Rejoice, Green Monsters: the fair trade movement is expanding each day! Following our recent report on Patagonia’s commitment to providing fair trade clothing by next fall, we are now shining a spotlight on Africa’s first fair trade clothing company, Liberty and Justice.
The company was founded in 2010 by Adam Butlein and Chid Liberty. Liberty was born in Liberia, but left at a very young age when his father became the country’s first ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany, with residence in Bonn. The family later moved to the United States, where their social circle was largely comprised of other wealthy African diplomats.
Liberty admits that this gave him an inaccurate view of African life and culture: “I thought Africans drove Benzes and dressed up every day and went to the best schools … I just kind of grew up thinking that Africans were at the top of the food chain.”
It was only later in life, when he learned about the actual conditions of life in his former homeland, that he began to understand how exceptional his own family circumstances were.
Inspired by the groundbreaking work of Leymah Gbowee, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and the Liberian Women’s Peace Movement – which helped put an end to the Second Liberian Civil War – he returned to the country with his colleague, Butlein in 2009, with the intention of providing economic opportunities for women.
Despite “knowing nothing” about the textile industry when they first started out, Butlein and Liberty’s efforts soon met with great success. L & J now supplies brands like Prana, FEED Projects, and Haggar, while workers at their two factories in Liberia and Ghana are 90 percent female, and are paid, on average, 20 percent higher wages than their peers. They also own a 49 percent stake in the business, with the remaining 51 percent of profits funneled back into community development.
Liberty, who won a Social Venture Network Innovation award in 2011 for his work with L & J, says of his workers (who are aged between 30 and 60): “They come to work an hour early – we never asked them to do that – they pray and sing together before they get on the machines, they’re very serious about the details of how your uniform should look, and you just wouldn’t have gotten that out of a bunch of 19-year-old girls.”
Green Monsters, keep an eye on this company, because they are blazing a trail for the future of economic equality, innovation, and creativity. And if you would like to know more about the fair-trade (and animal-friendly) credentials of your favorite clothing companies, check out our handy guide!
Image Credit: Glenna Gordon / Grist.com