In an era of instant gratification and convenience, fast fashion dominates the retail industry. Gone are the days of perusing the stores, window shopping and waiting in anticipation for the next popular items and styles and trends. But now, rather than a quarterly change at the beginning of each season – spring, summer, fall, winter – retail changes fifty two times a year, putting out new products at a faster rate to appease and gratify the buyer’s desires. At this rate, quick turnover comes with a price.

If you’ve never watched The True Cost, a documentary which pertains to literally anyone who partakes in the consumption of retail, then I highly recommend you watch it. It will, undoubtedly, open your eyes to the reality of one of the largest industries in the world and the impact you have on it.

I think about my own mentality, when I bought a shirt, pre-sale for $8.00. Or what about that pack of three earrings I snagged for $5.00? What a deal! Now, I can justify the money I saved by purchasing five items for the cost of one at another store.

Had I ever considered what goes into the production of the things I put on my body? Had I ever considered the power my dollar has in every purchase? Had I ever considered the hands who make my clothing, my jewelry, my handbags, even my dishware? And had I ever considered that those hands have faces, have names and have stories?

Honestly, I hadn’t until I realized that my stuff has a story, and behind that story is a person, someone just like me.

Fair trade products continue to grow in demand with the advancements in technology and the rise in social media usage. Documentaries like The True Cost allow consumers to understand the depth of their dollar and the gravity of how they choose to spend their money, as they are hearing and seeing the effects of hard labor in underdeveloped countries at the expense of keeping up with the latest trends. Those living in the third world, just trying to survive, often work for inexcusable wages in horrendous conditions because they must. They have no other choice. Factory owners compete with one another as they vie for business from large retail companies, offering a trade-off so low that their laborers suffer the consequences.

Can you imagine giving your child or your children up to someone else simply because there are no adequate jobs you can apply for so that you can provide for your family? Maybe you graduated high school, or maybe you even graduated college, perhaps you have a valuable skill, but the job market is so poor that there are no opportunities.

This kind of business is socially acceptable because even if a job pays a criminal wage it’s better than no job at all, right?

There is significant power in how and where you dispense your financial resources. Maybe I could get five tops for the price of one, but now I am feeding and fueling corruption. I say with my purchase, I approve of the abuse and maltreatment of unethical labor when I make this kind of choice.

It’s not easy. Shopping has become more of a past-time than a necessity. Of course, changing up and adding to a wardrobe is fun. Fashion is an expression of much – style, personality, creativity. Sure, it’s easy to walk into some of the big stores which pride themselves on their low prices. But it is never worth the cost of someone’s dignity, self-worth or life.

If you’ve ever visited Papillon, you’ve most likely had the opportunity to walk through the rooms of production, to see the employees producing the beauty which graces the walls, the tables and the shelves of the boutique across the street, and the screens of the online shop. I have conversed with several of the artisans, and while they could complain of their struggles, they often rejoice, not only in having a job, but in being treated well. They make a living wage, enough to sustain their families and keep their children rather than needing to give them up to an orphanage or some sort of institution. They do not hide behind the walls of a dangerous factory, fearful that the building may collapse. They sit in brightly colored rooms that echo a message of hope that they are seen, they are heard and they are valued as employees and as human beings.

Purchasing ethically-produced, fair trade products is a conscious decision – socially and financially. As the holiday season approaches, remember that you have a voice and a choice in your purchases. You, in your buying power, are connected to a story, greater than the product itself.

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