Elevate Difference

Winter Dreidle Dress

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, a number of Western counter-cultural icons traveled to India in order to broaden their knowledge of art, music, literature, and philosophy by speaking with some the country's intellectual and religious figures. Among those world travelers were musicians (The Beatles), writers (Allen Ginsberg), and academics (Joseph Campbell), who incorporated what they learned into their respective fields of influence. One area that was indirectly affected by these now-famed travels was fashion. From the Nehru Jacket to tie die to sandals, utilitarian staples of Indian attire were brought back to the United States by pop culture heroes and quickly became en vogue.

Today, Mata Traders continues this practice of global fashion exchange. Since 2003, Michelle King and Maureen Dunn have run their women's clothing and accessories business from Chicago, IL. Instead of simply co-opting the bright, offbeat colors and floral patterns seen across the Indian landscape, this woman-owned company moves past an aesthetic focus toward one of social consciousness by employing groups of Indian women worker in a well-worn model of transcontinental economic exchange. Mata Traders is an import/export business whose foundational desire is to facilitate women's financial empowerment.

Working with fair trade women's cooperatives and artisan groups that employ individual women who work either from home or in collective spaces to create handmade clothing in safe conditions while earning a living wage, Mata Traders contributes to a growing consumer trend of fighting the worldwide feminization of poverty by "giving women economic power and viable working skills [in order to] transform a community (and so the world)." According to the Nike Foundation's "The Girl Effect," women earners reinvest 90% of their income back into their families while men earners reinvest just 35%. The idea behind Mata Traders is that bringing women into the workforce will be a catalyst for positive global change.

And that is just the groundwork. Beyond the excellent crafts(wo)manship of the hand-embroidered floral appliqué on the three-quarter length sleeves and hemline of the elastic empire waist Winter Dreidle Dress is the knowledge that the garment is made of 100% fair trade certified cotton that is "grown on small family farms that...follow environmental standards that restrict the use of agrochemicals and encourage sustainability." And the beautiful color (mauve in my case, though the dress is also available in black) is gained through the use of eco-friendly vegetable dyes. All of this enviro-feminism contributes to my feeling very good about myself while wearing this trés cute dress. How many birds can you hit with just one stone?

Written by: Mandy Van Deven, December 16th 2009

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