If you’re a conscious shopper, it’s highly likely that you will have come across ethical marketplace Made Trade in your online search for fair trade fashion. The US-based one-stop online shop founded by Cayley Pater and Andy Ives in 2018, stocks some of the most beautiful ethical and sustainable products for the wardrobe, the home and the office. We interviewed co-founder Cayley Pater to learn how her work in international development paved the way for the business, her tips for identifying greenwashing and how shifting consumer habits have helped Made Trade grow and expand, in spite of the COVID pandemic.
EWP: What instigated the idea for Made Trade?
Cayley Pater: I came up with the idea for Made Trade in 2018 because my partner, Andy, and I kept running into the same problem — there was nowhere online where we could easily shop a wide variety of beautiful, ethically made goods all in one place.
Throughout the early years of my career, I worked in international development and helped establish two small fair trade brands in the U.S, Darzah and Zeki Learning, traveling to pop-ups and events almost every weekend with my husband, Andy, to sell handmade products crafted by refugee artisans in the West Bank, and sharing that story with folks across the U.S.
Over the course of working these pop-ups for almost four years, I kept meeting all of these amazing entrepreneurs running small brands, producing small batch product lines, committed to ethical sourcing and sustainable design. I kept asking myself and eventually asking others, why isn’t there a place online where I can find all of these beautiful, intentionally designed, handmade products with such amazing stories? And, why is it so hard to shop with transparency?
Of course I knew that when you’re running a small brand with a limited budget, it’s really hard to get your products in front of people, which is also a really big reason I knew there was a need for Made Trade. Not only to help conscious consumers discover these products, but to help these small, independent businesses grow and increase their positive impact around the world.
Selfishly, I also wanted this store to exist so I could shop there! As someone who works in the fair trade space, I knew that if it was hard for me to find these products, then it had to be even harder for other people.
EWP: What is involved in the selection process for brands to be stocked with Made Trade?
CP: We strive to be both rigorous in our standards, while also considering the unique context of where and how a product is made. Each brand we carry is put through an extensive vetting process to make sure we have evidence the people making the products are paid a fair, livable wage and working in safe working conditions. We also look closely at the materials used to produce each product while also looking at the locally accessible materials in the regions where the products are being made — it’s really important to realize that earth-friendly materials can look quite different in various parts of the world. Generally speaking, we strive for responsibly-sourced raw materials, GOTS certified textiles, recycled or upcycled materials, and supporting processes that are gentle on the environment. Another key value in our curation is supporting heritage art forms as often as we can, working with brands that employ artisans in communities around the world, where slow handmade processes like traditional weaving or embroidery techniques are at risk of being lost.
Almost 10 years ago I had an experience that really opened my eyes to why the story behind a product matters and it was that experience that created a big shift in my life and would end up being the main catalyst for the creation of Made Trade. In 2012, my friend Marissa was starting an ethical fashion brand, Symbology, and she and I were both in India that summer. I was studying Hindi in Rajasthan and Marissa just so happened to be working with block printers in a small village just outside the city I was in. The artisans in that village called Bagru have historically used locally sourced materials like vegetable dyes and each of the wood blocks used in this printing technique are intricately carved by hand to create the printed design that is pressed onto the fabric. I loved watching the block printers dip the blocks in the dyes, pressing the blocks on the fabrics, one-by-one, and then seeing the beautifully printed, colorful fabrics laid out to dry on the sand in the mid-summer heat. Later, we got in a car and drove an hour down the road to where the fabrics were then cut and sewn at a small factory where they were made into dresses, tops and skirts.
From this experience, I gained a much deeper appreciation for the slow process of making these garments and understanding what actually goes into crafting block-printed textiles, and how many steps there are to make these works of art. It was the uniqueness of these products, the materials available in that region, that proved to me the importance of local context when assessing the ethical and sustainable sourcing of a product and being able to share its story.
Having an understanding and appreciation for where a product comes from is something we’ve lost in our modern, globalized world in many ways because of the way so many products are mass produced today, so far away from where we live, with complex industrialized processes that aren’t made clear to us. And oftentimes this is on purpose because companies don’t want us asking these questions.
