Michelle Humbertson, owner of The Ethical Olive, an online, fair trade shop, based in Richmond, VA. The Ethical Olive offers unique, sustainable goods from talented artisans across the globe. You can shop the catalog online on www.theethicalolive.com
In the interview below, Michelle shared her inspiration for creating the Ethical Olive, the significance of shopping for fair trade goods and her favorite tips for shopping more ethically.
Sustainable Style Initiative: What inspired you to create The Ethical Olive?
The Ethical Olive: I came across a TedTalk one night – Lisa Kristine: Photos that Bear Witness to Modern Slavery. I had never watched anything that affected me so much. For the next several days I questioned and examined everything around my house…all of the random items I had accumulated over the years when a deal was too good to pass down…and all of the fast fashion flooding my closet. I became determined to be more mindful in my consumption, and to facilitate the same for others.
SSI: What kind of goods does The Ethical Olive sell?
EE: The Ethical Olive sells ethically and sustainably-sourced housewares, apparel, jewelry, accessories, pet products, toys, and gifts made by at-risk artisans and makers who have overcome injustices.
SSI: Describe what Fair Trade means and why it is important to your business.
EE: Fair trade means living wages and humane, safe working conditions for makers. Fair Trade is important to us as it contributes to a growing movement of conscious consumption and global mindfulness. Fair Trade helps to destabilize the ever-widening global income gap wherein the top 1% of households own more wealth than the bottom 90% combined. Mass consumption of cheaply made goods and fast fashion exacerbates the income gap and originates in unsafe working conditions, often using child labor, and at unlivable wages. Additionally, Fair Trade, to me, means environmentally sustainable. Thus, almost every product in our shop is made using natural, ecological, or recycled materials.
SSI: What advice do you have for people who want to start focusing on purchasing ethically made goods?
EE: Start small. Pick a certain “category” in your life that you want to start with. For example, you could start with Gifting, and commit to getting all of your holiday gifts from Fair Trade, handmade or repurposed shop! There is nothing better than getting a gift that has made a difference in someone else’s life.
Another small step you can try is focusing on a certain food or product that you normally purchase. For instance, I love bananas, but the banana industry.. not so much. It’s one of the most common industries involved with slavery, child labor, and inhumane working conditions. For this reason, I make sure that all of the bananas I purchase are Fair Trade Certified. Other examples of products you can start with are coffee, sugar, tea and chocolate.
I think the #1 piece of advice I have is: shop at thrift stores.
It’s something that everyone can do, regardless of age or income. Not only will you be saving a lot of money, but you will also be giving a second life to something that would have otherwise ended up in a landfill. You won’t be contributing to fast fashion and your dollar will go so much further than anywhere else! My proudest “thrift trip” is when I got my entire summer wardrobe for only $7! I got numerous pairs of shorts, tops, and dresses, from brands such as Banana Republic, that would have been 10x the amount per item, had I not shopped second hand. Another thing I love about thrift stores is that most of them give back to a cause and the community. My go-to shop in RVA is Diversity Thrift (which is where I got my $7 wardrobe), they have tons of great furniture, books, and racks and racks of clothing!
What is the fti?
The report ranked 150 major fast fashion brands in the following areas based on the information which they publicly disclose:
Points were awarded based on the extent to which each brand fulfilled the standards listed above and scores were assigned as percent of points earned out of the total possible.
Top Scoring Brands: 51-60%
Honorable Mentions: 41-50%
Selected Scores Of Other Popular Brands
wHAT WOULD IT TAKE TO SCORE 100%?
To score a 100% a brand would need to disclose all information listed in the 51-60% descriptor, include material sourcing information down to the raw materials, and disclose the number of workers in their supply chain covered by collective bargaining or democratic trade unions. These brands would factor their environmental and social impacts into their business model. Lastly, detailed information regarding spotlight issues including the gender wage gap and how women's issues are being addressed in the supply chain would be disclosed.
