Sometimes people and places can really inspire us. As an Italian on the Erasmus programme, this is my second week in Brighton and I have learnt so much! Particularly when I met the very personable Siobhan Wilson, owner of the Fair Shop, in Queens Road, Brighton and I interviewed her on a busy afternoon in between customers. To understand Siobhan and the ideology behind her store it is important to understand the “Fair Lifestyle’.
Siobhan opened her shop with other 3 partners in 2008 as a pop-up store that never closed! With a background in humanity and development, Siobhan had become to be interested in fair trade since working for an NGO in India with some friends. Fascinated by African culture and living within Indian culture, she had the opportunity to meet a lot of talented artisans and makers so become a ‘talent scout’- for the shop in Brighton that then generated income for all the ethical supply chain.
Her young family life had made her sensitive to a fairer lifestyle: with her parents she used to talk about workers rights and decent wages and her mother was the one who taught her to respect material goods and also food; and not waste.
Siobhan’s vision is a simple recipe for the future: buy less, with care, and spend more. Buying more at a cheap price means we buy larger quantities, spend more, and end up wearing bad quality clothes. However, if we buy less, investing our money in something that lasts and is good for the economy we will consequently take care of those clothes or accessories and respect them more. Also we will stop over-consumption, avoid child labour and slave wages. Seems like a good idea, doesn’t it?
Then I asked Siobhan about the ethical clothing offer for younger people: is fair fashion, fashionable? I have some doubts but she is very sure: “If I were younger, there is now an amazing offer of ethical and sustainable clothing.”
Siobhan is passionate about what she does- the thought of Primark makes her cry, she said smiling, at the end they spend a lot! After that she proudly show me the clothing in her shop: as usual when you buy good quality, you spend more and in her shop there are many different price points. I was interested in a jeans brand made with organic cotton that she introduced to me telling that their aim is to have a fair price, but when I asked her about the provenance of elastane she was not so sure, but of course elastane gives comfort and stretch and makes them more durable- and will extend the life of the garment which is the biggest environmental impact there is.
Siobhan had so many stories to tell- and surely the most beautiful thing to hear about fair trade the stories behind the brands. One example are the scarves made by homeworkers in India; women confined to their houses by their religion, so that making the scarves prevents prostitution. She said that never knows when they will send the product, she just has to be patient. It’s REAL SLOW FASHION!
I could stay for hours to listen to the stories behind the brands at The Fair Shop. Since the beginning she has stocked People Tree which she shows with enthusiasm because of the detail in the garments, and then shows the coconut buttons , natural dying, New Zealand wool, and talks about working with women from Malawi. Then there is the African handmade paper jewelry and the complexity of when you work with people who live in total poverty- pushed to live in legal houses and about how she saw to wipe out the houses of many people, when a leather bag caught my attention. Why a leather bag in this shop? Fair doesn’t mean ethic and by the way, ethic means a lot of things. This bag has made with a eco tanning system and the animal is not used just for accessories, but for meat also. Within fair trade animals are considered a resource, I had to learn this and in the end it is up to us what we wish to purchase.
We are the consumers, we choose, and be the gatekeeper in our search for good products. Siobhan’s customers don’t have any specific requests- they ask for what they see in the window but when they’re inside ask for more information, the provenance, the intention, the meaning behind the product. With a small shop Siobhan wants play her role a bigger role in global fair trade, shows us how we can be a part of the ethical consumerism movement.
This Black Friday Siobhan is one of the key protagonists of an initiative in Brighton called Bright Friday and The Fashion Paradigm Shift, a non consumerism event where she will show Brighton brands that are part of that ethical consumerism including RubyMoon.
My last question for Siobhan was ‘What is your next step working with small, ethical brands?” She is planning an event as part of the Artists Open Houses Festival in May, a collaborative project called The Brighton Beach Collective to promote local ethical brands that will promote sunglasses, beachwear flip-flops, swimwear, and other items- because COLLABORATION is the key for small brands.
I also think so.
Look out for my next post!