January 17, 2017

Tavie Meier, founder of MadeFAIR, is rocking the sustainable fashion industry. After years of working in the non-profit sector, she left the U.S. and moved to Cambodia where she runs a guesthouse. Immersed in the culture, she wanted to create a business that would leave a lasting, positive impact and MadeFAIR came to life. The online retailer curates ethical, sustainable, and fair trade clothing and accessories. Every product is carefully selected and the treatment of each person involved in the supply chain is always considered.

Love Justly had the honor of connecting with Tavie to chat about how she selects the products found on her site, the importance of transparency, and why every purchase matters. 

MadeFAIR is very purposeful in the products it selects, what criteria do you use? 
The first things I look for are material and design. It troubles me that so many brands equate ethical fashion with minimalism, and minimalism is defined by monochromatic, shapeless silhouettes.

To me, that’s not timeless, it’s trendy. It’s what will define the early-mid 2010s.  I’ll seek out classic silhouettes that would fit into any decade in the last century, or something so surprising that it triggers the “I MUST have this” reflex, like our Nadine Capelet Crop Top or The Asymmetrical Top.

We steer clear of any ethical reproductions of something trending on Pinterest. From there, every raw material’s supply chain can be reduced to its bare bones.  There are two things to look for when determining ethics and sustainability: country of origin and materials used.

For example, if I’m presented with something “made in Cambodia” by a small workshop, then I know it was made from either hand-woven textiles or factory remnants (aka surplus).

Some of the most respected businesses pride themselves on their transparency, MadeFAIR definitely falls into this category as well. Why is transparency and responsibility so important to you?

  • Responsibility: I'm a feminist. It'd be irresponsible to participate in a system where women dominate manufacturing and consumer spending, but are exploited, body-shamed, and emotionally manipulated. 
  • Transparency: Being transparent and owning up to our own hypocrisies (leather, for instance) -- even at the cost of public embarrassment -- turns our business into a democracy, where we're accountable to our customers. They can then make well-informed "votes" with their dollars.

If you were to describe MadeFAIR in three words, what would those be and why?

  • Authentic -- It's cliché, but I can't really be bothered to "spin" anything in marketing. The website, social media, and even customer emails are real, self-aware people -- not marketing firms or algorithms.  
  • Picky -- We have about 20-25 vendors in our store at any time, but I've been pitched over 400 times in the last year. That gives us an "acceptance rate" lower than The London School of Economics. Obviously, sometimes it's cash flow constraints, but I'll always contact compelling brands later on, usually when the season changes. I suppose design is like an SAT score and ethics are references and the personal essay.
  • Woke -- First and foremost, we're activists who like fashion. I blame fast fashion's throw-away culture for spawning the idea that fashion is frivolous, and the people who love it are superficial. I can't tell you how many times someone has rolled their eyes when I tell them what I do for a living. "Yeah, I don't really care about fashion.

    I just wear what's comfortable." (No one has ever said this while wearing a potato sack.)

    There's nothing frivolous about it, though. The traditional fashion industry is fraught with human rights abuses, environmental degradation, unequal gender representation in its top tier, lacking diversity on runways, cultural appropriation, and body shaming.

    It also does amazing things like creating wealth emerging economies or introducing new markets into prosperous economies (secondhand clothing, anyone?). I can't say it enough: Fashion isn't frivolous.

    And to dive head first into the industry with an iota of compassion means that we gotta be woke.


Sometimes people may feel like the impact of their purchase doesn't matter, what would you say to those people?
Everything we do matters. We have loads of tourists come through Cambodia who want to "give back" with their time or a donation, but I discourage this. It's better to buy an iced coffee from a roadside stand or put your change into a tip jar.

Circulating money within a local economy is what drives change. In the last year, the motorbike rental shop across the street from our guesthouse went from being a one-man operation to having three full-time employees, simply because we send all of our customers there. 

The same goes for your fashion purchases. While it might feel like withholding $50 from Zara isn't a protest, spending $50 at a small business could be the owner's only sale the entire day. 

We live in a culture that values instant gratification, so if we slow down a bit and see the impact of our spending in the long run, then we'll absolutely see the power of our dollars. 

Visit MadeFair to shop discounted items from the ethical fashion company.



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