Archive for the ‘ethical fashion’ Category

A Love Letter to Fair Trade

Posted on: February 14th, 2017 by Lucia No Comments

Dear Fair Trade –

From the bottom of our hearts, we thank you! Thank you for bringing attention to the people around the world, who without you, often work in exploitative and unsafe conditions.

Thank you for pointing out the true costs of goods in global supply chains and helping us realize that when it goes to cheap mass produced consumer goods, somewhere, someone is paying a price (and it’s typically the workers, not to mention our planet).

fair trade hearts

We couldn’t fit all of our love for fair trade onto these hearts, so we wrote a letter. . .

Thank you for being a social justice movement and an alternative business model. We don’t believe that capitalism can ever be “woke”, but we love your focus on trade serving the people of this planet. We don’t believe that you can have a more just and fair society or world without you.

You are for everyone! It’s one of the things we love most about you. You empower women. You respect cultural diversity. You help sustain traditional art forms of cultures from around the globe. You help the western world realize the impact of consumerism, and give all people a way to vote with their dollars.

You are even great for kids. You have absolutely zero tolerance for child labor and because you offer fair wages and empower women, families can afford to send their kids to school. Through fair trade employment, artisans and farmers around the world are breaking the cycle of poverty and giving their kids a better life.

thistle farms

Local children celebrating at Damnok Toek

Thank you for standing up for gender equality and saying no to discrimination! Women and men work equally within fair trade organizations and are not discriminated against based on gender, age, religion or other personal orientation.

You respect and love our planet and understand that it’s the only one we’ve got. Fair trade producers maximize the use of raw materials from sustainably managed sources and buy local whenever possible. They use production technologies that seek to reduce energy consumption and reduce, reuse, reclaim, and recycle materials wherever possible.

Your products are truly amazing! Purchasing fair trade means a high quality and hand crafted item that is often desired on aesthetics alone. There are so many amazing fair trade brands with truly top notch design standards. As more and more fair trade brands find a successful path into the global marketplace our fair trade choices get better and better.

tie dye clutch

Through Feb 20th, you can still save 30% off our Fall Collection with code: fairtradelove

And lastly, thank you for being a sustainable way to provide economic opportunity and hope for marginalized people in some of the poorest communities worldwide. Not only does fair trade employment provide for the basic material needs of day-to-day life for workers in these communities, fair trade jobs create respect, confidence and leadership within these communities. We are so proud to be a fair trade brand and so grateful to experience the positive impact that fair trade has on the lives of our artisan partners in Cambodia. Fair trade, you are the definition of win-win and you forever have our hearts!

The Malia Team

Fighting Human Trafficking with Damnok Toek

Posted on: January 23rd, 2017 by Leilani Angel No Comments

January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month which is an excellent time to not only reflect on our brand journey in the fight against Human Trafficking but it is also the perfect time of the year to share a little insight as to what specifically inspires us to carry a cause every day all year long.

fair trade club meeting

Children of Damnok Toek, PC: Amy Fellows

Our fight on Human Trafficking has been going strong for the last 12 years largely due to the endless support from our customers and brand partners that share a similar social mission. We would like to start off the year by highlighting an organization that is very near and dear to our hearts, Damnok Toek. This organization works with vulnerable children and families in Cambodia. Their main objectives are to advocate for prevention, rehabilitation, integration and reintegration into the community. They serve individuals who have survived human trafficking, street working, homelessness, exploitation, abuse and those living with various disabilities.

Damnok Toek is a non-profit organization that has been instrumental in providing rehabilitation for marginalized children and youth by aiding in the development of a brighter future through a variety of nurturing services. This includes access to short-term to mid-term shelter facilities, family tracing and counseling services. They also offer life skills workshops and education that covers basic literacy and numeracy. Art therapy is also utilized as a method for creative expression and healing through dance, theater performances, painting and woodcarving.

fair trade club meeting

Classroom at Damnok Toek, PC: Damnok Toek website

More than 1,500 children per day are given support and care by the 100 employees throughout the three Damnok Toek facilities located in Cambodia. They are able to offer refuge and reformation for these children in need by the continuous support of global partners who have made it their mission to one day put an end to Human Trafficking. Malia Designs is one of many organizations that proudly supports Damnok Toek in their fight against Human Trafficking and other devastating challenges that these children endure. Each purchase with our company directly supports Damnok Toek. The amazing work they do  is precisely why we carry a cause and this is what fuels our desire to connect with individuals and communities all over the world in order to come together and bring awareness to this international crisis.

