A Conversation with the VP of Apparel and Home Goods at Fair Trade USA
Knowing where your purchases come from should be a crucial step when deciding what clothes, home goods, or food you buy. We should be supporting safer working conditions, better livelihoods, and protection for the planet; buying Fair Trade is a way to do that.
We spoke with the Vice President of Apparel and Home Goods at Fair Trade USA, Maya Spaull Johnsen about what exactly Fair Trade is, the hurdle with buying ethical apparel, and their latest campaign and how you can support.
Maya Spaull Johnsen, VP of Apparel and Home Goods at Fair Trade USA
San Francisco, CA
My name is Maya Spaull Johnsen. I live in San Francisco now, but I am originally from the East Coast. My educational background is in ethnobotany, which I studied at Hampshire College, an amazing school known for an out-of-the box approach to learning. This is where the innovator and change-maker in me was awakened.
Today I live out my passion for creating positive systems of change in my role as Vice President of Apparel and Home at Fair Trade USA. I fulfill my creative pursuits by making jewelry, which has been a lifelong hobby. I am also on the wild, beautiful ride of being a mama to two little ones (a 3-year-old daughter and 10-month-old son).
Fair Trade certification supports safer working conditions, better livelihoods and protection for the planet. For every Fair Trade product sold, companies commit to paying a percentage of the price directly back to the farmers, fishermen or factory employees that produced the goods. Over the last 20 years, sales of FT USA Certified products have sent about $500M to millions of families. It is proof of what companies and consumers can achieve when we make conscious, ethical purchasing decisions.
In 2010 we began to get requests from companies and individuals to bring Fair Trade to the textiles sector. Our team felt compelled to proceed when we discovered the multitude of challenges often found in a factory setting – subpar working conditions, long working hours and low wages. We launched Fair Trade Certified apparel in 2012 with the brand prAna, followed by Patagonia and West Elm in 2014. Since that time we’ve grown exponentially, and are grateful to be working in 13 countries, almost 100 factories and with an incredibly dedicated group of companies.
The power to change the apparel industry is in our hands! Every purchase is a message sent back to companies – and when we choose ethical products we reward responsible sourcing.
I think one of our hurdles has been that ethically made apparel is not always sold at a price point that is accessible to all people, but that is changing rapidly. My goal is to encourage people to 1) love and wear the clothes you already own, 2) shop vintage and 3) when purchasing new clothes support companies that participate in programs like Fair Trade - buy quality, ethically-made items that you will wear for years to come.
This April marks the six-year anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse (April 24, 2013), a tragic event that killed more than 1,100 garment workers and injured thousands more. The Fair Trade Apparel & Home Goods program was born out of the desire from leading brands and concerned citizens to take action. Fair Trade USA certifies factories against strict safety and human rights standards to prevent situations like the Rana Plaza collapse from occurring again, and to help people find clothing that they can trust supports safe working conditions and respect to the people that made their clothes.
Fair Trade USA will mark the anniversary with a “We Wear Fair” campaign that celebrates the amazing collection of Fair Trade Certified apparel that now exists on the market and the empowered factory employees that make it all possible. Be sure to check out our Fair Trade Certified Clothing Guide to explore your options!