I am sitting in front of Ingrid, a young at heart lady in her early fifties. She has sparkles in her eyes as she looks at me. Her long brown hair lies in gentle waves around her soft face. Her cheeks are a little rosey from excitement. It is early in the morning, and we are in a cozy shop in the center of Breda, one of the most southern cities in the Netherlands. Behind Ingrid, I see beautiful dresses, handbags, and jewelry. All from her own label Ingar or acquired from established fair-trade labels like People Tree, Wunderwerk or Myomy. We are drinking tea and coffee, chatting about our mutual passion: Creating a better world through fair-trade and cruelty-free products. However, let’s come to that later. I want to know where Ingrid’s journey begins.
A young Honduran sets out to the world
Ingrid was born and raised in Honduras. As was usual back then, she was sent to the United States to study. At only 18 years old, she moved to Washington D.C. and started a study to become an interior and spatial designer. She says this was the first time she learned about the possibilities of creating designs through which we can adapt ourselves to nature and not the other way around.
Her study not only got her a degree in design but eventually led her to her big love, Ron. The young couple met at work and it “clicked immediately”. Due to visa restrictions, Ron could not stay in the US for long, and they both started a new life in his home country: The Netherlands. Back then, they didn’t know that difficult times would await them. Both would struggle to find a qualified job during the first years. Their self-confidence was low. Ingrid says: “At one point, we totally forgot what we had already achieved in our lives. Luckily, someone told me”. She laughs. Eventually, both got back on track. Ingrid followed several studies and courses in fashion and worked for different shops and labels.
The wake-up call
Already back then, she preferred to make her clothing from natural materials and wanted to know from where they came. However, she got a real wake-up call in one of her last part-time shops at a well-known fashion label. A colleague told her that the €69 blouse she was holding in her hands had been purchased for only €2,50. Ingrid was shocked. Only a little later, she visited a factory in Valencia, Spain. There, she found women working in basements making wedding dresses. Isolated, without fresh air or natural sunlight and hundreds of wedding dresses around them. Ingrid decided she didn’t want to be part of this anymore.
A woman with principles
She went out on a quest to find out exactly what it means to buy and sell sustainable and fair-trade products. She researched and worked for non-profit organizations. “Now”, she tells me, “ I always look for products that have a story to tell.” Initially, in 2014, Ingrid started her own webshop, Ingar.nl. She offers products from fair-trade labels like People Tree, Wunderwerk, Myomy, Studio Jux, L’Herbe Rouge, A beautiful Story, Lana en Lanius. All of her suppliers follow three rules:
People that make the clothing live in livable circumstances
“The people that make the clothes need to work in livable circumstances. Even more, they should be happy and satisfied with the work they are doing,” Ingrid tells me and takes a sip of her coffee. This rule led her to work with People Tree. For over 20 years, the company has partnered with fair-trade artisans and farmers in developing countries and transformed ethical fashion into something desirable, glamorous and luxurious. “I find it very beautiful that an organization like People Tree came already so far by being such a good company. They follow the principles of fair-trade in every aspect of their business, and that begins already with the fiber they cultivate,” she tells me with excitement in her eyes.
Clothes are made with quality materials and are manufactured neatly
The second most important aspect for Ingrid is that she can offer high-quality clothing to her clients. This includes the shape and fit of an item, but also the durability of the colors and materials. Eventually, this makes a dress or trousers not only appealing to buy but also ensures their durability and, therefore, sustainability.
From farmer to artisan, there is love for the product
Last but not least, Ingrid believes that every person in the supply chain from planting the cotton to sewing the clothes should do their work with love and dedication.
Why fair-trade clothing?
“Why is it so important to buy fair-trade clothing?”, I ask Ingrid. She believes that getting paid fairly and living and working in a safe environment is only one positive side of fair-trade clothing. However, that is not everything. By buying responsibly and consciously, we will take more care of our clothes and stop running behind every new fashion trend. According to Ecowatch, “the fashion industry is the second dirtiest industry in the world”. Our intense consumerism uses up vast amounts of oil and water. Clothing manufacturers in Indonesia dump their chemicals into the rivers and endanger both people and wildlife.
Real change in the clothing industry will only come if big brands make and sell sustainable clothing. Until then, it is important that consumers (you and me!) help by changing where they shop, how much they buy and what they buy.
How do you know if it is (not) Fair Fashion?
I have a commitment to make: Until ten months ago, I would go shopping every four months and spend a couple of hundred euros each time. I wouldn’t buy the cheapest clothes, but quite cheap ones. I would come home, feeling proud of the items I got for that money. However, that is not the worst part: I would walk around and criticize people that bought cheap clothing from brands that are already well-known for their child-labor and bad working circumstances. I was a total hypocrite. This went on until someone told me that the brands where I bought my dresses, shirts and trousers are no better. I didn’t believe her at first, but she was right. That was my wake-up call.
Apart for some second-hand shopping, I have bought no clothing since then. Mainly because I didn’t know where I could buy anymore. So, with an expert in front of me, I asked my daring question: “How do I know if clothing is fair trade or not?”. And Ingrid has some useful tips for me and you:
The demand for fair-trade, cruelty-free and organic products is rising all over the world. “Go to events and fairs in your city or country. There you can find lots of companies that offer responsible products.” Ingrid also advises searching on the internet. She always reads the story behind a product or brand and sometimes even gets in contact with the company before she buys there.
Spend a little more
Ingrid sais: “The price is the greatest indication if something is fair-trade or not. If you see a shirt for kids that costs only €3,50, be aware. It’s likely high that the person who made the shirt made very little money. Sometimes, it might even be biological cotton, but that doesn’t say anything about the working or living circumstances of the farmer or artisan.”
Buy for the long term
“If a company offers new collections frequently, they cannot be sustainable. Sometimes, you can see labels offering 40 to 50 different collections per year. They are small collections with only 10 different items, but still, this can’t be fair-trade.”
Buy quality clothing
“The composition of the material tells you a lot about its quality. My daughter once bought a very cheap skirt at a store (you all know it) where you can buy very cheap clothing. Every time I wash that skirt, I have to wash it separately, because the color wears off.” Ingrid is convinced you can better spend a little more on one quality item, rather than buying cheap over and over again.
But it is so expensive!
People often say they find fair-trade or organic clothes too expensive. Ingrid shakes her head and says: I believe you pay a fair price for the material and how it is made. Additionally, you know that the person who made your clothing was paid fairly.”
She tells me about a young lady that came into her shop recently and said: “I didn’t buy anything for three months because I saw that you have sustainable clothes in your shop and I really wanted to buy something.” This shows a different perspective. Do you honestly have to buy new clothing every few months to feel good? Isn’t it better to buy responsibly and make sure that the person that made the clothing for us has a livable life? You and I, we vote with our money. What choice do you make? Let us know in the comments below!
Editors Note: If your like to visit Ingrid, you can find her and part of her collection in the concept store De Nieuwe Winkel in the Tolbrugstraat 24 in Breda, The Netherlands.