Human Trafficking is defined as, “the recruitment, transport, transfer, harboring or receipt of a person by such means as threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud or deception for the purpose of exploitation.” According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the most common form of Human Trafficking is for sexual exploitation followed by forced labor and victims are predominantly women and children.  

fair trade club meeting

Literacy Training at Damnok Toek, PC: Amy Fellows

We are dedicated to  fighting this epidemic, but we can’t do it alone. It is a devastating topic but it is a conversation that we need to continually have in order to create serious and immediate change.  We think Michelle Obama said it best in one of our all-time favorite quotes, “I hope that you will all reject the false comfort that others suffering is not your concern. That if you can’t solve all the world’s problems you shouldn’t even try.”  You can join us in our fight on Human Trafficking just by simply sharing this blog post and continuing this conversation within your communities. We are always stronger together and together we can make a difference.

The Night We Carried A Cause Together

Posted on: December 15th, 2016 by Leilani Angel No Comments

There is something magical that happens when you surround yourself with people that share a similar passion as yourself. We had the privilege of collaborating with the San Diego Style Bloggers for a private trunk show event at Bar Basic in Downtown San Diego and by the end of the night we bonded with our new fellow fair trade fashionistas and sustainable sisters.

fair trade club meeting Blogger babes Laura Neuzeth, Alessandra Gonzalez and Paulina Mo

Trunk show attendees included local taste makers within the fashion industry including bloggers, journalists, stylists, and designers. The coming together of prominent influencers such as Paulina Mo of Lil’ Bits of Chic and bilingual blogger sensation, Alessandra Gonzalez made for a spectacular evening filled with much needed conversation about the importance of ethical fashion and how we can collectively come together to carry a cause.

fair trade club meeting

Local designer, Jessica Cornejo, from Ziur Designs

The guests were able to shop from all of our eco-friendly collections including our hand crafted recycled feed bags and recycled cement bags. Brand Director, Lucia Ruth, was thrilled to conduct a brief presentation about our brand mission and how we can combat Human Trafficking through ethical fashion and business practices.

fair trade club meeting

Guests striking a pose with their new bags

Event attendees learned about our Fair Trade artisan partnerships in Cambodia and how Fair Trade employment opportunities provide a strong quality of life for our artisans and their families. By purchasing a Malia Designs handbag, you are indeed, carrying a cause, that supports proper treatment of artisan workers and lowering our collective carbon footprint on the environment.

fair trade club meeting

Guests learning about the brand mission from Lucia Ruth & Leilani Angel

This inspirational evening included fun photo booth action, cocktails, and tasty brick oven pizza. As the evening came to a close, it was clear that this event was much more than a fashionable night out, it was a call to action designed to spark curiosity about how fashion can be a force for good for both people and the planet.

fair trade club meeting

Cy Chen, Lilia, Tiffany Williams, Reca A’Shauntae, Leilani Angel, Alessandra Gonzalez, Laura Neuzeth & Paulina Mo

*All photos courtesy of Melisa Soriano

How to Carry Malia Designs with You All Day Long!

Posted on: November 22nd, 2016 by Leilani Angel No Comments

Between running errands, rushing off to work, squeezing in some fitness time, and enjoying a night out with friends, it’s safe to say that we love being active and on the go! The different  activities of our day often require an outfit change which means incorporating different bags and wallets into the mix…our favorite part! We teamed up with one of our favorite ethical fashion boutiques, The Golden Rule Boutique, to share some fun and easy ways that Malia Designs can carry a cause with you all day long.

fair trade club meeting

If you consider yourself to be a multitasker then this is the perfect accessory for you. Our travel wallet has enough space for all of your cards, coins, lip gloss, and even your cell phone. It also has a little wristlet strap so you can easily carry it around while running errands or grabbing a cup of coffee to start your day. Plus, elephants are said to bring good luck!

