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Marina Spadafora on consumers' power

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I am here to tell you the story of this shirt. Apparently an ordinary, innocent T-shirt. It could also be the story of any garment we casually buy, almost any day. But we have in our pockets a very powerful tool, our money, and I will show you how our purchasing choices can shape the world we wish for. So let's talk about this T-shirt, I picked up a red one in honor of the TEDTalks. The first question is: what is it made of? It's made of cotton. We think of cotton as a natural, soft and breathable material, so it must already be a good choice for us and for the environment too. But we have to ask ourselves: where does this cotton come from? Cotton is mostly grown in the southern Emisphere, more precisely in Southeast Asia, South America and Africa. What happens there? The people who grow and take care of the props are very poorly protected: we can see these two poor farmers spraying each other with pesticide. They are not equipped at all to do this activity. So not only do they spray a lot of pesticide onto the plants - imagine that 25% of all pesticides used every year in agriculture is used in cotton crops, so a hell of a lot, but also these pesticides besides hurting the people who spray them on the crops, stay in cotton's fibers and therefore in this T-shirt. So this T-shirt, believe me or not, is still full of pesticides. Plus, as the previous speaker eloquently showed, these pesticides kill bees and we know how devastating that is. And I will tell you more, no more than two weeks ago, I read in an Italian newspaper that there's an even bigger problem related to the bees. In India there is this transgenic cotton, called BT, sold by Monsanto, with a small detail: it has to be impollinated by hand. What happens then? Little girls are sold by very poor families: in Uttar Pradesh, for example, 9-10 years old girls are taken away from their family, taken out of school and kept in semi-slavery to do this crazy job. They have to get up very early in the morning, because the male flower opens up before 5.30 am. So this bee issue also brings about slavery. This beautiful red T-shirt had to be dyed, then. Look what happens to the dye: in absence of adequate filters, it seeps into the rivers and this happens frequently, in the places where our T-shirts are produced, there are no filters for wastewaters and so they end up in rivers and in the sea. What does this mean? All the fishes, all the plants, all the animals in the rivers and in the sea get polluted and die; and it's worse than that. European and American laws mandate that the clothing sold in our stores is only processed with azo free dyes. Greenpeace, who's a bit suspicious, has sent some undercover volunteers to buy garments from the usual suspects: H&M , Zara, Benetton - but also a bit higher up, they went to the designers, Dolce and Gabbana and so on. They bought the clothes, brought them to the lab and they discovered that none of these clothes comply with the norm, they were all dyed with heavy metals. Greenpeace thus launched the Detox Campaign that says: not only do these horrible dyes pollute water and hurt the workers, but they also hurt those who wear them causing skin allergies, and there are studies that suggest that they interfere with human DNA. Who makes these T-shirts? How much do workers earn? When we are all happy because we scored a $14 T-shirt, we think we found a bargain: the person who sewed this T-shirt made only 12 cents. 12 cents can't buy much of what one needs to survive. Let's then talk about the living wage. What does it mean? To live a decent life, people must be able to buy food, pay the rent, have health care, educate their children, buy clothes, have transport to go to work every day, and maybe save some money too. It is said that a living wage is a right for every person. But what happens in the world? Well, it doesn't work exactly like this: the living wage in Bangladesh should be 259 € per month to access all those basic needs. The workers, though, only get 28.60 €. There is a huge gap! Bangladesh is the most outrageous case but Cambodia and Sri Lanka aren't doing much better, India is also bad and China, often considered terrible, is actually a bit better. So there isn't fair pay for the labour, people get hungry and can't live a decent life. What about safety, then? You must have heard about this tragedy that took place in Bangladesh, on April 24th 2013. Since then, 24th of April is Fashion Revolution Day, when we're all asked to wear our clothes inside-out to show the label and ask: "Who made our clothes?" That day, in Dhaka, there was a badly constructed building where the workers were locked in. "Locked in" means that there were iron bars on the windows and the gate was locked with a chain because the guard sometimes would have a coffee or something to eat - and locked the workers in. These facts were filmed and confirmed by BBC and in Italy by Milena Gabanelli. This particular building had cracks in the walls and had already been declared unsafe, it came down killing 1121 lives of people who were making our cheap clothes. So we can say this T-shirt is made 60% of cotton, 20% of sweat and 20% of blood. People are understandably getting angry, and we don't need any more social unrest. People unite to say: "That's enough. We can't go on like this!". And it is happening all over the world. Plus, there's child exploitation. We know that in many countries families are so poor that they need their childrens' support to survive, but if adults' rights aren't guaranteed, how can children's ones possibly be? Bolivians actually started a children's workers union to protect the rights of children workers. And on top of that all, we buy so many of these cheap products, and after a short while we get tired and we chuck them creating mountains of textile waste. that's cluttering the world's landfills. But I am not here to bring you bad news, or news you probably already heard of anyway. I am here to tell you that there is an alternative, and you hold