From farmland to fashion runway

In India, approximately 60 per cent of the population still depends on agriculture for its livelihood, yet at many levels, farmers, especially small farmers, do not get a fair deal for their yield. In order to set things right, Shop For Change Fair Trade, a not-for-profit company, established in 2009, has taken upon itself to ensure fairer trade for small farmers, so they are able to secure their future and live a more sustained lifestyle.

“Four to five years ago, we decided to create a fair trade market within India. To implement our idea we started deliberations in 2007 and were formally incorporated as a fair trade company in the beginning of 2009. We made cotton our first certified product for Shop For Change,” shares Jaishankar M Talreja, COO of Shop For Change Fair Trade. He adds that brands source cotton from farmers who work under Shop For Change so that those farmers can get a fair deal for their products.

Ningangauda Appangauda Patil, a fair trade farmer from Sankeshwar, Karnataka at the Shop For Change stall at Mumbai Fashion Week in March 2012      

Change at the grassroots
The concept of the company is simple. They link farmer groups to the brands, so the farmer group can sell cotton, directly to the vendors of these brands. “The difference being that when a farmer sells in the conventional market, he doesn’t get a fair deal and also because he is an individual, he has no bargaining power. But we classify them in groups and create a market for them which empowers them,” informs Talreja. Through Shop For Change, farmers get a bonus of at least 15-20 per cent and the consumers have to pay just 2-3 per cent extra for the products.

Fashion connect
To create more awareness about this concept, Shop For Change has associated with the Mumbai Fashion Week, which begins on August 3. “This is the second time that we will have a stall at the Fashion Week in Mumbai. When we told the Fashion Week team about our concept for the season in March, they realised that this is a different way of helping farmers by trade rather than aid and thus they made us a permanent part of the event. So, this season too we will have a stall from where we can promote fair trade,” expresses Talreja.

At the stall, one can find cotton products created under various brands with a Shop For Change tag. Actress Gul Panag, who is one of the board members of the company, and a farmer from one of the farmer groups will be present on one of the days to enlighten people about the concept and create awareness.

“Typically, a small farmer would earn only about Rs 2,000 per month, which is not sufficient. So, the idea here is that in a situation where most of the farmers are small farmers, our effort is to create a market for them, so that they earn what they deserve. We are also making efforts to ensure better input services, better wage, better access to credit, etc,” concludes Talreja. 

Fair Trade Goes Pan India
Shop For Change Fair Trade ensures that the farmers are providing cotton that meets social and environmental criteria. Seven thousand farmers across Gujarat, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Orissa are certified under this concept.

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