fair trade club meeting

Get your namaste on with our yoga mat bag from our Recycled Feed Bag Collection. This awesome bag comes in a variety of fun and vibrant colors that you can easily match to your fitness apparel. (We are diggin’ these elephant pants!) Added bonus…you can actually fit two mats in there if you like extra padding during your workout.

fair trade club meeting

Multi-task with our Recycled Cement Elephant Tote Bag! Let’s be honest…most of us probably carry half of what we own in our tote bags. If you’re like me and still rock a physical day planner, carry around a sweater, maybe an umbrella, a few power bars, water bottle, and a makeup bag at all times then you are my kind of gal and you would absolutely love our recycled cement tote bag! It’s super durable, and you can choose either a serpent, a mountain, an anchor, an eagle or an elephant design!

fair trade club meeting

Chill out with our Recycled Cement Alligator Travel Wallet. We are in love with this shape, it’s been a favorite for years! Our travel wallet is available in a cotton  canvas as well as recycled cement bag materials. This is the perfect item to take with you for a fun meet up with friends. You can totally dress up or go casual and our little gator guy will look super cute with you in your selfie shots!

fair trade club meeting

Celebrate the night with our Hand Woven Silk Clutch! You’ve conquered your day and now it’s time to reward yourself with a GNO or maybe a date night with your main squeeze. Our tie dyed clutch is made out of hand woven silk and comes in red and teal if you’re into creating a pop of color or classic black for a sophisticated chic look.

When you carry Malia Designs, you also carry a cause!  You are not only supporting global Fair Trade business practices but you are joining us in the fight against Human Trafficking! No matter if you are taking on the corporate world, building your own empire, pursuing an education, taking care of your family or all of the above…having the right wallet and bag is a great way to keep you organized and in style while supporting a beautiful social mission.

Photo Shoot Credits:
Model: Melissa McInnis
Fashion Stylist: Melisa Calamayan-Soriano
Photography, Hair, & Makeup: AJ Hair Play
Wardrobe: The Golden Rule Boutique

Fundraising with California’s First Fair Trade Elementary School

Posted on: May 9th, 2016 by Lucia No Comments

We just wrapped up a fun and successful fundraising collaboration with St. Martin of Tours Academy in La Mesa, California. St. Martin’s is actually the first elementary school in California to receive the fair trade designation and they are fully committed to furthering fair trade as part of their curriculum. As part of the designation St. Martin’s uses fair trade products whenever possible and will exclusively use fair trade brands for all future fundraising efforts. The goal of this fundraiser was to raise money for students to attend sixth grade camp.

fair trade club meeting

Parents and students attend a planning meeting with Brand Director, Lucia Ruth

We were really thrilled to be chosen by St. Martin’s for their first fair trade accessory catalog fundraiser. It was so fun working with the parents and children to choose products that would be a good fit for families at the school and to share with them how purchasing fair trade positively impacts our Cambodian artisans and their families and helps forward our social mission to fight human trafficking. Once the products were decided upon, we created a custom catalog for St. Martin’s that featured the curated collection and also provided details about the our social mission and fair trade business practices.

fair trade elementary school

St. Martin parents and children help select products

While we have worked with many groups in the past for fundraising this was the first time that we have done a traditional catalog sale. It felt so great to provide a quality handmade product for the St. Martin fundraising efforts that provided an ethical and unique alternative to selling wrapping paper, magazines or other typical fundraiser-type products. We felt energized by the enthusiasm that the families showed for Malia Designs, and it was extremely satisfying to work with the next generation of fair trade advocates. Who knows? Some of them may start their own fair trade brands one day!

malia designs fundraiser

Principal, Toni Dimuzio modeling her new Malia Designs bag alongside an array of products sold during the fundraiser

If you are interested in partnering with Malia Designs for your fundraising efforts, please email If you would like to learn more about how to become a fair trade school or how to incorporate fair trade into your school’s curriculum, please visit

Three brands we love that are helping to fight human trafficking

Posted on: January 27th, 2016 by Lucia 1 Comment

January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month! All month long we have been posting on social media about various organizations working both here in the US and around the globe in the effort to combat human trafficking. In this post we want to share a few of our favorite socially responsible brands that share our social mission to help fight human trafficking.

