KNOW BET­TER, DO BET­TER

DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOU SURF GEAR COMES FROM? DAVE RAS­TOVICH GOES ON A JOUR­NEY TO FIND OUT, AND EX­PLAINS WHY IT MAT­TERS.

Carve - - BOARDMASTERS - BY DAVE RAS­TOVICH

Right now politi­cians and cor­po­rate lead­ers are in a world of mess. The peo­ple are re­volt­ing. Un­for­tu­nately in a world of fake news the mass me­dia owned by profit driven moguls is shov­el­ling out di­vi­sive drivel in an at­tempt to take ev­ery­ones aim off their game; make more money what­ever the cost. It is an un­sus­tain­able model of cap­i­tal­ism at its worst. The end game as re­sources di­min­ish over time be­ing al­most cer­tainly war and planet not worth liv­ing on. Sad times.

The truth is we live on a mi­cro dot called Earth with no way of es­cap­ing, hence in the long run the only way we, the av­er­age Joes of the world, will sur­vive with a de­cent stan­dard of liv­ing is if we use re­sources wisely, re­cy­cle and treat each other as we would like to be treated our­selves. As surfers we travel, so we know the ba­sics of glob­al­i­sa­tion, the world is get­ting smaller, but we also know if you treat peo­ple well they will re­spond with kind­ness. These ba­sics are at the heart of a pro­gramme called “Fair Trade’. Ba­si­cally com­pa­nies pay an ex­tra per­cent­age di­rectly to fac­tory work­ers who then de­cide how to spend it. Patag­o­nia are now in­vest­ing heav­ily into the pro­gramme with the launch of Fair Trade board­shorts in an at­tempt to lead the board­sports in­dus­try into eth­i­cal cloth­ing pro­duc­tion, and as part of the pro­gramme Rasta went to Sri Lanka to find out how it all works. This is his story.

“AS SURFERS WE TRAVEL, SO WE KNOW THE BA­SICS OF GLOB­AL­I­SA­TION, THE WORLD IS GET­TING SMALLER, BUT WE ALSO KNOW IF YOU TREAT PEO­PLE WELL THEY WILL RE­SPOND WITH KIND­NESS. THESE BA­SICS ARE AT THE HEART OF A PRO­GRAMME CALLED “FAIR TRADE’. BA­SI­CALLY COM­PA­NIES PAY AN EX­TRA PER­CENT­AGE DI­RECTLY TO FAC­TORY WORK­ERS WHO THEN DE­CIDE HOW TO SPEND IT.”

As I step into MAS Ac­tive-leisure­line, a Fair Trade Cer­ti­fied fac­tory that makes Patag­o­nia prod­ucts near Colombo, Sri Lanka, the first thing that con­fronts my senses is the sound.

Row af­ter row of clam­orous cut­ting and sewing ma­chin­ery is be­ing op­er­ated by a few hun­dred work­ers, all dressed in bright green uni­forms and work­ing un­der white flo­res­cent light. Sri Lankan mu­sic com­petes with the ma­chin­ery for acous­tic dom­i­nance on the fac­tory floor. I’m stand­ing in the midst of the racket to un­der­stand more clearly where our surf gear comes from, who makes it and how the work­ers are treated.

For a long time now, there’s been too lit­tle trans­parency in the gar­ment in­dus­try. When we buy cloth­ing, we’re of­ten obliv­i­ous to the real­ity of how it was made—not to men­tion the true hu­man and eco­log­i­cal costs of the man­u­fac­tur­ing process. But hav­ing been em­bed­ded in surf cul­ture and the surf in­dus­try since I was a kid, I’d al­ways wanted to know if we were do­ing the right thing by the peo­ple who make our gear. Could we be do­ing bet­ter? I’m sure many other surfers have asked the same ques­tion, but there were never any real an­swers avail­able; the real­ity of how most gear was made was sim­ply too un­com­fort­able to put out there.

Patag­o­nia is tak­ing new steps in the surf world by go­ing the ex­tra mile to do the right thing—mak­ing as many surf prod­ucts as pos­si­ble in Fair Trade Cer­ti­fied fa­cil­i­ties. Now, trav­el­ling here to Sri Lanka, I’ve been given the chance to wit­ness what Fair Trade looks like on the ground. I’m cu­ri­ous what kind of peace of mind it can bring to con­sumers at the end of the process— and what kind of peace of mind it can bring to

In­side the work room, my first thought is “Wow, if this is a Fair Trade fac­tory, and the work­ing en­vi­ron­ment is this in­tense, and that song keeps on play­ing, I can’t imag­ine how rad­i­cal other fac­tory spa­ces must be.” But even

the big room is noisy, it’s clean, and the air is cool and easy to breathe.

The fac­tory man­ager, Chan­dana Ban­dara, starts our tour at the be­gin­ning of the pro­duc­tion line, where a garage door is pulled up to re­veal a truck­load of fab­ric rolls. The rolls are placed into a ma­chine, and the fab­ric is un­rolled at a pace that al­lows a worker to scan the ma­te­rial for im­per­fec­tions. This first pro­ce­dure clearly demon­strates to me how, from the very be­gin­ning, mak­ing clothes is not an au­to­mated process. It re­quires real peo­ple with real skills.

