Fair Trade at NU looks to increase student awareness of sustainable apparel

Gabby Grossman, Reporter

Fair Trade at NU will concentrate on the textile industry and student outreach this year as it looks to help Northwestern become fair trade certified.

The student-run organization, which launched last winter, is committed to promoting fair labor — environmental and ethical practices in companies — said co-president Natalie Burg, a Weinberg junior. This year, Fair Trade at NU will focus on the emerging role of sustainable fashion, Burg said.

“Our mission is to eliminate child labor, follow the standards set for human rights by the (United Nations) and protect workers from workplace atrocities and harmful environmental and health procedures,” Burg said.

She added that Fair Trade at NU hopes to help the University become fair trade certified by completing a five step process that would culminate in NU passing a school-supported fair trade resolution.

In this year’s campaign, Fair Trade at NU hopes to increase student awareness of sustainable clothing options on campus, Burg said. She made an example of Alta Garcia, a clothing brand carried in the Norris University Center bookstore that she said sells ethically-made apparel. Burg said the group wants to do more outreach to encourage students to buy fair trade apparel from companies like Alta Garcia.

To prompt students to take advantage of sustainable clothing options, Fair Trade at NU is also looking to develop a partnership with Stitch Magazine to publicize information about sustainable “eco-fashion.”

Stitch’s fall issue will center on consumption and the different sustainability issues facing the fashion industry right now, said Medill senior Sarah Spellings, Stitch’s co-editor in chief. Although the partnership has not been finalized, Spellings said anything that can be done to educate NU students about sustainable shopping is a good thing.

“Fashion is a heavy-consumption industry,” she said. “It’s not just water waste and throwing away your clothes; it’s making sure that factory workers are paid a fair wage and that we’re supporting all these different facets that go into making clothes that are more sustainable and simply better from a humanitarian perspective.”

Last year, students had to submit applications for membership in Fair Trade at NU, Burg said. The group will work to transform into a loose coalition in the future, meaning students can participate when they are available and don’t have to apply for membership, she said.

The group paired with Real Food at NU and Sodexo last year to increase the availability of fair trade food products on campus. Despite the growth of the fair trade movement, there are still limited fair trade products available in the United States, Burg said.

Students who know about fair trade are more likely to support it and demand fair trade products, she said. Weinberg junior Reed Goldberg, a member of the group’s executive board, echoed the sentiment.

“At it’s core, the idea of fair trade is something most students could get behind,” Goldberg said. “The real issue is simply bringing it to their attention.”

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