Foreword: Sydney Sherman first came into my life at a café in Austin, Texas, deep into flu season. Both deliriously sick, our discussion lacked the breadth and depth of most job interviews—and what was covered was forgotten soon after. Nonetheless, after an hour of speaking to Sydney, I knew that I was ready to commit to being a part of Faire. Our collective coughs and sneezes became background noise to the unwavering passion that exuded from this young woman. Whatever she set her mind to, I sensed immediately, she would accomplish; and, I could see that she was ready to change the world. I recently had a chance to follow up with Sydney about her story, and to ask her to elaborate on her reasons for starting Faire. After reading about her, I think you’ll understand why.
Like most American consumers, Sydney only realized the widespread implications of what we’ve come to call “fast fashion” in the last 10 years. The term fast fashion really refers to the clothes’ fad-like qualities: styles that are fleetingly trend--cycled through the industry’s biggest brands at breakneck speed in order to encourage consumers to buy more clothing, more often, and for way less.
In her late teens, Sydney took a month-long “study” abroad trip to Spain (indeed, very little studying was completed). While there, she became the Cary Bradshaw of Barcelona, equipped with so many brand-new clothes that she never needed to wear an outfit more than once. But the attachment to these trendy clothes was fleeting, and all the Forever 21 pieces she bought went untouched after returning home.
Even back then, she got the feeling that something wasn't quite right with the scenario. She wondered, “Isn’t there a better way to do this? Why did I end up with so many clothes in the first place?”
Years later, she was finally able to answer these questions. Why did she end up with so many clothes?
The widespread acceptance of fast fashion made Sydney’s frivolous shopping spree seem normal. These items are mass produced, and flooding our shopping malls in virtually every town and city in the U.S. Yet, the consequences of the practices they represent are not quite as obvious. After researching, she found out about the disposability, waste, and exploitative supply chains associated with garment production. These practices are rife with child and slave labor, and no protections for workers, or the environment.
Fortunately, she also found that there is a better way to shop. Fair and Ethical Trade organizations have established concrete standards and processes meant to disrupt the detrimental status quo in consumer goods (and agricultural products––think Fair Trade coffee). But, these ethically sourced items are the exception to the rule in the U.S. market, where fast fashion is still the norm.
Years later, during college, while (actually) studying abroad in Salzburg, Austria, Sydney learned first-hand the complexity of related issues she hadn’t even come close to broaching in Barcelona: things like the harsh consequences of prolonged war, the darker sides of our consumer culture, and the stark contrast between her life in the United States and that of her international classmates.
She recalled to me how some of her Palestinian classmates, during a discussion on the horrors of World War II, questioned why they were focusing on the remnants of decades past while their own country remained in the current grip of violence and economic desperation. Sydney began to realize that unless it’s drilled into our memory with the force of first-hand experiences, the suffering of other people past and present tends to fall into the category of “other.” For many of us, once there, others’ suffering dwindles in comparison to our own daily concerns.
After Salzburg and college graduation, Sydney continued to break down this disconnect by extending her travels and visiting her classmates in their hometowns all over the world—from Turkey and Lebanon, to Jordan, Mexico, and India. Wherever she went, she saw the same things: beautiful places filled with hard working people and the unique things they made––more often than not, while stuck in crippling poverty.
India was the tipping point for her. In Delhi, she saw streets lined with homeless families huddled together, many sleeping just inches away from traffic. She saw people who had cut off their own limbs to garner more money begging. After months of travel, she decided she’d seen enough. She cut her trip short and decided that she wouldn't return to the region until she could do something to help relieve the suffering.
As Sydney powered through grad school, she also started to develop her plan for Faire. The entrepreneur that she is, Sydney quickly recognized an oppurtunity to revolutionize the Fair and Ethical Trade market. One of the most memorable aspects of her time abroad was the beautiful, often handcrafted, goods sold in the markets of each country she visited. She knew that people in western markets demanded unique, high quality, and ethically made items, even if the actual marketplace was overcrowded with fast fashion goods.
So, Sydney decided that she would be the one to create the marketplace alternative to status quo in e-commerce (think Amazon.com): an online hub for ethically-sourced products of all kinds.
And, because women are often disproportionately affected by the evils of economic marginalization, Sydney is determined to help empower women in developing regions. “Even if only a few sales are made early on...that is more income in the pocket of women across the world. Just one woman with an extra $100 monthly can start a chain effect—investing in her community and in the well being of her children..so they can be cared for, educated, and eventually spared the kind of poverty so many are trapped in.”
The business started to solidify as she shared her plans with family, friends, peers, and professors. She developed Faire’s Mission: to create a higher standard of living for communities around the world by supporting trade relationships that reflect a higher ethical standard. As she shared Faire’s Mission with them, others saw the same passion in Sydney that I did. Barbara, a non-profit professional in Austin and India, quickly saw Faire’s potential. She offered to tour India on Sydney’s behalf and help gather sellers for Faire’s beta site, Faire.Shop.
Sydney with her Mom, Terrell, Faire's Co-Founder.
Like many other female entrepreneurs, Sydney was not 100% confident in her idea. But, the faith of others she’s met put Faire off to a running start.
For Sydney, the question of whether or not to start Faire was never pertinent. How Faire can best accomplish its Mission, on the other hand, was a different story. “How can we ensure workers are paid fair wages? How can we ensure safe working conditions for people around the world? How can we communicate to everyday consumers about the difference they can make with their dollar?” I could tell that these were the questions that keep Sydney up at night.
Before the U.S. had concrete labor laws, citizens were routinely subjected to the same undignified, often cruel, working conditions we see in so-called “third world” regions today. The difference is that we fought to change that picture, and to adopt new ethical standards. Yet, we still wear our $4 shirts and pants, 60% polyester, and 100% guilt-free. Consumers are either aware and apathetic to the slave wages paid to these workers, or blissfully ignorant of these practices. Early on, Sydney asked herself, “Why is this picture acceptable?”
She is prompting all of us to ask ourselves the same question. The obvious answer is that it’s simply not acceptable––and, out of this answer, Faire was born.
Whether people buy anything in Faire’s virtual marketplace or not, it also exists as a tool to inform consumers about what their everyday choices can really mean for others––and, to empower people to make better ones. After hearing Sydney’s story, I believe that Faire is a smaller part of a bigger movement––one that started a long time ago, and that will define the next chapter in our collective history.
*To ask Sydney questions and learn more about her journey––and Faire's Mission––tune in this Friday @ 11amEST (10am CST, Syd's timezone) at this link. Sydney will be hosting Ask A Mogul and connecting with other Mogul's live! Spread the word, too!
Written by Haley Martin
Faire was founded to change the way we think about, and respond to, global poverty––and to change the way we buy things everyday. Faire.Shop is an alternative to the status quo in e-commerce and fast fashion; our marketplace curates 100% ethically sourced goods from all over the world.