Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Marketplace: Handwork of India, and the Highs + Lows of Etho-Fashion

It's not always black and white: searching for fashion labels that fit both politics and personal style
Last year, and again recently, Marketplace: Handworks of India approached more than a handful of fashion bloggers, myself included, and invited us to participate in a social media blitz, including product reviews and giveaways. Many of these women, who aren't normally inclined to work with brands, quickly accepted the invite- and many bloggers I follow and respect, dressed up their given piece and talked about this not-for-profit "fashion" company. (You can view my post about them last year HERE.) And, why? Why did so many of my fashionable +40 blogger pals jump at the chance to model for this little known brand?

Because Marketplace: Handworks of India is  a "fashion" brand with a mission.
"MarketPlace: Handwork of India is an innovative fair trade, not-for-profit organization which combines the experience of running a business with a variety of support programs designed to effect real, meaningful, and lasting change in the lives of low-income women in India."
Welcome to the long arm of "slow fashion." Marketplace of India, along with a growing number of similarly minded companies, are in it for the long haul- they don't just want to DRESS YOU, they want to ADDRESS economic and social issues that are prevalent in the world today. By offering their customers garments created by people paid a living wage, they're offering customers the ultimate in "feel good" fashion, clothes that are comfortable, well made, and emotionally satisfying, long after the shopper's high has left the building.

I'm going to be honest with you- the "style" of the Marketplace doesn't suit me. It's a bit too, uh, hippie-dippy, too patchouli-soaked-and-Whole-Foods-shopped for my taste. Took me HOURS to find the first piece that I chose to model, and nearly a year, to finally choose the next piece: something I thought I would actually wear in real life: a sturdy, batik print cotton mullet dress, with a trendy "high-low" hem. It's an incredible piece really. Well made, with great details like ruche-ing along the shoulders, and a thick rust-red, cotton thread embroidery bordering the hem and neckline.

I wore the dress exactly TWICE. Lovely thing, and with its roomy cut, empire waist, this dress with the high-low hem, is VERY comfy. But in all honestly, I doubt I'll wear it again- the style doesn't feel "me." But what does feel like me is the ethos and quality behind the brand. And I'd rather dress in something that suits my politics and supports the well-being of the people who made the garment, than wear an on-trend hipster frippery hastily produced in a sweatshop. 

Etho-fashion is IN. If you are still insistent on buying the rubbish from one of those fast fashion stores, let me put YOU on notice. They wouldn't be exploiting people for profits, if there wasn't somebody willing to buy their goods, or  more accurately, "un-goods." If we, as a customer base, took a stand and said: I'll be making informed purchase decisions, and shop from ethical companies- well, those fat cat corporates,  glutted on cash, deficient on decency, just might wake up and smell the FAIR TRADE coffee.

Whatever you say, when you say it with your dollars, their listening skills goes up a notch. When they see bottom lines bottom out, they just might be willing change those devastating business models.  When customers choose ETHOS over the immediate junkie fix of a trendy $10 tee, more companies will be prone to choose ETHOS as well, for the sake of their own economy.

ETHO-fashion is the FUTURE, my friends, and I mean that quite literally. If we are to survive as a species, we must be more sustainable in our day-to-day living. If we are to THRIVE as a culture, with a little cultural alchemy, we can shift corporate greed and consumer gluttony into a viably, sustainable pipeline of people to people- from well fed, well treated producers to educated and happy end-users. There might be some awkward transitions (such as wearing a mullet dress that doesn't suit one's personal, sartorial taste) but shopping ethically is the inevitable outcome, if we are to truly "dress for success" in our 21st century.

Now Wearing: 


Becky said...

Cool!!!!!!! Hopefully more companies will expand into ethically producing their products so there will be choices for every style of consumer. If we DEMAND it they will supply it <3 (The dress is cute!)

Jamillah said...


Beryl said...

Love the term Mullet dress. Think if you shortened it into a simple top that you might get some wear out of it? It's a neat print.

Melanie said...

Your holy tights are the BEST THING. The company has an ethical production policy but I'd still much rather follow your "Shop Secondhand First!" mantra. The mullet dress looks great the way you've styled it. If I were to buy retail regularly, at least this brand weighs more on the goods side than the bads. I love the honesty of your review.

Sheila said...

Sing it! I've seen a few people promoting this company, and like you, it's just not my style. No, I will continue my "second hand first" and take my early 60s gorgeous wool suit, thank you.

You're awesome, Bella! Happy New year!

Unknown said...

Bella! So well written and so true! It's now become almost en vogue to speak of ethical shopping and sustainable clothing.....but much of it is so out of the average price range, or it falls flat when the enclosed picture is featuring the latest disposable tee from F21

Unknown said...

oops! My computer cut me off! All that I was going to say (trying to dismount the proverbial high horse) was that ultimately we speak with our dollars. If we don't like a company's practices, don't spend money there. Things change when they become unprofitable!'

BTW, that's the only downside to Market Place India. A great cause, but hard to find something that you'd truly wear in real life. I would love for them to work with Indian designers to translate some of these styles to a western market. Or am I being too anglo snobbish? Hugs my sweet friend! Serene

Forest City Fashionista said...

A very honest, and articulate post - it's true that money talks, and if we stopped throwing money at companies that exploit cheap labour and produce poor quality merchandise, we would all be better off, but it means that consumers need to spend more time researching where their stuff comes from, and not grabbing the first thing they see, and many people can't be bothered to make the effort.

I like the philosophy behind Market Place India, but like you, others who have commented, I wouldn't wear the clothes, and would rather shop second-hand.

Mrs. D said...

Very interesting post! The idea behind the brand is really good but it doesn't really fit my style :(

Anne M Bray said...

Well put.
This brand DOES fit my style (wannabe hippie? YES, since 1968 or so). I wish I were on their freebie radar, since I'm trying oh so hard not to buy clothing. I lusted after a particular skirt during that whole rash of blogger giveaway contests a while back.

My mission for 2014 is to shop my mending/ restyling/ fabric stash piles first. I'm going to recreate my wardrobe ala Pao. There. Hold me to it!

Jean at said...

Well said, as always. I don't know this company, but I do know the aesthetic you're talking about, which I can embrace occasionally. Since not everyone has the time or inclination to shop vintage and thrift (which is all I want, like many of your readers) at least an effort is being made to reach other consumers and to support "ethical" fashion. I like them for that and for their willingness to let you (a loose canon, so to speak) review the clothes. I thought this was an excellent review, BTW.

I've been wearing my plaid scarf/table runner. :-) Thanking of you. XXXOOO

No Fear of Fashion said...

What a shame you are not wearing the dress more often. It suits you, you have styled it well with the scarf and those darned cute booties.
Great for diners too. No worries about the stomach bulging.
But, if you don't feel good in it, you don't look good.