A man named Chaminda is in charge of the fab­ric in­spec­tion, and his eyes dart back and forth over the roll of fab­ric, mark­ing tiny blotches I can’t even come close to spot­ting. He’s dressed in the fac­tory uni­form but is sport­ing a shiny pair of steel-capped, pointed-toe, black leather shoes. He catches me star­ing at them and laughs, then shoots a dou­ble eye­brow lift and Sri Lankan head wob­ble my way be­fore re­sum­ing his side-to-side scru­tiny of the fab­ric.

“Smooth op­er­a­tor,” I say to my­self.

The next step is the process of print­ing art onto the fab­ric, which show­cases the pre­ci­sion the next team of peo­ple must have to place the art per­fectly with the cor­rect color dis­tri­bu­tion. A few min­utes into the tour, my pre­con­cep­tions are al­ready be­ing de­con­structed. I’d thought that mod­ern fac­to­ries were largely mech­a­nized, but I’m see­ing that gar­ment man­u­fac­tur­ing de­pends on the tal­ents of hu­mans. The hand-eye co­or­di­na­tion of the work­ers leaves me in awe, and I soon de­velop a new­found ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the work they do. I’m also find­ing that they do their jobs amidst laugh­ter and wise­cracks—and when I try to re-cre­ate the head wob­ble greet­ing, they laugh some more.

The tour con­tin­ues all day, and at ev­ery stop it’s ob­vi­ous that highly skilled labour is cen­tral to mak­ing the surf shirts, board­shorts and other gear we use in our lives out­doors. At one point, I watch 12 dif­fer­ent women ex­pertly han­dle a sin­gle shirt in just one part of its jour­ney to com­ple­tion. The fac­to­ries we rely on, just like the one we’re stand­ing in, aren’t just full of ma­chines, they’re full of peo­ple. Peo­ple who laugh, cry and sweat. Peo­ple with fam­i­lies, his­to­ries and fu­tures that have been over­looked by the in­dus­try for far too long.

This is where Fair Trade comes in as a dis­rup­tor: It ex­tends a sense of value, ac­knowl­edge­ment and re­spect to mem­bers of the hu­man fam­ily who are of­ten pushed to the mar­gins. And the ben­e­fits aren’t just con­cep­tual: At MAS, the work­ers show us pic­tures of a re­cent cel­e­bra­tion when their Fair Trade premium money was used to­ward daily staples, a choice made by the demo­cratic work­ers’ com­mit­tee. The stoke on their faces was plain to see as they told the story of re­ceiv­ing a 50-kilo­gram de­liv­ery of rice, baby for­mula and flour, paid for out of their ben­e­fit fund. For an in­dus­try that has much room for im­prove­ment, this is what the start of do­ing bet­ter looks like.

For me, learn­ing about Fair Trade is also a re­minder that so­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues are closely tied. When a young girl re­cently asked Patag­o­nia founder Yvon Chouinard why he cared for na­ture, he was quoted as sim­ply say­ing, “Be­cause I’m part of it.” There’s no bar­rier that di­vides our liv­ing, breath­ing bod­ies and the liv­ing, breath­ing ecol­ogy that sus­tains us; our sym­bi­otic re­la­tion­ships within the bio­sphere show that car­ing for each other, hu­man to hu­man, is also car­ing for ecol­ogy. So do­ing bet­ter so­cially is do­ing bet­ter eco­log­i­cally, too.

Be­ing surfers, climbers, hik­ers, sailors—or sim­ply peo­ple who sit still long enough to watch the sun­rise or hear the birds call— we’re of­ten of­fered glimpses into these in­ter­con­nected re­la­tion­ships in na­ture. It’s a joy in those mo­ments to ex­tend our sense of self. In this same way, Fair Trade ex­tends a sense of ac­knowl­edge­ment and re­spect to the peo­ple who make, or har­vest, the things we buy.

Later on, walk­ing out of the fac­tory at sun­down, I watch the work­ers leave for home. The ma­chines in­side are still and quiet as groups of friends hud­dle to­gether, laugh­ing and no doubt look­ing for­ward to get­ting home to their fam­i­lies. I look down at the shirt and shorts I’m wear­ing and re­al­ize how, through my en­tire life, I’ve worn clothes made by other peo­ple with­out re­ally giv­ing those peo­ple a sec­ond thought. Now, the shirt on my back has a story.

But in truth, our clothes al­ways have had sto­ries—they just weren’t al­ways ones we were proud to tell. Fair Trade changes those sto­ries into ones that we need—and even want—to hear and share with each other.

Now that we know bet­ter, I think to my­self, it’s time we do bet­ter.

“AT ONE POINT, I WATCH 12 DIF­FER­ENT WOMEN EX­PERTLY HAN­DLE A SIN­GLE SHIRT IN JUST ONE PART OF ITS JOUR­NEY TO COM­PLE­TION. THE FAC­TO­RIES WE RELY ON, JUST LIKE THE ONE WE’RE STAND­ING IN, AREN’T JUST FULL OF MA­CHINES, THEY’RE FULL OF PEO­PLE.”

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