The Common Good

Underwear For a Cause

Recently I walked through downtown Austin in my underwear. Okay, so it was actually men's boxers and an undershirt, but still, technically, underwear. As I walked with a group of similarly clad friends we chanted, "We're good, we're fair, we're in our underwear." Catchy, huh?

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Now admittedly, this was in Austin, a town whose motto is "Keep Austin Weird," so there wasn't too much shock value in our march, but there was a good deal of interest. As we walked through a sports bazaar behind Lance Armstrong's bike shop, the farmer's market, a fair for designer dog houses (seriously), and the Gypsy Fair (remember this is Austin), we shared with numerous people about the reason for our march -- the launch of the Good & Fair Clothing company.

Over the last few years my friend Shelton Green has had his world turned upside down. Stories of oppression, human trafficking, and unfair labor practices entered his world and changed it forever. He started advocating for justice, doing whatever he could to raise awareness about injustice in our world and what we can do to fight it. But he wanted to do more than just use his voice to help; he wanted to help create alternative systems that subvert oppressive economic systems. Out of that passion was born Good & Fair Clothing.

Shelton created a clothing company to produce basic clothing -- underwear, t-shirts -- that was both good and fair. He had found a number of companies that made fair or organic specialty clothing, mostly for women, but few that supplied the everyday necessities. He wanted to produce clothing that was good and fair from the ground up. From the growing of the cotton, to the milling, to the sewing -- the earth must be treated sustainably and the people who worked in the process had to be treated and paid fairly. His dream is to create clothing that doesn't hurt anyone and to give consumers total confidence that their clothing is made by hands that are treated fairly. To do so, he partners with various fair trade companies in India.

It was in traveling to India this past summer to visit these companies that his intellectual passion for fair trade took on human form. He quickly abandoned any notion that fair trade grants workers the same life of ease and comfort that most of us enjoy in the states. He saw instead that fair trade is the lifeline out of extreme poverty and allows people to live without fear of whether their families will survive until the next day. He met with the workers who produced the clothes for his company and entered into their lives. Being good and fair moved from being an ideal to the very least consumers could be doing to treat people with respect and dignity. It isn't charity or a path to riches; it is simply meeting the basic ethical standard for our interaction with other human beings.

Hearing the people's stories and seeing the basic way fair trade systems affect people's lives confirmed for Shelton that participating in good and fair economic systems has to be a core part of his faith. The trip to India convinced him that "the systems of our world ought to reflect the ideals of our faith; that being, to love and respect the people who grow our food, make our clothes, and work in so many different ways to provide us the things and services we use every day." To be Christian is to care, to stand up for ensuring these basic standards for all the people our daily consumer habits bring us in contact with -- to put our money where our heart is and shop in good and fair ways.

As Shelton commented, "We are their voice. We are the voice that demands fair and equitable standards from the brands and companies we support with our pocket book. Yes, it is massively inconvenient, hard, time consuming and doesn't fit with the pace of life in the west, to make 'buying' decisions according to this new matrix; a matrix where the treatment and wages of the producers is weighted heavily and given greater importance than simply the cost of goods. How else can we bring about the kind of changed needed to improve the lives of people in our own communities and across the world?"

To support a passion and a calling like that, I had no problem giving a Saturday morning to walk around town in underwear to help get the word out about Good & Fair Clothing. Shelton is helping me put faces to the ideas of justice and giving us all tangible ways to seek justice with something as simple as the underwear we buy.

portrait-julie-clawsonJulie Clawson is the author of Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of Our Daily Choices (IVP 2009). She blogs at julieclawson.com and emergingwomen.us. To learn more about Good & Fair Clothing, visit their blog.

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