2014.06.02 Mitsuko Iwai
It's not necessarily wrong to buy cheap, fashionable clothing. But it's important to wonder how such low prices can be sustained and what kind of conditions these clothes are made in, just like we care about where our food comes from and how it's made. To raise people's awareness for fair trade, Ms. Momoko Miyahara, who currently resides in the Setagaya ward, self published the book, "Mukli's Rainbow T-shirt - A Story About Fair Trade" in May of this year. Ms. Miyahara, now a mother of two who worked at the fair trade brand, "People Tree," explained that to realize low prices, "People in factories are forced to accept poor working conditions. Consumers have the power to change this. I created this illustrated book so children can learn about the situation in a fun and easy way."
The lead character of the story wants to make a large rainbow colored T-shirt. He heads towards the neighboring town in search of someone who could help him, where he discovers the "black factory" and the "white factory." People at the "black factory" tells him, "We can make your T-shirt for a very low price in just 3 days!" and people at the "white factory" says, "It'll take 3 weeks because we make our T-shirts with hand-woven organic cotton fabric," and it would cost twice as much. Unable to make a decision, Mukli decides to visit each factory to see what lies behind these prices.
A lot of pesticides are used on the black factory's cotton plantation, and the workers in the factory look very ill. And they are forced to work day and night. At this factory Mukli met a young girl, Maya, who couldn't attend school because she had to work. On the other hand, at the "white factory," the workers looked happy and proud of the work they were doing. So which factory did Mukli choose? And what happens to Maya? Children may read the story with butterflies in their stomach, and even begin to think about how the clothes they're wearing was made.
Ms. Arisa Yoshiuchi of the Ochanomizu University Senior High School, who has incorporated ethical fashion in the home economics consumer education curriculum, explained how education has had a positive effect. "Young people have flexible minds capable of accepting new knowledge and experiences. They may not necessarily be interested in fashion, but they have shown interest in the ethical aspect. We believe that it's important to offer opportunities for them to learn about ethical issues during the early stages of their lives."
The ability of clothes made in a happy environment to make other people happy - Mukli also discovers this in the story. I believe fair trade is fundamentally supported by the social conscience of consumers. And I hope that through this book, mothers and fathers will provide opportunities for children, who have receptive minds, before they even reach high school at a much younger age, to learn about the ethics behind fashion.