The Brave Collection

The Brave Collection was founded by Jessica Hendricks to “celebrate bravery and empower women across the globe.” Their beautiful jewelry is handmade by talented Cambodian artisans, primarily mothers who come from underprivileged backgrounds as well as disabled artisans. All artists work in a fair and dignified work environment where they are paid above average wages and receive benefits such as health insurance and stipends for their children’s education.

the brave collection

Our new travel wallet beautifully styled with bracelets from The Brave Collection

We recently teamed up with The Brave Collection for our Spring Look Book shoot and are absolutely in love with the results. Their unique fashion forward designs are carved and woven by hand in Cambodia using traditional metalwork techniques As well as creating empowerment through economic opportunities, 10% of profits are donated to fight human trafficking in Cambodia.

Thistle Farms

Thistle Farms is a multi-faceted organization that includes a powerful community of women who have survived prostitution, trafficking and addiction. Based in Nashville, TN they employ more than 50 survivors through social enterprises which include a natural body care company, Thistle Stop Cafe, artisan studio, and global marketplace called Shared Trade.

thistle farms

Thistle Farms Manufacturing

Their yummy natural body care products are primarily vegan (a few do contain beeswax) and none of the products are ever tested on animals. Along with the body care line, Thistle Farms also operates a global market place—Shared Trade. They offer handmade quality products that represent healing and empowerment. Thistle Farms currently works with 18 partner social enterprises provide dignifying employment and safe workplaces for women artisans in 10 countries.

What’s the best thing about Thistle Farms? Clearly their heart, “Thistle Farms stands for the truth that, in the end, love is the most powerful force for change in the world.” The Thistle Farms motto is love heals and both their successful business model and the women’s lives they have transformed are clearly testaments that indeed it does.

Purpose Jewelry

Purpose Jewelry is a fashion jewelry brand that empowers survivors through employment and financial stability. All of their jewelry is handcrafted in India by survivors of modern-day slavery. All of the proceeds benefit International Sanctuary, a non profit that provides holistic care for young women rescued from sex trafficking. A unique part of Purpose Jewelry’s business model is that they work with human trafficking survivors in both India and in Orange County where their US headquarters is based.

thistle farms

Shimmering Purpose Jewelry necklaces

The International Sanctuary survivor rehabilitation program has been so successful that they have been approached by numerous organizations to expand their program around the globe. They now have a goal to launch 10 sanctuaries around the world where girls and women rescued from slavery are empowered in the restoration of their mind, body, and soul. We have had the chance to attend various events with the Purpose Jewelry team, and it’s been a total pleasure to meet these driven women who are passionate about both their beautiful jewelry designs and the social mission behind them!

Fast Fashion – Who Are the Victims?

Posted on: July 23rd, 2015 by Lucia No Comments

Take a walk through any mall or shopping center and it’s easy to get carried away by the countless stores that utilize “fast fashion.” With bargain prices and the latest styles, these brands make it easy to jump on any fashion bandwagon, even update your entire wardrobe to follow a trend. Every year, the average American purchases 68 new garments – and to counteract their loss of closet space, throws out nearly ten pounds of clothing. I’ll admit, it is tempting to see a cute top in a store window and know that you can easily add it to your closet without breaking the bank. But when you get down to it, what trend are you really following?

fast fashion

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Each item you buy is a conscious choice, a monetary “vote” that you support that company. Sporting a trendy fringed crop top is not only a way to silently tell the world you can rock the bohemian vibe, but also that you are a supporter of the company who made that top. Think about it this way: wearing a t-shirt with the logo of your favorite band is a way to communicate that you support their music, just like how wearing a shirt from a specific brand is a way to say that you support their store. On Fashion Revolution Day we encouraged everybody to ask the question, “Who made my clothes?” But simply asking is not enough. If we discover answers we don’t like, we need to be enforcers of change.


