Champlain College student reflections on attending National Fair Trade Conference

From March 23-25, 2018,  three Environmental Policy students, Anne Calonico ‘21, Lily Mason ‘18, and Ariel Simpson ‘21, received stipends to travel to Washington, D.C. for the Fair Trade National Conference.


A highlight for Lily was networking with business leaders in the ethical fashion industry. I am extremely passionate about a local 501c3 non profit called the Vermont Ibutwa Initiative which is seeking to expand its community garden. The garden is a project that was started to generate income and food security for survivors of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The sustainable livelihoods program is the final of three programs that recipients enter in order to grow financially independent of Ibutwa’s assistance. I hope to continue building bridges with Fair Trade and the conflict free mineral movement (Ibutwa also educates consumers about their connection to conflict minerals which is a main reason why so many females are raped in the DRC) by helping Ibutwa raise money to buy more land. If we get enough donations, we can start planting and selling Fair Trade certified hemp materials. Hemp is a great textile and the seeds are highly nutritious! Merging Fair Trade with Ibutwa could be an absolute game changer so it was beyond inspiring to meet a wide range of people who have Fair Trade clothing companies throughout the globe. One of the keynote speakers said that, “Racism is not inevitable” but it is the default. As change makers, we must listen to the needs of others to truly express solidarity, based on what people are actually asking for. Trade over aid was a common phrase at the conference. We should not make assumptions but dare to do things differently. Clearly, business as usual only serves a few.


My time in D.C. was filled with new experiences as I (Ariel) was flooded with intense emotion and new information on a variety of topics. Attending the Fair Trade conference during the weekend of the March For Our Lives was an incredible experience filled with passionate people from both the conference and the march, as both groups had an impactful agenda that I resonated with. Going into this conference, I did not know much about what it meant to be Fair Trade, other than the basic concept. Hearing a variety of experiences, mainly from women, on their time working in Fair Trade companies was eye opening. The most impactful speaker I heard was the founder of Mandala Apparels, a woman from India, who started a Fair Trade textile company. Her experiences starting this business–between struggles with the women workforce and cultural obstacles, to her active in involvement in the company and her mission to make it the best experience for the women was incredible to hear.


Never having been to Washington D.C., it was a privilege for me (Anne) to travel there, let alone attend such a progressive and informative conference. I found the sheer nature of the conference to perhaps be the most impactful part, personally. Gatherings and symposiums such as this alway seem to occur at just the right times, offering revitalization and new energy when I am feeling a bit low. It was quite inspiring to be around and interact with those who are working towards equity in all aspects in the workplace, whether it be in apparel industry or out in the fields. It was also comforting to know that the community of those fighting for what is right is much greater and larger than it may seem at times. The energizing nature of organization transcended into our experience Saturday morning at the March For Our Lives. We moved through a sea of thousands—young and old—using their voices and bodies to fight for gun control. I am incredibly thankful to have experienced my first conference AND march on Washington in the company of two influential change makers and peers. I believe this opportunity fueled us with an even greater fire in our bellies, one that has and will continue to allow us to fight for local and global change.

We warmly thank the EHS division and Fair Trade Campaigns for the financial support that made this life changing trip possible!