Today, October 3rd of 2018, at at conference in Puebla, Mexico, I heard about what fair trade really means and it hit close to home. The conference was about sustainable fashion.
Fair trade doesn't start nor does it ends in Bangladesh or any of these far away countries that we all hear about.
A few years ago, when I started directing the fashion photoshoots for my magazine, MetroCitizen, I met a 16 year old beautiful, Russian girl who was my model for that specific job. Everything during the photoshoot went very well, we said our good byes after a succesful work day and I thought that was it in regards of the model. I would usually send the images we produced back to the model agency after I got them from my photographers and I would rarely hear back from the models again.
This time was different. That same afternoon, I went with a friend to a restaurant in Midtown, Miami and the Russian model was there with a guy at least 20 years older than her. We were excited to see each other, her male friend invited us to join their table and so we did. She started talking to me about what was really going on. This guy was beating her and had her threatened of deportation if she said a word. I wanted to do or say something but she begged me not to. So I sat there with her for a few hours pretending everything was all right. I did see her after that just a couple more times trying to figure out what to do until she didn't answer my calls anymore. This same 16 year old girl told me all these stories about how models live in studios, around 6 to 10 girls, they're sent to events so they can eat, drink and hopefully hook up so they secure a few more meals. At their studios, if and when they have money, they have to hide their food because other models may steal it from them, etc. The conditions they live in are deplorable. This is when they are very young and with not so much work.
But when they start working on a more regular basis, the problem is far from gone. They endure long hours of air conditioning, few clothes, people touching them as they please, people in positions of power just blatantly taking advantage.
Me, at a younger age and as an assistant photographer, was treated so bad once I remember I went in my mind to that happy place wishing the nightmare would be over as soon as possible. I didn't need the money, I had children already, I was married, I only wanted to learn. It was so humiliating. I was in such a shock, I honestly don't remember anything but the faces of the photographer and the stylist. And I wasn't naked or exposed like all these girls and boys are.
I never put the dots together until today. Fair trade really begins much closer than we think, it is not only a certificate or some factory working conditions. It is how we work with each other from the person that carry the cables to any other human being involved in our environment.
Any environment, every environment.
The work begins in our own backyard.