For fast fashion stores, a key to their success is being able to update the products they offer at the drop of a hat. Quite literally; if a celebrity is spotted wearing a zebra print fedora today and suddenly everybody wants one, those very same hats can be put into production next week, and at a price no one can beat. This ensures that the stores get plenty of return customers who are always able to find something new and affordable to purchase. That may be awesome for the owners’ bank accounts, but what does it mean for the laborers?

fast fashion

Cambodian Garment Workers – PC: State Gov Library

With so many items in production, many factories and laborers are needed at short notice. With nearly all production occurring overseas, it is extremely difficult for managers of the company to keep an eye on everything, and, sadly, sometimes the details of fast fashion production slip out of focus. Garments get subcontracted to factories not directly approved and safe, many of which are unregulated and unlicensed. Millions of children get hired, even forced into labor. For many, it is their only choice – they must drop out of school at a young age and work to support their families. Oftentimes children use fake identification to bypass age restrictions and get jobs in sweatshop conditions. These jobs are meant only for adults, but when twelve year olds are able to pass off as eighteen, it is clear that these age restrictions are rarely followed.


Many of the workers in these factories are women. In fact, the percentage of women working in the garment industry in Cambodia is about 90 percent. Many times this is their only employment opportunity, their only way to avoid being forced into the ever-present sex trade. Discrimination against pregnant women is prevalent; many women choose to wear tight clothes to mask their pregnancies to avoid getting fired.


The conditions that both adults and children face in these factories are unthinkable. The wages they earn for toiling long hours is often less than $100 a month, far below a livable income. The quantity of garments the workers must produce is rarely attainable, and overtime is often forced. The temperatures can get so high in these factories that the heat will burn the workers’ skin if they don’t wear layers of clothes so their sweat cools them. Masks are necessary so that pieces of fabric don’t get caught in their throats. Using the restroom is sometimes not permitted, and improperly stored chemicals can cause hazardous health concerns. These conditions that seem unthinkable to us in the Western world are the sad reality that many garment workers across Asia face on a daily basis.

Women stitch khakis in a Bangladesh factory PC: Reutuers

These are the choices that we as consumers need to make. Do we continue on shopping the way we always have just because it is easy – easy to remain loyal to the brands we have grown accustomed to, easy to shut our eyes to the injustice that went into our clothing? Or do we make a conscious effort to support fair trade by specifically not supporting companies who don’t?


Obviously, we can’t throw away all the clothes we already own and rebuild our wardrobes out of only fair trade pieces. We can, however, make a more conscious effort to buy ethically made clothing in the future. It’s no secret that fair trade fashion can be a little bit pricier and more difficult to find, but the good news is that there are great options available if you know where to look. Besides visiting your local boutiques and stores that carry fair trade items, check out some websites such as,, and If you are looking for fair trade items beyond just clothing, check out our handbags and accessories at Other great places to visit for accessories are and If your goal is to find a good deal, look into, an online thrift store where you can buy high quality secondhand items for a fraction of the cost. Not only does buying secondhand decrease manufacturing and labor demands, it also cuts down on the amount of clothes waste that ends up in landfills. Of course, cutting our favorite brands out of our lives won’t be easy, and it won’t happen all at once. But it is a goal we can work toward, one four-dollar tank top at a time.


Lindsay Murdoch’s article in The Sydney Morning Herald titled “West’s fashion industry relies on sweat of Asia’s teenagers” provided much of the background information used in this post. You can read his article here:


This clip from Last Week Tonight with John Oliver is a great background on the fast fashion industry:


The author of this post, Anna Chudzinski, is our summer intern at Malia Designs. When she’s not learning about the fashion industry and fair trade, writing blog posts, looking through fabric samples, and battling with a tape gun to assemble boxes, you can find her curating our Pinterest account with interesting articles and fair trade fashion ( In the fall she will continue in the business honors program at Loyola University Chicago, and she won’t admit how many purses she owns, because the amount is borderline obsessive.

Meet our artisan partner – Thanan

Posted on: July 6th, 2015 by Lucia No Comments

Malia Designs was created to provide economic opportunities for vulnerable populations in South East Asia. We accomplish this through partnerships. We link arms with our partners and we believe in them; that they are capable of creating significant changes in the communities where they live and work.