I believe the story behind a product is one of the most important ways we can all change the way to look at the items we bring into our lives, and this is the primary reason I started Made Trade. I also believe that more and more people want the opportunity to have transparency and know how their purchase is making a positive impact for people and the planet, which is also why we created Made Trade Magazine, so that we can dive deeper into the how and the why behind the ethically made products we carry on Made Trade.
EWP: Black Lives Matter shone a light on systemic racism and racial inequality. What is Made Trade doing in support of the Black community and the wider BIPOC community?
CP: Diversity can be hard to come by in the ethical fashion and conscious consumerism space, especially when it comes to shopping Black-owned and BIPOC-owned businesses. Since we started Made Trade, we recognized the importance of highlighting under-represented communities in the ethical and sustainable space, and we’re always looking for ways to make it easier for customers to support POC makers, artisans, and BIPOC-owned businesses. We introduced the BIPOC Owned value shortly after we launched in 2018 to make it easier for customers to be able to identify and buy from these brands. We continue to bring more BIPOC-owned brands to Made Trade, to use our platform to amplify BIPOC voices in our space, and to highlight and celebrate the underrepresented communities in our space.
EWP: How do you define greenwashing and what are some tips for shoppers to ensure they don’t fall victim to it?
CP: Greenwashing is using buzzwords like “green”, “sustainable”, and “eco-friendly” as a marketing tactic without any explanation of how or why the product or brand is actually better for the planet. You’ll often see this tactic used by large corporations to entice conscious consumers and to mislead them on how sustainable their brand’s products really are.
Greenwashing is easy to do when the consumer isn’t fully informed about a brand or business, or when people don’t know what kinds of questions to ask about a particular product or material. It’s often pretty easy to spot when a company is greenwashing when they use blanket statements like “green” or “ethical,” but the explanation is vague or even non-existent. Our tip: Be critical and ask simple questions like: Where was this made? Who made it? Were they paid a fair wage? Is this product really better for the planet? How? Does this sound too good to be true? If a brand’s words/claims aren’t backed up with supporting materials, additional information, or third-party articles to validate their claims, then more than likely you’re not getting the full picture and you should proceed with caution.
At Made Trade we know our customers are information seekers, and that’s why we answer questions like: “How was this made? Who made it? What was this made from? And why is this better for the planet?” on each and every product page, and even more so on deep-dive articles on Made Trade Magazine where we break down the sustainable production practices and materials used in the products we carry on Made Trade.
EWP: Fashion businesses were hit hard during COVID. How did the pandemic impact Made Trade’s trade?
CP: We have been fortunate to have seen growth and success amid the pandemic. We have always been exclusively online and with a fully remote team, so internally, there was no big adjustment to the office culture or company structure. With that said, many of our brand partners have faced hardships, most recently our partners in India, and we see it’s our responsibility to promote the ethically-sourced products and brands we carry in any way we can. The success of Made Trade is the success of each of our brand partners and the artisans and makers they employ around the world.
EWP: So what are the top 3 best-selling items on Made Trade?
CP: Most recently, our top sellers have been these Spanish Recycled Wine Glasses Set from Newly, this versatile Kophinos Basket from Amante Marketplace, and this beautiful Stoneware Hanging Planter from Katie Mudd Ceramics. Our holiday giftables, like Chilote Salmon Leather House Slippers and Ritual and Fancy candles are also top-sellers.
Our number one seller last year was our Recycled Hemp and Organic Cotton Reusable Face Masks. During the pandemic, we took our time to source the highest quality fabrics, made countless prototypes to ensure the fit was just right, and employed local Portland, Oregon sewers to make our face masks.
EWP: What’s on the horizon for the business?
CP: 2021 has already been very exciting for us! We’re continuing to grow our catalog of responsibly-sourced and sustainable products, offer new product categories, and become your favorite online destination for all things ethically, sustainably and beautifully made for your home and wardrobe. We’re continuing to grow our team and our new renovated office space and photo studio in North Carolina will be completed in early September ahead of the busy holiday season.
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All images supplied.