By Lynette Holloway
Green Right Now

Colorful messenger bags and totes created from re-purposed construction netting, recycled rice bags and Cambodian silk. Screen-printed cotton outfits designed by the Chicago- and Cambodia-based Malia Designs. Divine chocolate made from cocoa beans sustainably grown in Ghana.

These are just some of the finds at Greenheart Shop , a thriving Fair Trade business in Chicago’s trendy Wicker Park neighborhood. Shoppers recently were treated to a fashion show complete with runway models decked in green wear from head-to-toe.

Greenheart Shop models show off the stores clothing

Greenheart Shop models show off the stores clothing (Photo: Lynette Holloway)

Fashions included a stylish red scoop neck maxi-dress with a fitted bust and defined waistline made of hand-woven multi-tonal cotton threads, designed by Mata Traders, a Chicago-based clothing and accessories business that imports clothing made by cooperatives and artisans in India. The Greenheart models also wore Mata-designed bracelets of gold and silver wire cuffs, multi-colored beads and silver squares.

Artisan crafters in India construct clothing for Mata Traders

Artisan crafters in India construct clothing for Mata Traders

“It’s a great way to get people’s attention,’’ said Adra Klopfer, who modeled a red halter dress by eco-fashion designer Indigenous. She and the other models walked a runway and appeared in the window storefront along West Division Street, catching the eye of several passers-by on one of the first warm days of spring and drawing them into the cozy store, a kaleidoscope of green wares.

“We’re a movement,’’ said Andrea Newman, a manager of the Wicker Park location, one of three in the city. “As people become more aware of green living, stores like Greenheart are becoming more of a destination.’’

Greenheart is one of Chicago’s premier eco- non-profit stores, carrying both Fair Trade and green products.

“We provide unique and contemporary products that you can feel good about buying. In choosing products, we are mindful of the entire production process — the resources used to make them, the wages paid to the producers, and the overall social and environmental impact,’’ according to Greenheart literature.

A Greenheart shirt made through Mata Traders

A Greenheart shirt made through Mata Traders

Fair Trade is an international market that is part of Global International, a 22-year-old human rights organization dedicated to promoting environmental, political and social justice. Fair Trade sells items online and partners with stores such as Greenheart across the globe.

As part of the Fair Trade contract, Greenheart producers receive fair wages for their goods and labor, work in safe conditions, develop longstanding relationships with buyers and wholesalers and exercise environmental best practices. The business transaction is conducted in a transparent, accountable and democratic manner.

Malia Designs, for example, works with four organizations each with its own social mission. One organization rescues women from human trafficking and teaches them a trade, said Lia Valerio, a founder, who started the business after traveling around Southeast Asia and serving as a volunteer in the Peace Corps in Tonga, a group of islands in the South Pacific. “Once they learn a trade, we help them integrate back into mainstream society so they can support themselves.’’