While a new pair of highly priced designer jeans may feel trendy, many area teens said unfair compensation for the overseas workers creating them puts a crimp in their style — and their shopping habits.
The Fair Trade Federation promotes fair partnerships between marketers in North America and producers in other nations. Farmers and artisans earn what their work is worth, and workers are ensured safe working conditions.
Since it opened on Main Street about a year ago, the modern art gallery Planet Altered has adhered to the federation’s mission.
Thanks to reasonable pricing of the gallery’s fair-trade inventory, many local teens have, too, said manager Jean Huddleston.
“Teens come in and buy purses and jewelry,” Huddleston said. “Things that are $10 and less fit with their budget for gifts and birthday presents or things that are just really fun that their allowance allows them to buy.”
At Go Fish, a clothing and jewelry shop on Frazier Avenue, owners Steve and Sherra Lewis said teens are a large part of their customer base.
“We get tons of teenagers,” Sherra Lewis said. “I think some come in because of what we do, and fair trade is important to this generation. There are groups, too, that just like the fun [atmosphere], but I think teenagers are very informed.”
Juliet Spiekermann, 17, a junior at Soddy-Daisy High School, said fair trade lets her shop with a clear conscience.
“When I’m wearing the product, I know I’m not stealing,” Juliet said. “Things that aren’t fair trade make me feel like I’m stealing from someone. The things I wear are cute and for a good cause.”
Though Juliet and some of her friends are aware of fair trade, she said she understands why some of her peers opt for cheaper goods without the certification.
“I think they’re aware, [but] they just may not take it as seriously as others do,” she said. “They may just not have enough money. I know it’s so much cheaper to just go to Taco Bell, but I think other teenagers are becoming more and more aware.”
Juliet said she became aware of fair trade through her parents.
“I’ve been into humanities because I grew up with it,” she said. “I learned about sweatshops my freshman year. Even though organic and fair-trade products cost more, I know it’s better.”
Other teens support fair trade simply because they enjoy the product.
“I just buy the fair-trade chocolate because it is good,” said LaQyhia Clark, 14, a freshman at Red Bank High School.
“My parents started buying it for me every now and then, but now I buy it for myself,” she added. “My sisters got me into fair trade, and now I buy it wherever it’s sold.”
The fair-trade mission has found its way into special programs in area schools.
At Girls Preparatory School, a chapter of Amnesty International teaches students about how to protect human rights. One component of that awareness included learning about fair trade, said junior Kaycee Ensign, 16, who has been a part of the chapter since eighth grade.
“In my ninth grade year, [we] focused heavily on fair trade,” Kaycee said. “We discovered what stores had bad ratings in terms of protecting human rights and most likely used sweatshops. I began to look at that Hershey bar a little bit differently or that dress in Target a little bit differently.”
Most fair-trade items will be more costly since farmers and producers are being paid what they are owed. Being a teenager, Kaycee said she understands that many teens won’t be able to budget for fair trade.
Her advice? Every little bit counts.
“If you have the extra dollar to spend, I would highly encourage you to buy fair trade,” she said. “It is helping improve someone’s life by giving them that extra dollar they earned.”
Quincey Caylor is a student at Ooltewah High School.
Go Fish Chattanooga
* Address: 201A Frazier Ave.
* Phone: 756-8633.
* Website: chattanooga.gofishretail.com
* Address: 48 E. Main St.
* Phone: 400-4100.
* Website: www.planetaltered.com