8 Jul 2011
A few years ago I received my People Tree catalogue through the post. I'm not sure which year it was and after about an hour of internet searching can find no evidence of it. The reason it came to mind of late is that it seemed to me to be misguided. The models were placed in their expensive clothes in front of those who had made them, Indian sowers and African Weavers perhaps. The clothes had to be the focus, as that is what were being asked to purchase, but whilst showing the garments the company tried to make the link between the makers of the clothes and its ethical origins and the finished product. It was probably a great idea sat around a marketing table but when seen it created a feeling of unease and I felt undermined what the company try to do. I am a supporter of ethical trade and interested in where my products originate from but placing the people as an attractive backdrop to the clothes created images too full of contrast. It underlined the richness of our lives compared to others and put me off buying the clothes in the catalogue. I note from the current catalogue (top picture from here) that they haven't gone down this route again. I found this site on my search for the catalogue images http://eng.feministblogs.org/tag/nation-india/page/2/
( from where the second image hails). There is an interesting article on the use of cultures, their architecture, nature and people as backdrops to Western beauty. It makes the point that by choosing this backdrop the companies give the buyer a feeling that they are buying into the exotic. By People Tree choosing developing country backdrops are they at once indicating the exotic and reminding the buyer to feel smugly good at no real cost to themselves. If this is the feeling I got from these images does it underline something which is intrinsicly strange about fair trade. Of course fair trade is a better option than just trade but should it have the title fairer trade, indicating at its place as a process rather than a conclusion. A stepping stone on the path to truly fair trade which, in an infinite resource planet is two pronged. The first prong being a raising of the living standers of those living in abject poverty and the second the sacrifice of some of our unsustainable luxuries to bring our lives to a less decadent place. Does buying another top, no matter how nobly sourced forward the aim for equality or does nurturing my greed for more clothes, more novelty, more stuff ultimately lead to more inequality both geographically and generationally.
This is not an attack on People Tree, us as its customers or fair trade in general.It was just an observation and maybe a cautionary note that we must carry on thinking, challenging our perceptions and behaviours, moving ever forward. The world is an every changing story. Current droughts in Africa may lead to instability in countries we had ticked off our list as solved. The troubles of countries we have seen as nice holiday destinations such as Greece, may throw the economies of the world into turmoil. We are living in a time where each individual must be adaptable in their views and perceptions. Nothing is set in stone, everything should be up for debate. As artists we can use our role as agitators, observers and re-presenters to tackle things of worth.
All this thought and research came about as I have finished the first version of my starvation diet T-Shirt. The stitching indicates the body of a starving woman ( after much research the only vital statistics I found near to this were those relating to a size 0) . When worn by me it will show up the contrast between my body and that of a person suffering from the symptoms of starvation. I want to do a parody of a fashion shoot so was pondering on replicating the ones I saw in that People Tree Catalogue. I will probably approach it in a few different ways and see what resonates best.