Thanan is a beautiful example of how these partnerships can work. Thanan leads the artisan group that produces our popular cotton canvas screen printed line. She received her educational training at the National Centre of Disabled Persons in Cambodia, and it was there that she discovered that she had true talent, both as a seamstress and as a designer.

thanan in her workshop

Thanan helps us to review and make design choices for our Fall 2015 prints

After she graduated Thanan received a micro-loan and began her own ethical fashion business. Today she employs more than fifty home-based artisans who are also disabled. It is Thanan’s mission and passion to provide secure, consistent employment for these disabled individuals. In Cambodia it’s an unfortunate fact that the disabled are often treated like third class citizens, and their chances for finding gainful employment are very slim. As a whole the disabled population is also more vulnerable to exploitation and to traffickers.

partial rolls of printed fabrics line the walls of a market stall

Reviewing fabric swatches and colors with Thanan’s guidance

Thanan is one of the most compassionate and giving women that we know. Her compassion and dedication to improving the lives of others combined with her design talents truly make her not only a valued partner, but also one of our heroes. Her bright smile, generosity and sharp sense of humor make her one of our dear friends.

Sourcing and Shopping

Posted on: June 8th, 2015 by Lucia No Comments

We love working with recycled and repurposed materials. The fact that our products are also eco-friendly goes right along with our fair trade values—being good for people and good for the planet is a double win in our book. One of the coolest things about our cotton canvas screen printed line is that the fabrics we use are often leftover remnants from the garment factories which are so prominent in Cambodia.

partial rolls of printed fabrics line the walls of a market stall

Partial rolls of fabrics line the walls of a market stall

Local markets sell the leftover fabric remnants and rolls. There are several market stalls selling these leftovers and they are all a bit different in what they offer. Some also sell suit fabric and part of their profits are derived from tailoring custom made suits for foreign business travelers.

Reviewing fabric swatches and comparing them to our desired color palette.

Reviewing fabric swatches and comparing them to our desired color palette.

We begin our fabric quest with an idea of the colors that we hope to find at the market. We use paint chips to pick these colors since they offer such a large variety and they are easy to bring along. However, often what we initially had in mind is not available. Although, something great usually is, flexibility is key in this business.

Brightly printed fabrics line the window—next door is a bicycle repair business

Brightly printed fabrics line the window—next door is a bicycle repair business

We rely on our friend and partner, Thanan, to not only help with our color selection, but to also help us to negotiate pricing and to determine if there is more of a specific color available. Thanan leads our partner group that produces our cotton screen print line. Her dream of providing dignified work to disabled populations in Cambodia began with a small micro-loan, and now she employees more than 50 home-based artisans to create our popular designs.

Lucia posing (and sweating)  among the multicolored fabric rolls.

Lucia posing (and sweating) among the multicolored fabric rolls

Once we have landed on the color selections from the available fabrics we will cut swatches so we can create test prints with our new designs. Many times our final selections we be vastly different than what we were initially looking for, and most of the time we will be more satisfied. Kinda like life, many of the best parts are total surprises!

Is it time for a revolution?

Posted on: April 8th, 2015 by Lucia No Comments

Have you heard of Fashion Revolution Day? It is a day that marks the Rana Plaza tragedy in Bangladesh. In case you are not familiar, on April 24th 2013, 1,133 people were killed and over 2,500 people were injured for just going to work when the Rana Plaza complex collapsed in Dhaka Bangladesh. Most of these workers were garment workers and the sad truth is that they died sewing for many large name brands. These unsafe conditions are not an isolated incident, but closer to the status quo in many factories in the developing world.


Fashion Revolution Day says enough is enough and the goal of this international effort is not to just remember those died, but to turn fashion into a force for good by helping to raise awareness of the true cost of fashion, demonstrating that change is possible, and celebrate those who are creating a more sustainable future in the fashion industry.


The theme of Fashion Revolution Day 2015 is simple but powerful. Fashion Revolution Day is asking all of us to ask the question, “Who made my clothes?” It’s a thought that seldom crosses the minds of Western consumers as we are so far removed from the process. Who thinks as they are choosing an item of clothing off that rack that they are not only buying a shirt, but also buying into a way of doing business that in its current state, has a close eye on profits but not the people that make these profits possible.


Join the revolution and the thousands who want to see a more sustainable future for fashion on April 24th. Post a selfie showing your label on social media and ask the brand #whomademyclothes? You can also use the hashtag #fashrev to discover what others around the world are posting and planning and check out to learn more. If you are in the Chicago area, join Chicago Fair Trade and Greenheart Shop at DePaul University for the 2nd annual Fair Trade Fashion Show. Share your love for your favorite ethical and fair trade fashion brands on social media and with family and friends. By taking small actions you can be part of a BIG change.