Safia’s Blog

5th Year anniversary of Fair Trade cotton – and a photo launch to mark it!


Me and Trevor Leighton at the Fairtrade foundation launch

Trevor Leighton photographed 12 celebrities wearing Fair Trade Fashion – (frankly speaking I didn’t recognise one People Tree product there – even though the stylist was sent more than 20 pieces!) Anyway … I love his last campaign where he shot Anita Roddick with a pineapple in her mouth to promote Fair Trade foods.

I was asked to give a short speech after Elizabeth Day from the Guardian who told the audience of 200 - half inebriated on Fair Trade wine - supporters about life in Mali, West Africa for cotton farmers. Fairtrade Foundation have released their report – The Great Cotton Stitch-up which says what we activists have been saying for years that 3 billion dollars a year of US and EU subsidy to cotton farmers, reduces the world price of cotton making West African farmers 10% poorer than they would otherwise be. Fair Trade cotton in Mali has helped more than 90% of cotton farmers go to school when less than 40% usually can. A very well presented report: The Great Cotton Stitch Up – read it online.

My favourite photo from Mali of Moussa Doumbia

My favourite photo from Mali of Moussa Doumbia

Fair Trade Fashion Pioneers.

In my talk I discussed that People Tree and other Fair Trade fashion pioneers had found an alternative to fast fashion – the human and natural world exploitative model of fashion that has spread now to every corner of the world. I told, stage by stage, how differently we work with farmer and artisans and asked the audience to ‘imagine’ a new fashion industry based on those principals. I also introduced other pioneer fairtrade clothing brands: Epona, Pants to Poverty, Gossypium, Pachacuti and Fairly Covered who together with People Tree make up a strong voice to change our fashion industry. We are also demanding that VAT (20% in the UK from January 2011) should be dropped on Fair Trade clothing.

The Vega girls

The Vega girls

Alice wears a People Tree Richard Nicol shirt

Alice wears a People Tree Richard Nicol shirt

No time to change the world. Mike Gidney of Fairtrade foundation and James of People Tree discuss

Mike Gidney of Fairtrade foundation and James of People Tree discuss how to change the world

Laura Bailey shows us how it's done - Deb and I are out of practice

Laura Bailey shows us how it's done! Debs and I are out of practice

After the event, the ‘Fashion Fair Trade 100’ dinner, we discussed how to change the world through Fair Trade and fashion

After the event, the ‘Fashion Fair Trade 100’ dinner, we discussed how to change the world through Fair Trade and fashion.

Me and Abi of Gossypium

Me and Abi of Gossypium

Cute PT babes, SArah and Kate wear People Tree:)

Cute PT babes, Sarah and Kate wear People Tree:)

Empire State of Mind

New york1

After the Awards – a little hung over, I met the most lovely woman at breakfast. We got on so well we agree to meet for lunch. I’m being really serious about fashion retail research in New York and following friends recommendations to Dean and Deluca, various department stores and then I visit Kaight, one of New Yorks three eco fashion stores in the East Village on Orchard street. It’s beautiful and started four years ago. Then my closest model friend Lauren Gold walks through the door – so incredible how the universe works and we end up having lunch together.


Kaight on Orchard Street, NY, East Village




Lauren Gold and I have lunch in NYC

We discuss how you shouldn’t really start modelling before you’re 18 years old. Lauren started when she was 15 but her Mum accompanied her everywhere. Lauren models for People Tree and has even travelled to model in the organic cotton fields in India, where one night we were visited by a plague of locusts.

New York – lovely people!

Freddy Aviles

Freddy Aviles at the Morning Star Bistro

I love the people of New York. I love their work ethic, friendly greeting and helpfulness. I ate breakfast at the Morning Star near the Pod Hotel, where Freddy whose family came from Mexico to New York when he was 3 – loved my t-shirt, from People Tree Japan – ‘Fed up with Fast Fashion,’ it’s in my handwriting and IT’S TRUE! – I loved his smile too! Check out the Pod Hotel, the Morning Star Bistro and Kaight if you have the chance to visit New York.

WGSN Global Style Awards – People Tree WINS Most Sustainable Brand


Matthew Langille and I celebrate People Tree's win!


What do you do when you’re in a foreign city, no friends…. yet… and you’ve had a really unfriendly experience years back? Here I was again in New York after 22 years – because WGSN organisers had been encouraging me to come to their new Fashion Award ceremony.

Most Sustainable Brand at the WGSN Global Fashion


People Tree has won the most prestigious fashion award to date – ‘Most Sustainable Brand’ at the WGSN Global Fashion Awards.

Here’s word from Safia in New York…

“Yay! From the grassroots People Tree wins the WGSN Sustainability award in New York. Our network of 3000 organic farmers + artisans are turning fashion on its head! Showing that fashion can be a tool for Change, not just gorgeous to wear.


Safia interviewed by the Dispatched team

People Tree has always campaigned to raise awareness of the exploitation of garment workers in the developing world but I was deeply shocked to find this happening right under our noses in Leicester. You might want to watch Channel 4’s Dispatches documentary ‘Fashion’s Dirty Secret’  – an excellent piece of journalism, the kind we need more of.

