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Local Council Partners with Etiko to Help Create the Change

Posted by Nick Savaidis on

While plenty of dynamic duos have preceded it, the partnership between Etiko and the Knox City Council, both based in the outer eastern suburbs of Melbourne, has developed into a lasting and fruitful one.

Etiko are one of Australia’s leading fair trade brands, providing everyday clothing and products produced ethically, using the principles of fair trade. The partnership began several years ago, when Nick Savaidis, Founder and CEO of Etiko, was approached by Malcolm Russell, Events and Cultural Development Officer at Knox City Council, to begin a partnership in order to promote fair trade and sustainability within the community.

This connection has since blossomed, taking many forms, not least of which is the annual Knox Schools Fair Trade Art Project, a competition where students artistically decorate Etiko products in an attempt to promote fair trade and introduce community members to the principles and practices of fair trade and sustainability.

“Really it’s about the kids in the secondary schools learning messages about ethical business practices, what fair trade is and how they can get an appreciation about the struggles that some people have and children their age, even, have in other communities and other countries,” said Andy Simpson, Events Coordinator at Knox City Council. “They learn about how their purchases—what they wear and play with—impacts on that.”

“The idea is about engaging young people through our community arts festival," added Russell. “Then we use that as an opportunity to talk about social responsibility or, more specifically, talk about fair trade: what it is, and how the decisions we make in our community affect other communities around the world, particularly with young people.”

Russell initially approached Etiko after recognising their dedication to social justice and fair trade. Both elements that the Knox Council want to represent and promote to their community.

“Etiko are a business in our local community with great ethical and environmental qualifications,” said Russell. “They promote the kinds of messages we want to get out to the schools too, so it’s been fitting to combine the two in a competition like this.”

Through the years the competition has been running, several Etiko products have been “updated” with student art, including t-shirts, shoes, soccer balls, and, new this year, messenger bags.

While the first three products were already a part of Etiko’s product lineup, the messenger bag was introduced and produced specifically for the uses of the Knox City Council and this competition.

“What’s nice is that this year is the first year with the bags, so the students can then wear and use the items that then shows off their thoughts and feelings and artistic endeavours,” said Simpson. “Most of the sneakers couldn’t be worn after the kids were done with them, or the balls. Last year people kind of deconstructed them or made clothing out of them. It’s incredible what’s going on.”

While it’s all a bit of fun to see who can create the most artistic soccerball, pair of shoes or bag, it’s important to note what the real purpose behind the competition is: promoting fair trade and sustainability.

According to Savaidis, it isn’t just about promoting their brand, encouraging fair trade and sustainable practices is key. “Ultimately, we hope the schools and the local community will look at the impact of their own purchasing decisions and policies,” he said. “We hope schools will start looking at their own supply chains because schools have a wide reach of influence, and if we can help them switch to fair trade, we hope it can have a great ripple effect.”

The competition isn’t only limited to schools either. This year’s event, which nine out of the 11 schools within the Knox area participated in, also included entrants from several special schools within the community, such as Scope, Interchange and Mountain District Learning Centre. This brought the total to 12 groups, and 286 people involved in the 2012 competition.

That’s 286 people who are now better equipped to make an ethical change in their daily lives, and hopefully informing others to do likewise.

It’s not just a competition either, with Etiko and the council working in the schools to teach about the ongoing impacts and effects that choosing fair trade products and sustainability can have on both the local and international communities.

“That fair trade message carries through with the first sessions we do with the schools, then successive sessions are working with the students to decorate their products around those themes, resulting in the final products,” said Simpson.

After the art has been created, the top designs are then put on public display, hung outside the Community Arts Centre in Ferntree Gully. They’re inspected by a group of local artists and the mayor who decide on the winning designs, which are then shown in some of the more prominent art displays in the Knox community, including the skate park billboard or light-boxes in the main shopping strip in Boronia.

“The students that really want to have an artistic and creative career have then got something tangible to stick in their portfolios too, which is good. And we do see some students produce some amazing pieces. For others, it’s just fun, but there are some amazing pieces that come out,” said Simpson.

“There are always some amazing designs,” confirmed Savaidis. “While not all are about sustainability and social justice, some of them are, and it’s really exciting to see young people understanding that, and showing it in a creative way.”

While Etiko continue their business, promoting ethical consumption and sustainability, the Knox City Council are also taking continual steps to improving their community.