From Paper to Print : Behind the Design of the Spring ’17 Collection

Hello! I’m Katelyn, one of the textile designers here at Mata Traders. With our Spring/Summer ‘17 collection off to such a great start, I thought it might be fun to give you all a glimpse behind the creation process of two of our most popular prints this season! Taking a sketch from the initial concept and developing it into one of a dozen finalized prints in a collection can be a labor of love, but it is always worth it in the long run. I love seeing my work on so many beautiful Mata customers!

The first popular print of the season began with the idea of using lines to form an interconnected patchwork pattern – we called it Patchwork Lines. I took inspiration from African and Moroccan textiles but for a more organic look, added my own hand-drawn slant to it.

I sat down and started doodling and the framework for the print emerged.


Then I digitized it and created the tessellation.


One of the best ways to get more mileage out of one print design is to play around with how it looks. Varying the amount of colors used in the print, using different printing methods, scale, or types of fabric are all great methods we can use to try out new variations of a print. With so many different silhouettes in each collection, sometimes certain variations work better on one style or fabric than another.


Three color, industrial printing process, on fair trade organic jersey cotton



Two color, traditional screen printing process



Two color, traditional screen printing process


The second print that’s been flying off the shelves this spring is the Pop of Floral, and we used it in two different variations in the collection. The influence for this print came from Suzani inspired designs.

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I’m not gonna lie, this print was a real doozy to get right. Unlike the patchwork lines print, which was successful on the first iteration, the pop of floral was ridiculously tricky, taking several rounds of revisions. We almost ended up cutting it a few times but persevered! The hardest part to get right was the vines. Below are a couple of examples that were just not quite right.

Ouch. Too many vines here!



This one is slightly better, but still kind of claustrophobic and viney.



Ah, finally! We’ve got a winner!





Three color, industrial printing process, on fair trade organic jersey cotton



Three color, hand screen printing process

By changing the colors and doing one in woven cotton and one in a knit cotton, it almost looks like a completely different print!

Whether you’re looking for a fun floral or a funky geometric this spring, Mata has plenty of original prints for you to choose from. We invest a lot of time creating one-of-a-kind textile designs for our unique customers, and this Spring/Summer ‘17 Collection is fair trade fashion you can get excited about!








Mata Loves Moms

In honor of today being Take Your Daughter (or Child) to Work Day here in the U.S., and in anticipation of Mother’s Day, we figured some of you might be wondering what it’s like to be a working mom at one of our partner cooperatives. You’re curious, right?

According to Indian laws, women are guaranteed 3 months of paid maternity leave and job protection – this would be great (and is still better than the maternity leave policy in the U.S.), except many employers overlook these laws. There were over 900 lawsuits filed regarding maternity law violations in the past several years, with likely many, many more unreported cases involving women who were unable to take legal action.

Few employers offer flexible working hours or daycare, and many won’t offer extended maternity leave, even if there are ongoing medical issues, forcing most women to quit their jobs after having a child.

With around only a quarter of Indian women returning to work after having children, it’s no wonder a fair trade artisan cooperative is a great place to work! At Mata, we value the importance of working with producer groups who provide support and services to their members, especially mothers.

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Our partner cooperative in Nepal has a daycare right next to the production unit where the stitchers work. If their kids aren’t old enough to attend school, moms can bring their kids to the daycare. This is super helpful for the co-op members – they don’t have to go through the stress of scheduling or paying someone else to watch their children (moms out there know what a hassle this can be!). Plus, they can see their kids whenever they want while at work!

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Some of the kids at our Nepal cooperative’s daycare center.


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You can see, frequent visits with mom make for some happy kiddos!

Our jewelry artisans have organized an after school program for neighborhood kids, many of them with parents who work at the cooperative. The children come to the center after school until their parents are done at work. There are two teachers, one for younger children around kindergarten age and one for older children.

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The younger kids spend some time with the ABCs, and the older children are tutored on subjects like Math, Science, Hindi, and English. A few of the kids said they love Math and Hindi, and on the day of this photo they were learning subtraction and days of the week in English.

