PAYING ATTENTION CAN MAKE THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ACTUALLY BUYING FAIR TRADE OR THINKING IT’S FAIR TRADE

I need a wide-brimmed sun hat. Somehow, I’ve ended up as the lone adult accompanying my 17 year-old daughter and her four friends to the Dominican Republic in March. I’m thrilled about the prospect of spending time with my daughter and her friends—I can see us lying out in the sun chatting about guys and reality TV, me in my one-piece with my skin covered in sun block and them in their string bikinis—okay, I’ll be lucky to see them once a day. But there’s no doubt I’ll be out in the sun, not a good thing for a person with fair skin, green eyes and red hair. I’m a high-risk candidate for skin cancer, my doctor tells me every year at my physical. Especially since my mother has battled skin cancer. Twice. Apparently, this makes me even more vulnerable to the sun.

This healthy fear of the sun, which sometimes borders on paranoia, is the reason our family ordinarily heads to the slopes for spring break. This year, my ski jacket and pants will be left at home and I’ll be packing bathing suits, cover-ups, a fresh supply of sunscreen, and hopefully, a new sun hat to keep the hazardous rays from my face.

With my ubiquitous green tea by my side, I begin my on-line search for a fair trade sun hat with optimism. After a google search for fair trade sun hats, I click on www.hemptent.com and groan. There is a hemp beanie that might be interesting for some segment of the population, a sun hat that looks like it belongs on a leather-cheeked sailor, and a recycled silk hat that is just odd.

On the next site, www.autonomieproject.com, I don’t find any hats but I do discover converse-type shoes for my son. Called Ethletic black and white low-top sneakers, they’re on sale for $32.40. This company works with small independent cooperatives and sweatfree facilities in developing areas. My son doesn’t need shoes right now, so I add the site to my favorites and continue my quest for a hat.

It doesn’t take long for me to see that the majority of fair trade hats come from the United Kingdom, which doesn’t help me as the shipping could cost more than the hat itself. After a few more dud sites, I end up on www.overstock.com, which offers Worldstock products. These are made in China from small tailoring groups where people are paid piece by piece for their work. There is no factory or child labor, and overstock.com donates all its profits from Worldstock fair trade purchases to charity. I’m slightly troubled by the vagueness of the word, “charity” but continue when I read the following:

“Most of the families supported by this fair trade initiative have gone from having no running water, to purchasing land, motorized vehicles and sending their children to college.”

Eager to shop on this site, I find what I’m looking for, only the selection is limited. They’re sold out in black, the color I want. I do find another style, in black, but the reviews are not good. One person says her hat has a chemical smell she can’t get rid of. Why would hats made in a small cooperative have a chemical smell? I decide to check out more sites.

At www.headchange.com, I see a brand called LiViTY, which claims its clothing and accessories are made from sustainable textiles by fairly compensated fair trade workers. They use organic and recycled materials to limit the negative environmental impact, which intrigues me. I click on a hat I like and end up looking at one made by Goorin Bros., not LiViTY. I research Goorin Bros. and discover their products are made in San Francisco and do not appear to be fair trade. More disturbing, however, is the fact that I’ve been directed by what appeared to be a fair trade site to a completely different brand. There’s even a red arrow on the headchange.com site, to see more options, but it takes you to drop down deals on amazon that are definitely not fair trade. If you aren’t paying attention, you could end up buying something you think is ethical but in reality, is not.

I’m getting frustrated. I’ve been searching for 45 minutes and all I’ve found is that there is a need for fair trade sun hats in Canada and the U.S. I click on another site, www.eworldtradefair.com , and immediately see that this is an exporter site, with distributers based in India selling items that could be made in sweatshops. Not only have they reversed fair trade to trade fair in their site name, they’ve completely reversed the meaning.

My patience is running out; it’s been an hour and no hat has been bought. I go on another site and hope it’s the one. On www.tropicalitems.com, I see a beautiful five and a half-inch brimmed hat for $49.99. Tropical Items Madagascar says it is a wholesaler and multiple event retailer (whatever that means) of fair trade crafts made of natural raffia from Madagascar. There is also a large square with the words: “A Proud Member of Fair Trade Federation,” a trade association that strengthens and promotes North American organizations committed to fair trade (www.fairtradefederation.org).  Though that hat’s a bit pricier than I wanted, it appears to be fair trade and they have it in black. I measure my head (22 inches) to determine my hat size (medium) and click to order. But my excitement deflates when I see the $35 shipping rate to Canada. There’s no way I can justify this price. I click on the X in the top right corner of the screen and slump over my computer.

I don’t like failing. I don’t like giving up but I can’t spend an entire morning looking for a hat. I remember the shoes for my son I unexpectedly found and decide to renew my search tomorrow. But I’ll look for shoes. Maybe shoes will lead me to a hat.

 

 

About Shelly Sanders

Shelly (represented by Amy Tipton, Signature Literary Agency) is the author of THE RACHEL TRILOGY--Rachel's Secret, Rachel's Promise & Rachel's Hope (Second Story Press).Rachel's Secret received a Starred Review in Booklist and was named a Notable Read from the Association of Jewish Libraries. Rachel's Hope was shortlisted for the Vine Awards for Canadian Literature in 2016. Before turning to fiction, Shelly was a freelance journalist for the Toronto Star, National Post, Maclean's, and Canadian Living.
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