By Michelle Talsma Everson
Of the 40 million garment factory workers in the world, more than 70 percent of them are women, and many are living below the poverty line, according to Sica Schmitz, creator of Bead & Reel. Schmitz added that some statistics state that as low as 2 percent of apparel companies pay living wages. “This [the lack of living wages] wouldn’t surprise me based on my own experiences,” she said.
After a career in film and television, Schmitz founded Bead & Reel, an online fashion boutique that she described as “a one-stop shop for ethical fashion where each piece and brand has been carefully hand-picked for their thoughtfulness to people, animals and the environment.”
“Fair wages, vegan materials and eco-friendly processes can be expected in our collection of clothing, shoes, handbags, jewelry and accessories – along with a selection for babies and homes,” she added. “We label every item in our store with the qualities it has so that shoppers can understand what they are supporting with each purchase; qualities like Female Founded, Made in U.S.A., Organic, etc., because when we spend our money we are casting a vote either for or against the values a product holds, and I wanted to offer a better option for those who want to vote for a better world.”
On July 16, Bead & Reel and The Peace Exchange, a nonprofit fair trade company that works with women in the Congo, will host the second annual Fair Trade Fashion Show in Los Angeles.
“Our idea for the Fair Trade Fashion Show stemmed from conversations with Katie Bond [founder of The Peace Exchange] about all the misconceptions we came across around fair trade fashion,” Schmitz said. “We wanted to create a way to show how stylish, modern and affordable fair trade fashion can be all while highlighting the ways in which it truly changes lives, especially for women. We decided that putting fair trade styles and stories on the runway would be the best, and most fun, way to show how empowering fair trade fashion can be both for the women making it and the women wearing it.”
Schmitz continued by noting that, according to statistics, women typically invest 80 to 90 percent of their earnings back into the health, nutrition and education of their families, which benefits their children and communities at large. “Basically, investing in women is vitally important to lifting families out of poverty, and one easy way to support this is through something we are all already doing: shopping.”
While women are at the center of her mission, Schmitz also notes the important contribution men offer to the industry. “A lot of our focus at Bead & Reel is on women – women artisans and women designers. We are woman-owned and our customers are mostly women,” she said. “However, we love men as well; we do carry several sustainable brands owned by men and believe that men play an important role in changing not only the fashion industry but also the world.”
Before the big fashion event, whose proceeds will benefit The Peace Exchange and their goal of opening a new fair trade center in Nepal, Schmitz and Bond will be traveling to the Congo to open the third Peace Exchange Sewing Center. There, they will be working with other non-government organizations to “help bring more opportunities for safety, happiness and employment to the women of The Peace Exchange.”
“I will be teaching an advanced sewing class for the seamstresses [at The Peace Exchange], and we will be returning to the U.S. with a new fair trade collection to debut on the runway. It’s very exciting,” Schmitz said. “As a survivor of sexual violence, getting to work with and empower other women in recovery is extremely important to me. I am so honored to be able to bring both my sewing skills and also my story of healing to women who most need it.”
The group will also be hosting a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to send 66 Congolese children to school.
To learn more about Bead & Reel, visit beadandreel.com. For more information on the Fair Trade Fashion Show, visit fairtradefashionshow.com. More on The Peace Exchange can be found at thepeaceexchange.com.
Top photo by Bead & Reel
Michelle Talsma Everson is a freelance writer, editor, public relations consultant and mom based in Phoenix. With degrees in both journalism and PR from Northern Arizona University, she writes for several Valley publications. Find out more at mteverson.com.
Find more fashion articles at greenlivingaz.com/fashion