Ethical Fashion Choices and the World of International Development
Why is buying local, buying ethically, thinking and knowing what you are buying and who made it so important? For many reasons, but particularly because it fuels the local economy in which you live. But, if you lived in extreme poverty, you wouldn't have the luxury to decide where to spend your money, rather you'd buy material from your aunt to make clothing with then ask your mother or your friend of the man down the way to sew it for you. Wendy Fehr of Cause Canada talks about the importance of supporting local not only in Canada but in Sierra Leone, the seventh poorest country in the world.
My name is Wendy Fehr. I joined CAUSE Canada, a Calgary-based international development and relief organization, as the Executive Director almost 4 years ago.
I am very passionate about my work. I love working with people living in extreme poverty to help them solve some of their biggest issues – malnutrition, illiteracy and lack of access to quality education, early marriage and pregnancy (can you imagine having a baby at 12 or 13 years of age?). While the issues that I work on every day can often seem so far from the reality of Canada, the longer I work in development, the more clearly I recognize that our choices in Canada have a very real effect – positive or negative on people living in extreme poverty.
As I write this, I am returning from Sierra Leone in West Africa, rated the 7th poorest country in the world. I love the country – particularly rural Sierra Leone. There is no power in most of the country, and when the temperature hits the 30s and it’s the middle of the night, you are awfully sweaty – particularly under a bug net that’s supposed to protect you from malaria (not to mention the other bugs). I have heard the bug nets called cages by small children which is certainly true. They prevent the bugs as well as any type of air circulation from reaching you under the net. It is hot in Sierra Leone, but I still love it all.
I love it because of the people and the challenges that they face are solvable. It doesn’t take much money to help a child buy a uniform so that they can go to school – only $17 actually. It is really only a matter of the choices that we make in Canada, how we spend our money and whether we truly want to help people that largely decides whether children will go to school in some of the poorest countries in the world. I am not sure many people realize what a huge impact they can have in helping solve issues like illiteracy with as little as $17.
This brings me to the discussion of buying local, buying ethically, thinking and knowing what you are buying and who made it. When I am in Sierra Leone, I love to buy material from the market and show a local tailor some of the newest North American styles and have her sew a few pieces for me. They usually turn out quite different than the styles I show her, she always adds a twist that makes it uniquely her design. While it is cheaper than purchasing clothing in Canada, I am glad to be able to provide her with the ability to make an income from her talents and skills.
I believe that buying local, while it is so apparent in places like Sierra Leone, it is also just as important in Canada. We have the ability in Canada to employ people to ply their skills and trades by purchasing thoughtfully. It actually makes a world of difference when we think about our purchases and who is benefiting from our decisions. I would much prefer to purchase from someone who puts thought, care and pride into the garments that they are making. Not only am I helping to employ someone, but I am also usually purchasing a much higher quality garment that I will enjoy for many years.
Wendy in the CAUSE Canada Calgary office
wearing pants she had made by a local tailor in Sierra Leone.
Lately, I have heard so much about the fact that clothing is the second-largest polluter in the world. I regularly see the impact of climate change, pollution, and certainly the garment industry toss-offs as so many people in the countries where I am working wear second-hand clothes from Canada (I once saw a man in hot Sierra Leone wearing a winter-weight Toronto Blue Jays jacket!). While the discussion of sending our second-hand clothes to the developing world, is another topic entirely with both positive and negative consequences, it seems to me that in general, if we do a better job at thinking about our purchases, we would enjoy them more, they would be used more thoroughly, and perhaps we would also have some funds left over to do simple things like helping others to have uniforms to go to school.