The 7th Generation Project

Consumer Conscience & Eco-Ethical Fashion

Read below a recent posting off the Andean Collection Blog. The Andean Collection is a socially responsible, fashion forward, eco-friendly and fair trade collection of jewelry. I give my personal endorsement as I have purchased and LOVE the yellow multiple strand Acai necklace. People compliment me on it all the time, which gives a great opportunity to spread the even deeper message and ethic behind the jewlery itself and the community ties it has built and sustains. As I just read this recent article of theirs, I found it a fitting description to share with 7th Generation. Maybe some of you will enjoy the story, some will want to purchase a very cool Christmas present, others of you who are already very involved in eco-fashion might want to make connections and network. Either way read on. To find out more about the Andean Collection or consumer conscience and eco-ethical fashion visit:
http://www.theandeancollection.com/
http://www.theandeancollection.blogspot.com/
http://ethicalstyle.com/

Ancient Eco-fashion Meets Fair Trade in Ecuador

Social norms evolve as fluidly as high fashion trends. Just as littering and not recycling are now social faux pas, consumers' green purchasing patterns are quickly becoming a topic of conversation, one worthy of pride. Although eco-fasion, or the use of ecologically friendly products in clothing and jewelry, is rapidly emerging in some circles, it is still relatively new - at least at home.

In Ecuador, however, indigenous men and woman have been transforming natural exotic seeds and nuts, such as tagua, pambil, açaí, huayruro and jabon, into jewelry for generations and maybe even centuries. Tagua, or ‘vegetable ivory,’ was the most common materials for buttons up until the 1920’s when the use of plastics became mainstream. The rest of these materials and more rare and all are indigenous to the lowlands and rainforests of South America and are an amazing alternative to the synthetic materials that plague the modern US jewelry market.

In addition to being all natural, these seeds are processed in small home workshops, not large factories, which means that the typical poor producer working with these materials has control over his/her working conditions. The various types of palm trees that spawn these versatile seeds and nuts are not harmed in the harvest process either. Additionally, Ecuador’s soil is so rich that fertilizer isn’t necessary and these palms flourish in the wild.

(The Jaboncillo seed before its processed)

For artisans who live a fairly subsistence lifestyle based on farming, making jewelry has been a way for them to supplement their minimal incomes. Their choice of natural materials was an easy one. The indigenous lifestyle is intricately connected to the earth and nature. Waterfalls are thought to have mystic properties, the biggest holidays revolve around the changing of the seasons, and organic is not a new movement, but their way of life. Beyond this, the lush rainforests of South America produce such incredibly gorgeous seeds that plastic or synthetic materials next to these natural alternatives simply look cheap, dull and well…synthetic.

Using eco-friendly products is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition to consider oneself a truly socially responsible consumer/producer. In addition, actors all along the supply chain need to be making a wage that allows them to lead decent lifestyle.

(Cesar in his workshop finishing up an order for us)
After meeting Ecuadorian families whose precarious existence relied on finicky tourists and dishonest middlemen, I uncovered a straightforward way in which these disadvantaged artisans could improve their livelihoods, and we could get these natural materials into the hands (and onto the necks) of smart, chic women everywhere. I began to work with the artisans to utilize their native materials and transform their designs into fashion forward jewelry. It seemed obvious to me that if we had access to these pure materials, we too would choose the natural over the synthetic.

(Baby tagua seed)
Fair trade can mean a plethora of things. I won’t overload you here with the technicalities of fair trade, but rather share some of practicalities of it, speaking as the founder of The Andean Collection, a fair trade company. For me personally, fair trade means treating the artisans with whom I work, with the same decency and respect that I would give any employee. That I would ask of any employer. In doing so, it is absolutely imperative that I take into account the fact that these employees are at a significant disadvantage, both economically and academically.

When determining pay rates, we to look at their costs and help the artisans understand their own businesses. When searching for suppliers, we help them take advantage of quantity discounts and negotiate favorable terms that they would not have otherwise have been able to obtain. Additionally, the artisans are given shares in the company so that they truly share in our success.

This is not altruistic, but is just good business. Happy, successful people make better employees. This is no earth shattering development.

I have found that the most important thing that I can give an artisan family is constant and steady work. Projects, even if they are fair trade, that enter a community for a couple months and then leave, can often do more harm than good by raising expectations and upsetting the natural balance of power within a community.

Eco-friendly and fair trade products often, but not always, go hand in hand. In order to be a truly green consumer it is important to think about the environmental and economic impact of your purchases. Ask questions not only about the materials, but also about the people who have poured their heart into making your latest find. The world is changing, and forever the optimist, I think it is for the better. At the very least I know that the world for our artisans is improving, and sometimes those small victories are all we need to get through the day.

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