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Naseem, the head of our jewelry workshop, with his son.
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Many women who work at our partner cooperatives have explained that homemaking and childcare tends to be the woman’s responsibility in Indian/Nepali households, so working isn’t always feasible for much of the female population. Being able to provide a second income while fulfilling their motherly responsibilities is a great opportunity, and their children happen to love it, too.

Happy Mother’s Day!








Fashion Revolution Week


April 24th-30th is Fashion Revolution Week! And since we know you’re just as excited for it as we are, we put together a handy resource guide to answer your questions, highlight events taking place near our Chicago headquarters, and let you know how you can get involved wherever you are!

What is Fashion Revolution?

Fashion Revolution is a not-for-profit organization based in the U.K. that is dedicated to creating a more ethical fashion industry, one that values its workers and the environment and treats them both with respect.

How did it come to be?

On April 24, 2013, the Rana Plaza in Dhaka, Bangladesh collapsed, killing 1,134 people and injuring more than 2,500. The factories inside the building produced garments for numerous popular apparel brands, including United Colors of Benetton and Zara. The day prior to the structural failure, cracks were discovered in the building, and architects warned that the conditions were dangerous. The space, originally designed for banking and retail use, wasn’t built to bear the weight of manufacturing plants with heavy machinery and thousands of employees. Under pressure to meet the short production deadlines of his fast fashion clientele, the building’s owner ordered factory staff to return to work the next day anyway. The catastrophe was the deadliest garment factory accident in history. More than half of the victims were women, along with many children who were in the factory’s daycare facility.

Fashion Revolution Week

Photo credit: Fashion Revolution

To commemorate the tragedy, Fashion Revolution asks members of the fashion industry and people all over the world to unite annually on April 24th to make fashion a force for good. Believing that transparency is at the heart of ethical production, Fashion Revolution encourages everyone to ask one simple question: Who made my clothes?

What can I do?

There are numerous ways to get involved! If you live in the Chicago area, below is a list of events you can attend:

Friday, 4/21 – Fashion Show at DePaul

6pm – 9pm, Cortelyou Commons, 2324 N. Fremont St.

The DePaul Fair Trade Committee will be hosting its fourth annual Fashion Revolution event in commemoration of the Rana Plaza Disaster. From a Runway to a free Raffle, they will be providing food and entertainment with a special performance by local artist Ridgio and much more! And did we mention its entirely FREE?

Mata Traders will be at this event so come say hi!

Tuesday, 4/25 – Make Do and Mend

5pm – 9pm, 623 S. Wabash St.

Photo Credit: Fashion Revolution

Join a group of Columbia College fashion students to fix, tailor, and upcycle your clothing! While your garments are being altered, watch a screening of “The True Cost” in the same building. There will also be a screen printing demo, with t-shirts available for immediate purchase.

Want to make a night of it? Head to Epic Burger for dinner, and mention Chicago Fair Trade at checkout: 20% of your meal’s cost will be donated to CFT! RSVP here before April 22nd.

Wednesday, 4/26 – Fashion Show and Panel

5:45pm – 9pm, 618 S. Michigan Ave., 2nd floor

Photo credit: Chicago Fair Trade

Chicago Fair Trade and Columbia College are co-sponsoring an epic ethical fashion event! The night will begin with a social, where guests can treat themselves to fair trade wine and hors d’oeuvre while perusing a curated selection of pop-up shops. Afterwards, there will be a fashion show featuring clothing from fair trade vendors, resale shops, and sustainable student pieces. Lastly, there will also be a panel discussion with keynote speaker Kelsey Timmerman, author of “Where am I Wearing?”

Mata Traders will be at this event so come say hi!

Thursday, 4/27 – Film Screening and Q&A

1pm, Evanston Public Library

Photo credit: Eco Fashion Talk

Watch “Clothes to Die For,” a documentary about the Rana Plaza Tragedy. Stay for a Q&A with Kelsey Timmerman after the screening.

