Fair deal fashion

Not all teenagers shop just to keep up with the latest trends. Youngsters at Beacon Hill High School, Warbreck, are spreading the fair trade message. Jacqueline Morley finds out why...

THIRTEEN, 14. It's an age when kids can be forgiven for shopping in the pile 'em high, sell 'em cheap discount fashion outlets of the high street with ne'er a thought to ethics involved or the world beyond their here today, gone tomorrow wardrobe.

Not so the youngsters of Beacon Hill High School, Warbreck, who have gathered to meet me in the Business and Enterprise College's neighbouring centre, to talk about a fashion show with a difference – outfits modelled by students, some of the fashions designed by students, even charity shop cast-offs recycled and redesigned by students, along with professional designers showing what can be achieved with fairly traded materials or labour.

They're out, through the I Love Fair Trade fashion event, in the Queens Suite of Blackpool's Hilton Hotel at 7pm, February 12, to encourage more of us to make a difference. To think global, act local.

Or as Katie Lambie, school citizenship co-ordinator puts it: "Remember : a journey of a thousand thingies starts with a single whatsit..." Her students – and the paraphrased Confucius – know just what she means.

If Katie's one of those inspirational teachers, the kind we all wish we'd had at school, these are pupils you'd be glad to have had as friends on shopping trips around town.

None of the usual peer pressure. Their biggest bugbear is that fair trade fashion can be pricey – but then so's the alternative. And how heavy does that leave your conscience?

The more people buy, the more prices come down. It's already happened with Fairtrade (the officially accredited campaign) coffee and tea and bananas and chocolate. So let's start cutting the fair trade fashion cloth accordingly .

Katie admits she was into worthy causes herself as a girl – animal rights, feminism. She's mellowed but lost little of her impetus for changing the world – or providing others with the building blocks of ideals.

She doesn't think we should just sally through life oblivious to the suffering of others or the impact our choices – as consumers – can have on others, whether near or far. It's the price we pay for a pick 'n' mix society demanding cheaper goods with little consideration of the consequences.

Chat to three of the students involved in February's show – Marianne Shearer, 13, Olivia Dix, 14, and Steph Kyle, 13 – and they'll tell you of youngsters of their age, indeed far younger, still working in far eastern sweatshops, or toiling in India, or Africa, on any range of products for Western society.

The school already has a great link with a school in Malawi so knows all about poverty and the push there for human rights and social welfare – and profits from the fashion event will go to their Malawi "twins".

They tell me of other forms of oppression, too, even closer to home – the so-called home workers' network. Is it right to pay some woman in Manchester peanuts for turning out hundreds of shirt collars each week?

Or to buy counterfeit T-shirts made in the back streets of Lancashire, once king of cotton, even now still cashing in on slave labour – armies of machinists paid pennies a garment.

Fair trade is anything but worthy but dull in Katie's hands and she encourages a degree of flexibility in her pupils' approach to buying too. The school's fashionistas and others got involved after being approached by Blackpool Fairtrade.

But the Beacon Hill students have brought a real buzz to the campaign.

Art student Amy Hathaway, 17, has produced some cracking new look logos, for instance, which really should be taken up nationally.

Olivia has scooped up some bargain T-shirts at local charity shops, and redesigned them with a fair trade theme, with colours and cut-offs and other enhancements.

Steph is doing some of the modelling on the night, along with about 12 other students. She's trying to convert her older sister Sarah to the cause – as yet to little avail.

"She thinks it's a waste of money."

Marianne, who says her parents are now extending the fair trade ethos to other purchases (and she's a big fan of Fairtrade choc!) points to the difference in quality to clothes made from fairly traded cotton and the cut price alternatives. "It feels nicer, looks better."

They have pressed their case with local shops and big businesses.

Top Shop branch chiefs faced a grilling from the girls, says teacher Katie, with plenty of "probing" questionss about source materials, labour conditions, who made what and where. The girls were impressed with the company's commitment.

Top Shop has donated some outfits and also sponsored the fashion show, which is also supported by Blackpool based independent Me & Yu company, which hit the headlines after Big Brother residents gave their hand made and hand printed fashions some primetime exposure.

Big name designers have lent support too, with clothes made from Fairtrade certified, organic or even recycled materials. The girls particularly rate Gossyplum, Amana, but absolutely adore the understated elegance of the Karen Cole range.

The three point out that more companies would do well to heed such views – because even if they can't afford to shop till they drop today teenagers have disposable income and will be the big spenders of tomorrow's world.

Johnny Heron, who's business manager of the Beacon Hill Business and Enterprise Centre, said: "They know that their choices now can make a real difference."

"And we're all pretty proud of them for caring enough to make that difference. The business world is all about making money – but there's no reason why the profit should come at the cost of others."

- Ethical and Individual: Beacon Hill High School Business and Enterprise College presents the I Love Fair Trade fashion show, 7pm, February 12, at the Queen's Suite, Hilton Hotel, Blackpool, suggested donation 1.