What do I do with this information?
Know that the top scoring brands are those that are accountable for their environmental and social impacts and have policies in place to protect their workers and our planet. Remember, you vote with your dollar! When you make a purchase, consider that you are supporting the brand’s business practices.
Learn more by reading the study in its entirety linked here.
All information in this post is attributed to Fashion Revolution.
How can I know if my favorite brands follow ethical manufacturing practices? In our daily lives, we might hear about this in one of two ways:
1. Brand X mistreats its workers or the environment. Breaking news of this comes to light. For a day or two, we disavow this brand.
2. Brand Y is emphasizing an aspect of sustainable manufacturing. We see an email promoting this and feel good about buying something from the organic/recycled/artisan collection.
But we need to dig deeper. To see the whole picture, we need to do some research on our own.
Where to start? You could try the brand’s website. Retailers such as H&M are leading the way in the fast fashion industry by promoting initiatives like reducing emissions and only partnering with factories the meet a strict set of standards.
What about the brands that aren’t publishing their own information? They still need to be held accountable. Fashion Revolution is aiming to do just that with their annual Fashion Transparency Index (FTI).
The FTI ranks the transparency of 150 top fast fashion brands with a scoring system based on the following areas:
So what are you waiting for? Dive into the 2018 Fashion Transparency Index! In it you will find detailed information about the importance of transparency, the methodology of the study, your favorite brand's ranking and more.
Why Transparency? Brands need to be held accountable for their manufacturing practices in order for them to improve. According to Fashion Revolution, transparency leads to accountability which leads to change.
Transparency across a spectrum of issues including fair trade, living wages, gender equality, business accountability and environmental sustainability are all essential pieces of the puzzle.
This is a greater challenge than it might seem because most brands do not own their manufacturing facilities which makes it difficult for them to monitor the conditions there. Brands that make monitoring their supply chain a priority are able to be held accountable and therefore, more likely to be working toward positive change.
On May 29, 2018 the Sustainable Style Initiative hosted a community expo event featuring a screening of the film The True Cost, DIY crafts, a Style Swap Station, and vendors Plato's Closet Fairfax and The Ethical Olive.
The event took place during Fashion Revolution Week, the annual commemoration of the Rana Plaza Factory Collapse and call to action for transparency in the fashion industry.
Enjoy the photos of the event below!
Check out this #thriftspo from Buffalo Exchange Thrifting is such a fun, inexpensive and eco-friendly way to shop. Buffalo Echange in DC has amazing selection of name brands like TopShop , Madewell , Aerie and more! You can also bring in your gently used, current pieces to sell for store credit.
When I first Googled “sustainable fashion” I was overwhelmed by the pages of articles I found decrying fast fashion as the root of all evils and suggesting I shop from upscale, expensive ethical brands I had never heard of.
The articles you’ll find make very valid points. Fast fashion can perpetuate a cycle of waste and poor treatment of laborers and the environment. Shopping from ethical brands can circumvent participation in this cycle, and of course these brands are a little bit pricier. Better wages and materials drive costs up- go figure!
However, the proposal of completely changing the way I consume clothing was super intimidating to me. I realized that if I want to become a more sustainable consumer, the best way to do so is to from where I am. Right here, right now. There are a plethora of ways I can rectify my habits that are easy, free and fun. You don’t have to overhaul your habits. Simply tweaking them is an easy way to start becoming more sustainable without losing your style.
Here are four ways to shift your wardrobe habits to make them more eco-friendly! Chances are, you already practices some of these without thinking about it!
Give DIY a try! Make a scarf out of old t-shirts, earrings out of scrap thread or upgrade a pair of sneakers with a pack of Sharpies and your imagination. Your clothes belong to you, so make use of all that you have.
My name is Alicia. Welcome to my Girl Scout Gold Award Project! We should all be more aware of the impact the clothes we wear have on the world. Join me on my mission to learn more.