INDIANAPOLIS — The holiday shopping rush is well underway heading into Thanksgiving with many retailers offering those doorbuster deals extra early.
But before you start your scrolling to check off all the people on your list, WRTV takes a closer look at ways you can be more intentional with your money and giftgiving this year.
In downtown Franklin, sitting in the shadow of the Johnson County Courthouse, sits a small, local clothing boutique with a global mission.
Erin Bollhorst arranges a selection of handbags and prepares for their big warehouse sale that day.
She’s the boutique manager for ByTavi, a fair trade organization providing job training and resources to women in Cambodia while selling their handmade products all across the world.
“The design, the sketches, the choosing of the fabric, the merchandising, marketing, all of it happens just between here and Cambodia,” said Bollhorst.
Behind the decorated retail area of the boutique sits desks and their entire U.S. side of the operation.
ByTavi was born 15 years ago after Hoosiers visiting Cambodia met women who were in extremely dire circumstances. Bollhorst says many were involved in trafficking organizations and were doing what they could just to survive.
The founders of ByTavi wanted to create a sustainable business model for the women where they could learn a skilled trade, get paid fair wages for their work, and provide for their families.
Fabric was easy to come by, so the organization started helping women learn to sew pillows. They sold the pillows at first and then moved on to handbags and clothing.
The women are also paired with a social worker to help them with life skills. There is also a culinary training portion of this organization in Cambodia as well.
At ByTavi, it is all about transparency. The stories of the women and their pictures are seen around the boutique in Franklin.
On each piece of clothing, the woman who made the item signs the tag, so you can see who made the piece you are purchasing.
Bollhorst says she asks each customer if they are familiar with ByTavi and fair trade, and if not, she can explain a little bit about their story and raise awareness. They also hand out cards with information to customers.
“If I know it’s a gift, I’ll put our card in there because it tells on the back a little bit of our story,” said Bollhorst. “When somebody is opening that gift, it’s more than just a sweater or a dress.”
Bollhorst says the women get paid per item on a weekly basis, so any sales that happen later down the line do not impact the wages of the women. It simply allows them to move more merchandise to make room for new product, according to Bollhorst.
She says she hopes people remember stories like theirs when shopping this holiday season.
“It’s easy to bury your head and just want the deal and the discount and these things, but if you take time and research companies that aren’t fair trade, some of them, when you purchase, you are actually contributing to the opposite. Contributing to horrible circumstances,” said Bollhorst. “I think we have to be intentional, we live in such a fast-paced world.”
That’s a concept that sparked an interest in Mary Embry a few decades ago.
She is now a Senior Lecturer in the Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture and Design at Indiana University.
She teaches fashion design and merchandising programs and has a particular interest on the topic of sustainable fashion.
“Sustainable fashion is looking at everything along the chain of making clothes, from cotton fields to plastic. Ya know, how that’s being produced from cotton to polyester, and then what happens along the chain,” said Embry. “How much carbon is being released? Who is making it? Where is it made? How is it dyed? How much water is being used?”
Embry says she got interested in this topic in the 90s when many companies moved the manufacturing of clothing overseas.
“Why are we exporting bad labor standards? Why are we exporting problems and why aren’t people aware of it?” said Embry.
She adds that now with online shopping, the ads on social media for deals and the constant stream of new things available can make us even more disconnected from our purchases.
“It makes it quick easy and thoughtless,” said Embry. “And the prices, it doesn’t assign a lot of value to what you are buying, because it so quick.”
A term for the quick and constant changing of fashion is called fast fashion, and it is at the forefront of a lot of these conversations.
“It’s the turning over styles as quickly as possible,” said Embry. “The idea is that you are just always presenting newness.”
Many corporations have captured fast fashion as part of their business model, but many others are beginning to push back against the concept and are setting goals for sustainability.
Embry says many of her students she finds have concerns over the fashion industry not only because of labor issues, but also due to its impact on the environment.