There is a small contribution from me and a bad contribution from my hair! This wasn’t a bad hair day it was a mad hair day!  But seriously the key issue is why the trading system is so unfair and why people feel they need to leave their own country and come to the UK to work for less than half the minimum wage. I remember my father telling me he refused to help his cousin in Mauritius (who was an excellent tailor) come to the UK back in the 50’s knowing he would end up worse off. I would very much welcome your comments on whose role is it to make a change; businesses, the government or consumers.


Crazy for Hand Knits

Our partners KTS in the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal sent us a crazy pair of 2 metre tall mittens! A work of art as they were made completely of patches – each patch made by one of their hand knitter members. In a spirit of competition each woman was asked to be their most creative, show new knitting skills and go for it!



So there I was – with my design team judging each and every patch of the giant mittens. We picked four winners! Congratulations to KTS winners

1st prize: Luxmi Deiy Dangel
1st prize: Luxmi Deiy Dangel
2nd prize : Gyani Shova Shakya
2nd prize : Ms. Gyani Shova Shakya

3rd prize : Shreejana Shakya
3rd prize : Ms. Shreejana Shakya
Special Masako prize : Sita Singh
Special Masako prize : Ms. Sita Singh

These brilliant designs are significant because People Tree then build them into future designs and products for future collections.



I love hand knitting and my favourite product by KTS knitters in this current collection are:

B281UE red RGB LR

Fairisle cardigan

Crochet Scarf
Crochet Scarf
Jewel Embroidered Cardigan
Jewel Embroidered Cardigan

By the seaside – Shooting our spring/summer 2011 catalogue with Angela Farmer

We left Tokyo at 5.30am having slept for barely three hours! We were off to the Japanese seaside, 1 1/2 hours drive away in Chiba. For most location shoots big fashion houses have a bus with all the creature comforts – toilets, hair-dryers, cocktail cabinet. We have our beaten up, old People Tree van, which was a little bit of a shock to our top model Angela, not to mention the gusty wind that met us at the beach and nearly blew off the People Tree summer clothes she was modeling! P1020236

Miki strikes a pose to plan the shot


The team squeezed into our location van!


Riding up front


Me, shooting our Kenya Kiondo bags


Angela and me – after the shoot in her warm jacket

What a great day! Angela is gorgeous – inside and out, and modelled for our summer Japan and UK catalogues. She’s really into yoga and was named after her godmother Angela who runs an amazing yoga school with her partner in the US.

Bangladesh – Workshops, training sessions, catalogue shoots and production checks!

There’s never just one reason for going somewhere in the Fair Trade world – there are always several! I ran a garments workshop for a day, then one on handicrafts for between 15 and 25 people from Fair Trade groups.

Next year is People Tree’s 20th and 10th anniversaries (Japan and UK). So we’re putting together special catalogues to celebrate!

Of course People Tree started in Japan, and Bangladesh was the first country that I started designing products with small Fair Trade groups in, so we decided to do fashion shoots there!

The biggest problem was the heat and humidity – 33 degrees and 80% humidity. Climate Change means that the monsoon rains are continuing and with it there are huge numbers of insects you would usually not see at this time of year – fireflies, annoying little red ants and huge waspy things.

I wish I had the foresight to catch some fireflies and put them in a jar – as the lights and electricity went out regularly every night! Fumi our model from Japan and Hiroe our Catalogue manager were caught fully soaped up in the shower with no lights and then suddenly no water. This was a lesson in how not to take for granted the basics – water in pipes, light at the flick of a switch.

I’m not complaining of course, this is the daily life of millions in the developing world and mostly we squander it when it’s as convenient as it is in London or Tokyo.

The Shoot

I shot the catalogue with the help of Miki Alcalde and Gail Rhodes on hair and makeup, and Fumi and Hiroe from Japan along with a few local friends.

shot 1

The team!

pic 2

Gail helps Fumi keep cool and gorgeous in our rabbit print organic dress.


Fumi meets the women handweaving the fabric for the Spring Stripe cotton trousers she models.

After shoot celebration

We’d tend to go out for a drink after a shoot is over, go to my friend’s night club in Dhaka and dance, but tomorrow we have to part ways – half the team returning to Dhaka and half of us going to visit Action Bag in Saidpur, to check our top secret bag collaboration (you’ll be hearing about it soon!). So instead of partying we make do with swinging in the roots of a banyan tree.

Of course the locals put us to shame!

Of course the locals put us to shame!


Final snooze in Bangladesh

We’ve had four hours sleep a night, done two photoshoots, had meeting after meeting and consumed far too much great local food in 32 degrees heat with monsoon rains. The rains should have stopped by now but still haven’t, bringing more insects than a usually hardy, but urban gal like me is used too – even after more than 15 years of visiting Bangladesh.

We’re exhausted, listening to Jazz (Dexter Gordon) in an air conditioned sleeper train and hoping for 8 hours of blissful sleep.

Pcitures and more on the trip later when our feet hit the ground…

Update on the MDG’s campaign

Ben - UN

Here’s Ben from Pants to Poverty presenting our signed Millienium Development Goal postcards at the UN Summit in New York last week.

Thanks so much to all who sent their cards in and signed the petition online – we’ll keep you updated on any future developments!

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