Friday, 4/28 – March to Nike

10am, 618 S. Michigan Ave.

Photo credit: Huffington Post

Join a group of delegates marching to the Nike store on Michigan Avenue in protest of Nike’s refusal to let the Worker Rights Consortium access their factories. Thank you notes will also be delivered to Eileen Fisher and Patagonia for their commitment and leadership in ethical fashion.

Not in Chicago? Not a problem!

Head to for a list of events taking place worldwide, or get involved any of the ways below:

Monday, 4/24 – Show Your Label

Photo credit: Fashion Revolution

Turn your clothing inside out and show off your label! Then snap a pic and post it to social media with the hashtag #WhoMadeMyClothes to demand transparency from apparel companies.

Thursday, 4/27 – Take a Stand

Take a stand today against companies that use sweatshops, exploit cheap labor, or aren’t transparent about their supply and production chains by donating to fair trade organizations or purchasing fair trade products!

If you’re having trouble deciding on a fair trade brand to support, we may have a suggestion for you…


Tell Your Fashion Love Story

Photo credit: Fashion Revolution

Clothing isn’t meant to be worn a couple times and discarded; it’s meant to be cherished, cared for, and passed on! Check out some of these fashion love stories, and then tell your own. Make an Instagram post, YouTube video, podcast, or blog post about an item in your closet that means a lot to you. Your story could be featured by Fashion Revolution!

Share Your #Haulternative

Photo credit: Haulternative

Fashion shopping hauls are all too common, but not at all necessary! There are numerous ways to refresh your wardrobe without buying new clothing. Make a video showing your #Haulternative, whether it be distressing jeans, trying a cute DIY, buying secondhand, or organizing a clothing swap with friends. Upload your video to YouTube during Fashion Revolution week and spread the hashtag #Haulternative. For a complete how-to, download the #Haulternative guide.

Become a Student Ambassador

Photo credit: Fashion Revolution

If you are a student and would like to get involved in organizing Fashion Revolution events at your college or university, download the guide!

Be a Conscious Shopper


The best way to stop the harmful effects of fast fashion is to stop supporting it. Instead, invest in slow fashion and research where and how a garment is made before purchasing. For a more comprehensive guide of how you can be a fashion revolutionary, download this booklet.

Learn more about how your favorite fair trade fashions are made at our artisan partner cooperatives, and how your support of ethical fashion affects the lives of garment workers overseas. And all week long, share Fashion Revolution photos from our facebook album of some of our artisans.

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10 Women of India Who Changed History

Happy Women’s History Month! As March comes to an end, we want to recognize the skilled female artisans who craft many of Mata Traders’ pieces, as well as pay tribute to strong, inspirational women of India who’ve made their mark on history. Below is a compilation of just a few of the courageous women who have broken down barriers and changed their country for the better.

Medhar Patkar


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Activist turned politician, Medhar Patkar is a well-known advocate for sustainability, just land acquisition and development, workers rights, and the rights of slum and forest dwellers. Over the years, Patkar has led the fight against numerous development projects in India that have threatened to displace marginalized groups and hurt the environment. She is most famous for founding Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), a social movement that protests the construction of a number of large dams across the Narmada River. Patkar has been the recipient of numerous awards throughout her career, including the Human Rights Defender Award from Amnesty International and the Mother Teresa Award for Social Justice.


Irom Chanu Sharmila

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Recently ending her 16-year hunger strike on March 14, Irom Chanu Sharmila, also known as the “Iron Lady of Manipur,” had been fasting in protest of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) since she was 28 years old. AFSPA grants the military the right to to use unregulated force in “disturbed” areas of India in order to prevent uprisings. As a consequence of her protest, Sharmila was arrested for “attempted suicide,” detained at a hospital, and fed through a nasal tube after beginning her hunger strike. Realizing that her fast was not bringing about the kind of change she’d hoped, Sharmila ended her hunger strike and shifted course to pursue a career in politics. Her legacy of passion and perseverance make her among the most influential women of India.