in your pocket the key to this alternative: fair trade, a sustainable and fair way of doing business. I was very lucky: about 10 years ago, after a life spent doing "regular" fashion with runway shows and all, I found myself around a table discussing the length of a skirt for 2 hours. And I said to myself: "I can't do this anymore! I need to do something that fits with my beliefs, something that'll help make this world a better place, improve working conditions and the environment, and so I found fair trade. What is fair trade? It is an international organization, WFTO, that has a series of rules. Here are some of the rules: Transparency and accountability. Fair payment -remember what we said about the living wage. No child labour. Respect for the Environment. All rules that we take for granted but aren't actually granted at all, as we saw, in those countries where people are treated horribly, on a daily basis. So fair trade certifies working cooperatives that apply these conditions, and make sure, for example, that wastewaters are filtered before reentering the environment. Here I am in Ecuador with some of the artisans I work with, at almost 4000 meters in a place called Salinas, a very successful example of Fair Trade Economy. It is a small village where a Priest from Venice arrived 40 years ago and never left. He has created a sustainable economy where for example these women knit for me, or better, for me as creative director of the fashion brand "Auteurs du Monde", Authors of the world -namely our artisans- produced by Altromercato. We work with all these realities where a fair price is paid, workers have medical insurance, they get medical assistance and work in healthy environments. Here are some other pieces from the collection, the cardigan is made of cotton in a cooperative in Kathmandu in Nepal, KTS, Kumbeshwar Technical School. I love them because they're an example of social entrepeneurship. What does it mean? They are entrepreneurs, but they invest part of their profits back into the community sponsoring a school for street children from 3 to 11, who wouldn't otherwise be able to go to school but can now get an education through this initiative of KTS. I think this can be the formula to save this crazy world that is going awry: do business, pay a fair price, take care of your workers and reinvest some of the profits into the community making it a better place for everyone. And you can choose organic cotton. Organic cotton is free of pesticides, grown with alternative methods: I went to visit a wonderful place called Sekem in Egypt where they apply biodynamic agriculture. To fight pests, for example, they use yellow paper cones with a sticky, fragrant resin inside. Insects are attracted and once they get in they remain there. So the soil stays fertile, you can rotate crops, there's no desertification and the cotton is organic, biodynamic actually, with none of the horrible features we talked about before. And then you can dye cotton and other fibers with plants. The threads of the tapestries we admire in museums and in the beautiful villas on Lake Como, were dyed hundreds of years ago yet they're still vibrant and beautiful, so there still is a way to do it. This is an Ethiopian gentleman I work with in a cooperative called Sabahar, where they dye everything with plants. If you don't have plant dyes, there are azo free colors, chemical colors with no heavy metals, colors that don't pollute the waterways, don't hurt the workers and the people who wear the clothes. These are more designs I did for Spring Summer 2014. I'm committed to make beautiful, interesting, attractive fashion, but also one that's fair and sustainable. These two garments come from India. This gave me the chance and the privilege to build a reputation in this field, so I have become a reference point for all the fair and sustainable productions in Italy and in the world. Famous brands like Moschino asked me to improve their CSR (corporate social responsibility) profile. Together we produced beautiful crochet garments in Kenya, with these nuns, called the Crochet Sisters. Then Pinko came to me to design a line of bags, and I suggested to make them in Ethiopia. I took inspiration from Omo River's body painters, they gave me the ideas of these graphics for the prints and the bags were all produced in a small factory in Addis Ababa. At the end 45.000 bags were produced, with a wonderful impact on the whole area. Here in Como, I know, there are many important businessmen, some of whom I met last night, so if not for wanting to save the world, they should consider this growing section of the population, the Millennials. Millennials are the kids born between 1980 and 2000, they'll be 46% of the working force in America 10 years from now. What do Millennials want? Millennials want quality of life, and they prefer companies with a high Corporate Social Responsibility Profile, so life versus work. They want quality of life, reward the companies that behave, they are always online and they know who does what. So, and this is the main message of my talk, every time we spend our money we cast a vote for the world we want, so we hold the solution in our pocket and we must be aware of it every time we spend money. Plus, as my sweatshirt - designed for Oxfam, then sold at Coin stores - says, "It always seems impossible, until it's done" a quote by Nelson Mandela: in Italian, "Sembra sempre impossibile, finché non è fatto" Thank you! (Applause)

Video Details

Duration: 17 minutes and 41 seconds
Year: 2014
Country: Italy
Language: English
Producer: TEDxLakeComo
Director: Gerolamo Saibene
Views: 109
Posted by: tradottiinitaliano on Dec 24, 2014

Sustainable Fashion Designer. Marina Spadafora is one of the most innovative protagonists in the world of fashion. In the nineties, her name was synonymous of sophisticated dresses and knitwear collection. Her experience was enriched by the collaboration with Ferragamo and Prada. The busy life in the fashion industry lead Marina to reflect deeply and put her creativity and knowhow at the service of good causes.

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