The True Cost of Our Things

Interview with Jordan Ring, Allies Community Engagement Coordinator
Originally published by 4Word

What is your favorite thing to wear? What makeup product do you find yourself repurchasing over and over? What coffee is your go-to morning pick me up? Have you ever thought about where all of your favorites come from and the process involved in creating them? Jordan Ring had her purchasing practices turned upside when her eyes were opened to the world of human and labor trafficking and how she (and probably you) was unknowingly supporting these atrocities. Today she shares practical ways we can all start to rethink our role in the fight against modern slavery . . . and it could start with a purse!

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4word: Like many consumers, you bought items you wanted and needed without really thinking about how those items came to be. Then you watched a documentary and everything changed. Can you tell us more about this mental shift that you went through?

Jordan: This past summer I viewed a screening of the True Cost documentary, which turned into a moment of awakening for me.

I grew up admiring my grandmother, who never left the house without being fully put together. According to her, our shoes and purses must always coordinate (in line with the appropriate seasonal colors, of course. White after Labor Day was strictly forbidden!), clothes were always pressed and a little mascara never hurt. I say this with the utmost affection. I adored watching her arrive dressed to the nines no matter the occasion.

I certainly inherited her love of fashion. However, just moments into True Cost, my entire love affair with fashion was shattered. The exploitation of people, the degradation of the land, and the emptiness caused by our hyper-consumption was more than enough to break my heart.

Before the screening, my clothes had no story beyond the prints and patterns or the parties I wore them too.True Cost changed my mental narrative. Someone, some person, made my clothes. And that person has a story. The question I have to ask is, ‘What’s their story?’ Is their story one of fair pay and safe working conditions? Or is it one of exploitation? What is the true cost of my clothes? Did my blouse really only cost $19.99 or did it cost someone their freedom and dignity?

 

4word: How difficult is it to switch to a completely fair trade consumer mindset? What are some tips you have for someone looking to make this change in their buying habits?

Jordan: The transition is challenging. Labor trafficking and labor exploitation are so pervasive that almost everything we touch is tainted by it in some way. What an overwhelming thought. This is the point where many people give up.

I encourage people to take an inventory of their daily routines. What products are a constant in your life? Pick one area to re-evaluate and purchase more ethically. Spend some time there re-orienting your routine around fair trade/ethical purchases. Once you have that mastered, move on to another area.

For example, I work for a startup company that bounced around from coffee shop to coffee shop every day. Coffee is a constant. I made a personal pledge to myself to only buy fair or direct trade coffee, which meant asking my baristas where their beans came from. If they couldn’t give me an answer, I bought a bottle of water. Instead of spending $3-4 on ground coffee from HEB, I invested more of my budget into Fair Trade/Direct Trade coffee suppliers. Sometimes spending $8-9 on coffee when I could just pick up a $4 store brand is a challenge. But I overcome the challenge by reminding myself my purchase is my advocacy. How I spend my money is an extension of my value system. I want to live in a world where people are free to flourish, so I invest my money in companies working towards those ends.

Another tip for getting started switching your mindset is to write down how many products it takes you get dressed in the morning. You now have an inventory. When it comes time to restock, rather than running to the local drug store, do some research on ethical alternatives.

 

4word: Tell us about Allies Against Slavery and how your involvement with this organization led you to Purse and Clutch.

Jordan: Allies Against Slavery has one mission: to build slave-free cities. We believe cities like Austin have the potential to become places where traffickers cannot exploit the vulnerable and where survivors can access all the things they need to truly heal. What’s special about this vision is the community is the foundation of our work. We believe everyone has a role to play in ending modern slavery and we do our best work when we work together.

As the Community Engagement Coordinator for Allies, I’m often asked, “What can I do?” At a systemic level, we can reframe how we understand the problem. Human trafficking is a community development issue that sits at a number of different intersections of vulnerabilities.

In essence, human trafficking exists because things within the community have broken down. As a member of the community, we each have a responsibility to make things right when and where we can.

I think an “easy” first step is to rethink our role (and power) as consumers. How we spend our money matters. Our purchases do affect people around the world. As Christians we’re called to be set apart. We’re called to go the extra mile. How does that calling relate to this? I think it calls us to ask these questions: “Who made this product? What’s their story? Is my purchase helping or hurting someone?”

Given the world we live in, the answers are often both disappointing and disheartening. However, there are good people doing good work. While researching ethical companies I found Purse & Clutch…and they were hiring!

Purse & Clutch is a fair-trade handbag company that chooses to care about how things are made. We put emphasis on both artisan craft and affordability. Fashion can be fun when it’s Fair (Trade). I can be proud of my P&C purchases because I know my purchase is an investment both the artisans who hand-crafted it and the belief a better world can exist.

 

4word: How has Purse and Clutch been able to help these men and women?

Jordan: Our mission is to help create sustainable, long-term employment for men & women with limited opportunities. P&C is able to help men and women coming out of both labor and sex trafficking by opening up markets for their goods. We help create the economic alternatives survivors need to reduce the vulnerabilities that made them susceptible to trafficking in the first place.

On average, every $200 spent in our shop employs an artisan full time for a month!

As an Ethical Style Ambassador, I love getting to share this brand and stories of beauty and hope with other women. Did I mention we host house parties? You pick the menu and guest list and I’ll bring the purses. We can talk fashion and fair trade!

 

4word: Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

Jordan: “Poverty is not an accident. Like slavery and apartheid, it is man-made and can be removed by the actions of human beings.” – Nelson Mandela.

Despite the complexity and enormity of human trafficking, there is hope. People often say slavery has been around in one form or another since the beginning of time and sex is the oldest profession. It’s just the way things are. It may be the way things are now but it doesn’t have to be how our story ends. As Mandela said, slavery is man-made and it can be overcome by human action.

We each have a role to play in the fight for freedom. No matter your profession or station in life, there is a place for everyone in the movement. You don’t have to turn your world upside down, do what you’re already doing, just do it better.

Do your research and invest in companies who are going the extra mile to make sure their goods and services are promoting a better world. Look for “Corporate Responsibility,” “Social Responsibility,” or perhaps “FAQ” on merchant websites. If you can’t find the answer, shoot them an email!

Not sure where to start? Take a look at Purse & Clutch! They have products you’ll swoon over and an amazing blog section with many tips on ways to live better.

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Are you ready to start making a difference with how you purchase? Take Jordan’s tips for becoming more “Fair Trade” minded and make 2016 the year you help take a stand against human trafficking!