Fair trade : when Love hijacks your shopping

October is Fair Trade Month and we want to make the most of it here at the fair trade fashionistas. My favorite excuse for shopping fair trade fashions is based in the quote by Anne Lappe “Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.” I constantly remind my husband (the CFO of our household) that there are already lots of dollars that go towards making the world worse, and I must uphold my duty for good. (I’m sure you can imagine the reaction to that!;)) In my pondering recently, I have been reminded of something amazing. This fair trade/ethical fashion movement is what happens when Love hijacks your shopping. Want an example?

My friend Beth is a mom of three. She has chosen to stay at home with her children and home schools. She lives modestly while striving to make her purchasing dollars count. Like many of us, she still wants to dress fashionably, even if it’s not for “show.” She had bought three pair of “cute shoes” not too long ago. When she heard about Otto and The Root Collective, this is what she did:

See these three pair of darling shoes? They are going back to the non fair trade store they came from so I can purchase a pair Otto made instead. Thanks Shannon and Brandi for reminding me that our purchases are powerful and thank you Bethany for giving us cute shoes and the chance to make a difference!
Screen Shot 2014-09-12 at 10.14.42 AM

What makes any woman sacrifice THREE pairs of shoes to cover the cost of ONE pair? The answer is akin to the Cinderella story – where the purpose and destiny of life is tied up in shoes.

Once upon a time, there was a man named Otto. He grew up in the slums of La Limonada, a unique neighborhood located in Guatemala City, Guatemala. There he endured many challenges: poverty, social stigma, and a prevalent gang culture. Like many in his community, Otto had two choices – go to school or join a gang. There are no other choices. Young, idle minds must find an outlet. If your parents cannot afford to pay school fees, you’ll find SOMETHING to occupy your mind. With gang culture rampant in this slum community on the outskirts of the city dump, you join willingly, or you are “persuaded” to join.

I don’t know the details of how Otto came to be a member of a gang, but he did. He made bad choices. Gang life in Guatemala City is just like we hear about gang life here: weapons, theft, and fighting rival gangs. But Otto had another story to be written.

One day on a public bus, his heart was changed. He had an encounter and knew that this was a lifestyle he must leave. He jumped off the bus and ran… and ran… and ran… eager to escape the mistakes he had made and desperately seeking an alternative way of life. He experienced a real transformation when he stopped running and found his acceptance outside of the gang.

MLK quote

In his new life, using shoe-making skills he learned as a 10 year old, he felt burdened to make shoes for kids in his community – Children going to school or for local kids in orphanages. He set about his task, creating shoes for children who deserve a life with more than only a of couple options.

Otto with little shoes
(source: http://whereverhemaylead.blogspot.com)

He is good at his trade and then began making shoes for tourists, and finally, with The Root Collective. His shoes go on to find hundreds of feet and his passion grows to provide opportunity to many in his community. And EVEN THOUGH his son has been paralyzed due to gang activity, Otto longs to mentor and help mold futures for the young men in his community who live that lifestyle. Because HE KNOWS a life beyond gang activity and beyond bondage to poverty, he longs to mentor others in the art of shoemaking and show them there is another choice. And guess what? When Love hijacks our shopping and we buy those shoes? It helps bring those dreams a little closer to reality.

Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 10.25.31 AM
(source: http://youngadultsguatemala.blogspot.com)

I guess what I’m saying is this: when you buy shoes from The Root Collective, you are holding in your hands the most dangerous weapon to come out of the gang culture of La Limonada: weapons forged by Love, and likely worn in it too. You make the conscious choice to side with Love when you shop ethically. And that my friends? Is the best hope we have, not only for the poverty stricken slums of Guatemala, but for the world we live in because Love never fails.

shoe warning


Brandi Mendenhall is a wife and mom, fair trade advocate, blogger, and Noonday Collection Ambassador. She prides herself on being a conscientious consumer, fair trade fashionista (which doesn’t even require her to get out of her PUNJAMMIES(™) ), and a lover of shoes. Her goal is to educate consumers on using their purchasing power for good and as a very practical way to love their neighbor (even when they don’t live on the same continent).

>>This post previously appeared on The Root Collective blog<<

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