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!
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.