Takeover Series: Fair Trade Calgary

For this week’s Takeover Series, we have Erin Bird, the spokesperson from Fair Trade Calgary. She is a social activist, and she is part of the committee for Fashion Revolution Week YYC. Erin wants to raise awareness of human rights and environmental issues in the fashion industry to the everyday North American consumer.


Erin Bird and Bev Toews of Fairtrade Olds representing Alberta at the Conference.

Erin Bird and Bev Toews of Fairtrade Olds representing Alberta at the Conference.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending the National Fair Trade Conference in Ottawa. The conference is held in a different Canadian city every year and hosts amazing speakers who talked about the different aspects of fair trade across various industries.

One of the speakers during the event was Brad Hill, one of the former executives of UK Coop stores who sell fair trade products almost exclusively.

One of the speakers during the event was Brad Hill, one of the former executives of UK Coop stores who sell fair trade products almost exclusively.

One particular session that intrigued me was about comparative advantage, the economic theory that certain countries are able to provide certain products or services at a lower cost, which is why we default to certain international trading patterns. An example would be between cheese and wine. Though both products can be produced both at home and in foreign countries, if we are more efficient at producing cheese locally, and foreign countries produce wine more efficiently, the mutual trade relationship is that we trade cheese for a wine that is foreign-made.

The comparative advantage could be why we have chosen to outsource much of our clothing material and manufacturing to countries such as Bangladesh, India and China. The fault I find with comparative advantage is that it is only based on price. When certain countries do not support a minimum standard in ethical or sustainable practices and legislation for their country, it means the default trade relationship is created without consideration of minimum quality and standard that should be in place. The economics alone should not be the only factors considered, but sadly this may be the reality today.

A page in the Conference program acknowledging Divine chocolates and one of their workers in Africa

A page in the Conference program acknowledging Divine chocolates and one of their workers in Africa

Can we change traditional trade relationships to include social and environmental values? My own opinion is that each country should work to build capacity in their respective country. We used to manufacture more clothing in Canada, but have slowly trended towards relying on other countries. Why can’t we reverse the trend and start to rebuild more capacity locally for growing and sewing our own clothes? It may be a huge cultural shift, but this could be part of the fashion revolution. Imagine if each country worked within to establish their own resiliency in the natural fibres local to that country. Imagine if Calgary sourced local hemp, local wool, or recycled existing materials to create a whole new fashion culture? Imagine if we had pride in and encouraged local indigenous handicraft that seems to have become a lost tradition. Imagine if trade was based more on a mutual appreciation for products that were created and produced in another country, acknowledging the traditional handicraft each country specializes in, and prices were based on fair and equitable payment for the effort that went into creating each product?

A new reality is possible, but it starts with each person taking action to make it happen.

Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want. - Anne Lappe

Thumbnail Image via Unsplash by Noah Buscher

Erin Bird