We first heard about Kelsey Timmerman at the Sweatfree Communities Sweatfree Summit as a speaker and participant. Kelsey was one of sixty activists from across the country gathered in Philadelphia during a weekend in July of 2008 full of training, strategy, and action at the National SweatFree Summit. Fueled by passion and curiosity, Kelsey’s writings and speaking engagements tell the story of the items we often take for granted.
Ethix: We support ethical American manufacturing with our day-to-day operations here at Ethix. As a public speaker for conscious consumerism, how do you see the practice of US brands outsourcing manufacture of goods and clothing impacting the American economy?
Kelsey Timmerman: We live in an age of stagnant wages and falling prices. It’s hard not to find a correlation between the two. The epitome of American consumerism is Walmart — a company at which at some stores has 80% of its employees on food stamps. When we value only lower prices, we ignore our other values — the dignity of work, quality, labor rights, and any other connection with our things or the people who make them. The further the prices fall, and the farther abroad our things come from the harder it is to retain these other values.
Ethix: Do you see either of your books as a tool in the arsenal of the anti-sweatshop movement? If so, how can they be used and how do you feel they complement the efforts of Sweatfree Communities, etc?
Kelsey Timmerman: In many ways my WHERE AM I WEARING journey was a journey to awareness. I didn’t think much about the people who made my clothes until I met them, and visited their homes in Honduras, Bangladesh, Cambodia, and China. I think the book serves as a great tool for the anti-sweatshop movement to use to engage those outside of the movement in a dialogue about sweatshops, child labor, and poverty. For those in the movement themselves, I think the book shows how to approach these issues on a story-level, as opposed to a global economic level. In Wearing, I don’t take a strong stance, I tell the stories of people’s lives and how they are impacted by the global economy and let the reader decide for themselves. I try to get the reader to think and to feel and not tell them what to think and feel. This has allowed me to engage groups at business schools, the anti-sweatshop movement, and multi-national apparel brands in conversations.
I take a similar approach in WHERE AM I EATING? AN ADVENTURE THROUGH THE GLOBAL FOOD ECONOMY as I work alongside coffee farmers in Colombia, banana workers in Costa Rica, lobster divers in Nicaragua, cocoa farmers in Ivory Coast, and apple farmers in China. I could tell you why buying organic bananas are important, but introducing you to the workers who worked among the pesticides with little to no protection and meeting their children has a much bigger impact.
Ethix: How has seeing firsthand how products and apparel are made worldwide impacted your choice of brands/companies to support or steer clear of?
Kelsey Timmerman: To be honest, I never had much of an interest in clothes before WEARING, and eating was always sort of a inconvenience with all the cooking, shopping, and cleaning required until my EATING adventure. Now I enjoy finding awesome companies who are having a positive impact on our world. As I type this I’m wearing a pair of soleRebels made in a living wage factory in Ethiopia and a shirt from the IOU Project that has a number in it that I can type in and meet the worker in Portugal. I’m drinking Fair Trade coffee from Colombia, where I spent three weeks meeting farmers this summer. I have a lot of friends now who grow Fair Trade coffee there. Consuming is much more fun now that the things I buy aren’t just storyless objects that magically appear on a shelf.
Ethix: Which companies/causes do you applaud with purchases by you and your family? On your speaking tours you tell students to “Think Globally and Act Locally”.
Kelsey Timmerman: For clothing I started Kelsey’s Closet to highlight some of the companies I really love. Ethix is in there! So is soleRebels, Cotton of the Carolinas, Forgotten Shirts, sustainu, RainTees. I love finding new companies and learning their stories. Any suggestions? As for food, AlterEco has some amazing projects and I love their chocolate. There are loads of company’s selling Fair Trade coffee like Green Mountain coffee. I’m absolutely loving Guayusa tea sold by RUNA and Stash. EARTH University has one of the coolest banana plantations and schools I’ve ever seen. I could go on and on…
Ethix: What is one way you were “Acting Locally” in 2012 that was a high point for you?
Kelsey Timmerman: I traveled for about 4 months in 2012 while researching EATING. So it was a little more difficult to act local since I had truly gone global. We planted a small garden and bought so many plants that we had to plant melon beneath our pine tree. Fruit: it’s landscaping you can eat! We signed up for deliveries of local and organic produce from Muncie’s coolest grocery – The Downtown Farm Stand. Ball State University had their entire freshman class read WEARING and I had the honor to address the entire freshman class. I encouraged them to be a part of the local community and we nearly ended Big Brothers Big Sister’s list of kids waiting for mentors. Those were all highlights, but the truth is I feel like I was sort of a crummy local because I was gone so much. There were community events I missed and I wasn’t here enough to give as much of my time as I would’ve liked to local organizations.
Ethix: You recently put the finishing touches on your newest book “WHERE AM I EATING“. What was your motivation for the book? When can we expect to see it?
Kelsey Timmerman: About the time WEARING came out the USDA began requiring more Country of Origin Labels on our food. As a label watcher, I couldn’t believe how global our diet had become. Today 86% of seafood, 50% of fruit, and 18% of vegetables come from another country. A single serving of apple juice might be made from apples from four continents! I had to see how our global diet impacted the lives of those who caught, picked, and grew what we eat. I can’t wait to share my adventures and the amazing stories of the people I met. From slaves, to plantation workers, to an indigenous culture that believes they keep the world alive with their prayers, they all feed us. It’s about time we start to appreciate the food we eat and the people who grow it. WHERE AM I EATING? comes out Earth Day (April 22).
We look forward to your thoughts. You can also download the entire interview here.