Fashion and the fight to end poverty converged in Jack Morton Auditorium Tuesday night when a group of more than 80 students and professionals gathered to discuss fair trade, helping artisan workers and creating sustainability.
Fashion Fights Poverty, in partnership with organizations including Aid to Artisans, the Fair Trade Federation and the United Nations Association, organized the forum as part of the United Nations Week – a series of events highlighting global issues.
“We do, can and should fight poverty with fashion,” said Clare Brett Smith, the president and CEO of Aid to Artisans. “Fashion was froth, or so it was thought, but everyone’s doing it now.”
Smith showed a slideshow with pictures of designers and other individuals who have promoted artisan craft production. She finished her presentation with a generalization about fashion’s place in everyday life.
“There is a natural pride in looking good,” she said. “We want to be proud of our lives and what we do.”
Indrasen Vencatachellum, the acting director of the division of cultural expressions and creative industries of UNESCO, discussed the changing face of fashion.
“Fashion is considered an activity by a small group of people for a small group of privileged people,” he said. “Fashion can be connected to our daily lives.”
Vencatachellum said the issue of poverty is large and difficult to combat
“No single person or organization can address this issue, but together we can make a contribution,” he said.
Karen Sommer Shalett, a representative from the fashion industry, spoke about her experiences as the editor in chief of D.C. Modern Luxury Magazine.
She rejected “the idea that fashion is superfluous, superficial fluff,” and stressed the potential sociological impact that fashion has.
Shalett talked about the increasing popularity of fair trade and charitable fashion promoted by celebrities such as Bono and Stella McCartney.
She placed the opportunity to change the role of fashion into the hands of the consumer, suggesting that people spend their money at vendors like American Apparel that create products in a cruelty-free environment.
“There is a place for fashion in fighting poverty,” she said.
Kimberley Person, the president and founder of Gecko Traders, a fair-trade, national fashion wholesaler, said she aims to enable artisans to attain sustainable income and grapples with production capacity issues.
“A lot of these artisans are just worried about putting food on their tables,” she said.
With the help of Aid to Artisans, the United Nations Association and the International Affairs Society at GW, the forum ran smoothly, said Sarah Magallanes, the communications beneficiary liaison for the Style and Image Network.
Of the three years that Fashion Fights Poverty has been in existence, its programs have included fashion shows and other events, but Magallanes expressed her satisfaction with the group’s decision to hold the forum this year.
“It is a great addition,” Magallanes said. “It puts more emphasis on the issues and the debate: Can fashion fight poverty?”
She said, “We say that we have a choice in what we wear – it’s not just what others tell us to wear.”