Many think of fair trade as something that benefits farmers (typically of bananas, chocolate and coffee) in far-away lands and rarely draw the connection of fair trade as an aspect of ethical fashion. But connecting skilled tailors and craftspeople in developing economies to developed markets, at fair prices is what American Halle Butvin wanted to do when she started One Mango Tree. After visiting Northern Uganda on a program to study conflict resolution, Butvin was frustrated by how little foreign aid and charity seemed to be accomplishing. She recalls,
“I asked Ugandans all the time what they thought they needed to achieve peace – invariably the answer was ‘jobs’.”
One Mango Tree is a member of the Fair Trade Federation and follows their nine principals:
1. Create Opportunities
2. Develop Relationships
3. Build Capacity
4. Promote Fair Trade
5. Pay Fairly and Promptly
6. Safe and Empowering Workplaces
7. Ensure the Rights of Children
8. Cultivate Environmental Stewardship
9. Respect Cultural Identity.
“We recognized that paying a living wage was essential to create lasting change for our tailors, ” states Butvin. “I’ve seen first-hand the massive change that can be brought on by earning a sustainable income. In the north [Uganda], in particular, as little as $100/month in continual income can make great strides for a family – it puts kids in school, allow for families to save for land and start to build their own homes.”
The One Mango Tree line of tops, bottoms and dresses for women, plus a host of accessories comes in array of fabrics including organic cotton knit, African kitenge, the fabric often used for traditional garments is so on-trend this season with its vibrant colours and patterns, plus Butvin also sources fabrics from vendors in Kampala’s vast fabric market.
“We try to source materials locally to reduce our carbon footprint,” Butvin tells us “when you buy a garment in a typical mall shop, it very well could have traveled to globe twice over to get to you. By sourcing locally produced organic cotton knits and hand-loomed fabrics, we not only create additional jobs in Uganda, but we reduce our impact by creating only one journey – from Uganda to you.”
The on-trend, yet classic basics, with some bohemian accents, form a collection that’s both casual and work-appropriate and Butvin’s goal is to build garments and bags that both you and your mom would love, at an affordable price.
“I have a principle rule,” Butvin shares. “If I can’t afford a garment as the owner of a fair trade apparel manufacturer, then I just won’t sell it. Just because it’s ethical doesn’t mean it should cost a small fortune. We want One Mango Tree to be available to a much wider market, so that more people are able to choose stylish apparel that is both ethical and affordable.”
This principle led to a collaboration earlier this year with high street chain TKMaxx.
“Word spreads quickly in Uganda, and when we heard that TKMaxx was looking for producer partners, we were thrilled.” recalls Butvin.
In Uganda, TK Maxx has committed to corporate social responsibility, providing education programs for children of cotton farmers in Western Uganda through a partnership with an international organization already working in Uganda. In addition to their programs, they decided to go one step further to provide market access to existing artisan groups – developing beautiful woven baskets, cow horn bowls, and sewn products from One Mango Tree. TKMaxx stocked the Weekender Bag, Wristlet and Apron as part of their new ethical line and plans to continue with capsule collections of handbags and aprons in their stores across Europe.
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