Does your work for Fair Trade companies differ much in terms of style from other projects you have worked on?
I try to approach every new project from a different angle. Every project has a different aim or objective, so a different approach or style is needed.
With the work I have been doing with People Tree I wanted my imagery to fit in with the rest of their collections so I drew inspiration from the beautiful folk art and textile designs that they produce and tried to create illustrations and designs that echo those designs.
I have actually been a huge fan of asian and african folk art and textile designs so it was something that i really wanted to use in the designs.
What is it that interests you about designing for Fair Trade companies?
I believe in the work they do. I had been too long working with advertising companies and other design jobs, and i found it very frustrating and unsatisfying to work for companies and products that i don’t agree with or believe in.
Do you feel restricted as a designer when working on Fair Trade projects?
Not at all. The only problem I have had is sometimes the standard of production is not as good as it could be. But thats because fair trade is sometimes about training unskilled workers to give them a help onto the first step of the ladder.
They need help to improve their skills and People Tree and other fair trade producers work closely with them to do that.
Having said that, many of the artisans that People Tree work with are first class highly skilled artisans and many of the products have come back looking twice as good as I had imagined. It depends on the project. People Tree’s workers come from many different backgrounds and skill levels.
Where does your inspiration come from for your work with People Tree?
I had actually been a huge fan of asian and african folk art and textile designs and i had travelled around asia before working with people tree and collected all sorts of designs and inspiration. When I was asked to do some t-shirts for people tree to start with i looked back at these images and also went to the british museum to pick up some inspiration there.
What image/message are you trying to create for Fair Trade?
I hope i am helping to create a more modern and fashionable image for fair trade.
Because of their lack of money and their non design-led background some of the fair trade brands are not as well designed as they could be. Most of the fair trade brands come from an activist background. They are often affiliated to charities or development groups whereas most fashion brands are set up by designers. I hope I could attract some people that wouldn’t otherwise think about buying fair trade.
What is your opinion of other existing Fair Trade design?
I think it is really improving, if you asked me that five years ago i dont think anyone was really doing anything too interesting design-wise. There are some great new independent designers choosing to work with fair trade.
What would you change about the way Fair Trade is marketed to help it become more mainstream?
I think it is doing quite well as it is. The commodities (bananas, tea, coffee etc) are doing really very well with almost no advertising, it’s incredible how far they have come. Most of the coffee sold in the UK is now fair trade and ten years ago it was less than five percent. I think clothing/manufacturing needs more work to compete with that, there are a few things holding it back. Firstly its is much more difficult to certify as there are so many parts all made in different areas and also the designs and brand names are not there yet.
What do you think the future for Fair Trade fashion holds?
The future of fashion I think has to be fair trade and more environmentally aware. The whole of the fashion industry is completely unsustainable, high street fashion is almost entirely branding with little thought to anything else. Most of my fashion design friends are very disillusioned with the industry. The turn-around for clothing is so fast, there is little consideration for the environment, cotton is probably the single most polluting farmed crop the way it is currently farmed and dyeing and manufacturing are also a real problem. The way that the industry works is so wasteful, one year knit-wear is fashionable, the next year its out. And the whole knit-wear industry in asia behind the making of those knitwear items is suddenly out of work.
I think if we as consumers could see the damage that we are doing with out spending habits we would all be buying fair trade. The job of fair trade and the trade justice movement is to make people aware of these issues.