Austin's Women and Fair Trade Festival sheds light on labor injustices

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The smell of tamales sizzled in the air at Austin’s Women and Fair Trade Festival, where vendors displayed wrinkled smiles, hand woven home decor and bright, beaded jewelry.

“The marketplace was started by women in the community who were being directly affected by different injustices in different parts of the world,” said festival coordinator Cristina Gonzalez. “This is our way to help support their form of resistance.”

Nine sellers from places like Palestine, Ecuador and Mexico lined the grounds of St. James’ Episcopal Church on Friday and Saturday.

One group of seamstresses from San Antonio at the event had been laid off by Levi’s in the 90s because of outsourcing, Gonzalez said. The factory closed down overnight, so the women took to their own machines to sustain an income. Now called Fuerza Unida, the group sells jean items every year at the festival.

Like Fuerza Unida, other vendors stand against practices like outsourcing and cheap labor. Gonzalez said these shared values have connected vendors to Austin Tan Cerca de la Frontera, the independent nonprofit which has hosted the festival for 14 years.

Rebecca Goodman said she attended because she likes to have a personal connection with what she buys.

“For me, I really enjoy doing things in person,” Goodman said.

Three bracelets clung to Goodman’s wrist after the event, but the advertising sophomore said she didn’t experience any language barriers while purchasing them. The festival had speakers of a wide variety of languages, but most knew Spanish and almost every vendor knew a little bit of English, Gonzalez said.

Deborah Brown, who works with five different linguistic groups in Guatemala, said language is not a problem from the seller’s viewpoint either. Brown decided to help Guatemalan weavers sell 20 years ago after spending time in Latin America with a friend.

“We had very, very little money on our trip, but we always had so many gracious people invite us to stay in their homes,” Brown said. “We saw a different kind of life than we normally see. We saw a lot of poverty, but we also saw a lot of talent.”

Although Brown is not a native Spanish speaker, she said there is a shared interest between her and the weavers.

“For them, Spanish is a second language, as it is for me,” Brown said. “So we can muddle through it. I wouldn’t say I’m fluent, but I can talk textiles.”