Do you know who makes your clothes? Do you know that there are hours upon hours of often quite literally blood, sweat and tears that go into the production of clothing around the world? Did you know that much of the chain of supply is linked to the sex trade? Did you know there are good and better ways to make products that don’t require someone to give up a portion of their life, health, safety and future? That is the realm of ethical, fair trade production.
Unfortunately a large percentage of the current companies manufacturing products for sale have little to no standards nor concern for their workers, and cause a great deal of harm in the industry and lives of others.
Slavery is all around us. It’s been linked to the supply chains of everyday products, from shoes and bags to matches and soccer balls. It lurks in many of the commodities that fuel the global economy: cocoa, coffee, precious metals…
This video doesn’t give any answers. The point is to start asking the question: What can you do to guarantee that the things in your life are genuinely slave free? (halftheskymovement.com)
There is a way that we can be involved in change happening. You tell your money what to do, you vote every time you make a purchase that is fair trade, ethically and sustainably produced. YOU can make purchases that make a difference in the lives of not just those that are already involved, but for those who have yet to taste the good that ethical, sustainable, fair trade production can do. YOU can help change the tide of manufacturing, raise the standards for workers and safety, turn on a small light in a dark room.
Imagine Goods is one of many companies that is seeking to provide you with wardrobe options that are sustainably, ethically produced with fair trade, quality standards. Not only do they give us many options for pretty awesome clothes, but for many of their artisans, Imagine Goods is the first opportunity for them to make products for which they receive fair wages.
Michelle Kime, co-founder along with Aiyana Ehrman, saw firsthand the struggle as they worked alongside these families, and wanted to do something that would make a difference in their lives. This is their story.
What is the significance behind the name ImagineGoods and how did it begin?
Michelle: ImagineGoods — You might call us “accidental entrepreneurs”. . . we never really intended to start a business. We had been working as a non-profit in Cambodia since 2006, and slowly came to the realization, as we talked through things with our partner organizations, that this was the most empowering project we saw; by giving people the opportunity to work, we give them hope. By empowering survivors of trafficking with employment, we give them the power to change their own lives. So about 1.5 years ago we launched our website as a business and here we are!
There is significance to the name. First – we produce“Goods“. Secondly – we are “imagining good” to come out of the goods that we produce. There is a needle in our logo (as opposed to scissors which cut apart) as we are part of the process to make something new in our partnership with survivors.
We are a “Sustainable Supply co” because we believe that when we buy a product, the cost of the item should be able to sustain every person connected to it with a living wage. And – when you read “Empowerment through Employment” – that is what we are all about!
What does “fair trade” mean to you, and how does ImagineGoods work toward being a fair trade company?
Michelle: A living wage is one which allows a person to acquire the basic necessities of life: safe housing, nutritious food, clean water, basic health care, and education for children.
To figure out what this figure is in each area where our production partners are located, we do research; by looking at government or NGO statistics on the living-wage incomes, as well as by talking to local workers who have a good handle on what is necessary to live, we come to a figure which we ask our production partners to meet.
Often our partners will create an incentive system in which artisans will earn a base salary and then can make more depending on how much they produce. We visit our production partners about 2 times a year. During those visits, we are often working on new designs or tweaking existing designs, but it also gives us the chance to see how things are going at the workshop, and to see in person the working conditions.
Who are your artisans and how do you work with them?
Michelle: 90% of our artisans are survivors of trafficking, and the rest are vulnerable, marginalized, or disabled people who have been trained in a skill as a means of trafficking prevention.
We partner with organizations who work with the artisans and train them. When we travel, we buy fabric and materials in the open markets of Cambodia. We then spend several days with our partners going over new designs, new products, fabrics, etc., etc.
I was born in a refugee camp in Thailand [for Cambodians who had fled the Khmer Rouge genocide]. I like reading stories about people and their experiences—how their lives have changed and been transformed. I also like to play music—I play six instruments, but would play more if I could get my hands on them!
My Biggest Challenge:
The biggest challenge is inside me—overcoming my fear and lack of confidence in what I do.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced, and greatest victory you have achieved in working in the fair trade, ethical fashion industry?
Michelle: The biggest challenges and greatest victories are quite often tied in together. We are pretty grassroots. We take things step by step, learning as we go – surrounding ourselves with a great advisory board with members who have skills which fill in where we still have to learn.
One of our main mottos is “Fail Fast”. We want to learn quickly what is and isn’t working and adjust our efforts likewise. So, that brings about challenges as we are regularly in new circumstances. It brings a challenge to communicate, via email, in a totally different time zone as we do business – but, that also brings great victory when it all works!
It is a challenge to head to the Open Markets, with a list of types and quantities of fabrics that we hope to find each trip — and a great victory when it works and we find what we need, in the quantity we need it!
It is a challenge to be a company whose main point and mission is the empowerment of others – it means that production times are slower than a lot of other companies, and prices can be a bit higher – but that is also the greatest victory. Because we know that the artisans who made our products had a fair work day, where they received an education as a part of their last hour of paid work. So, it will take a bit longer to make a shirt and will cost more (which can be a challenge as we try to work on a schedule) but it is the greatest victory!
What is the greatest impact you have seen in your life and the lives of your artisans through the work you are doing at ImagineGoods?
Michelle: I am asked this question often…and I always think of the time I was in Cambodia, at one of our production partners workshop. I went to go to the bathroom and peaked into the one sewing room. I caught sight of an artisan, holding one of the dresses she was working on for us, and twirling around with it, dancing. It was beautiful to me. I have 4 kids, one of them a little girl, and I know that often little girls like to twirl and dance. So, seeing this girl, who didn’t have an easy life story to this point, was a picture of freedom.
I think this business has changed my life and the life of my family. We are aware of the fact that it is a human being who makes everything we purchase – and we don’t take that lightly.
I also feel that it is important for our 3 boys and our daughter to see their mother doing “her own thing with a good friend — and having that thing be about helping others.” (as quoted by Michelle’s husband :D) It is something I think about – I am thankful that our children are able to see their mother work with another woman for the purpose of empowering others. People working together, for the purpose of others is an important lesson that I hope they grasp.
I think it is important to have other people in your life and to love them. Courage means being able to comfort others. [Editor’s note: This artisan is a survivor of sexual trafficking and is employed by an organization whose specific aim is to empower people like her; along with employment, she receives one hour daily of (paid) education, learning to read and write in Khmer and English.]
My Biggest Challenge:
Jesus challenges me to be strong and not to fear.
There’s so much good going on in the Imagine Goods shop – scarves, shirts, skirts, dresses, kids’ and men’s clothes and more!
A homeschooled student turned homeschooling mom of 5. Passionate about teaching my children the truth of God's word through his creation and his-tory, spending time as a family and outdoors, learning how to be more creative, and giving glory to God. Seeking to serve Christ and set a godly example for my children, to grow in love and encouragement, failing forward, learning to lean on God's grace and trust in his strength.