Rani Lakshmibai


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As the queen of Jhansi, Rani Lakshmibai fought fiercely and ferociously against British rule during the Great Indian Rebellion of 1857. Having a young adopted son did not stop her in the slightest, and many accounts depict her riding into battle wielding two swords, the horse reins in her teeth, and her son on her back. Though Jhansi eventually fell to British rule, Lakshmibai was able to rally her troops and, against all odds, hold onto her land for over two weeks. Despite being forced to evacuate her city, Lakshmibai fought to the death, dying in battle after refusing to surrender. Her strength and bravery made her a legend in Indian culture. She has been honored with numerous statues, and the Indian National Army’s all female infantry was named after her during World War II.


Usha Mehta


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A freedom fighter and devout follower of Mahatma Gandhi, Usha Mehta and a few of her associates organized the underground radio station Secret Congress Radio during the Quit India Movement of 1942. Her efforts got her arrested and sentenced to prison for four years for conspiring against the British government. In 1998, the Indian government honored her with the Padma Vibhushan award, one of India’s highest civilian awards.


Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit

Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit

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A diplomat and politician, Pandit’s career was full of many impressive accomplishments. She was the first Indian woman ever to become a Cabinet Minister and the first woman in the world to be an ambassador to three different countries, serving in Moscow, London, and Washington D.C. Most notably, however, she was the first woman and the first Asian to be elected the President of the United Nations General Assembly.


Savitribai Phule

Savitribai Phule

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Described as “one of the first-generation modern Indian feminists,” Savitribai Phule is most known for, along with her husband Jyotirao Phule, opening the first women’s school in India. Together, the couple opened 18 schools for girls, and Savitribai became India’s first female teacher and headmistress. Their social work did not stop there, however. Savitribai and her husband opened an “infanticide prohibition house” to help care for pregnant victims of sexual exploitation who were at risk of committing suicide or infanticide due to their condition. They also fought against the caste system and opened a well in their house, welcoming untouchables who were denied drinking water by the upper caste.


Justice Anna Chandy


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Justice Anna Chandy became the first female Indian judge when she was appointed to a district court 1937. When she was appointed to a high court in 1959, she became only the second woman in the world to hold the distinctive title of high court judge. Along with her judicial accomplishments, Justice Chandy advocated for women’s rights in the journal she founded and edited, Shrimati.


Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay

Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay

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Freedom fighter, feminist, and socialist, Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay was a major contributor to India’s independence movement and an advocate for women’s equality. After the Partition of India in 1947, she organized the Indian Cooperative Union, helping rehabilitate over 50,000 refugees in the newly founded township of Faridabad. Today, the industrial township has a population of around 1.5 million people. Kamaladevi is most known for her work to preserve Indian handicrafts and protect the artisans who make them. Worried about the effects that Western methods of mass-production would have on India’s traditional crafts, she set up numerous craft museums throughout the country, as well as founded the Natya Institute of Kathak and Choreography. Her leadership was instrumental in starting the All India Handicrafts Board.


Kiran Bedi


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Kiran Bedi became the first woman to join the Indian Police Service (IPS) in 1972. She voluntarily retired from the force in 2007 as the Director General of the Bureau of Police Research and Development. In May 2016, she was appointed as the Lieutenant Governor of Puducherry, a position that she still holds today. In 1984, she launched the NGO Navjyoti India Foundation (NIF), whose mission was to aid in the recovery and rehabilitation of drug addicts and has since expanded to tackle illiteracy and women’s empowerment issues. She also founded the India Vision Foundation in 1994, which works to reform police forces and prisons, empower women, and develop rural areas within India.


Sucheta Kriplani

Sucheta Kriplani

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A freedom fighter during the Indian Independence Movement, Sucheta Kriplani worked closely with Mahatma Gandhi during the Partition Riots. She was elected to the Constituent Assembly and, as part of a subcommittee, helped draft India’s constitution. In 1963, she was elected the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, making her the first female Chief Minister in India’s history.























Spring Break Style

Dust off your flips flops and grab the sunnies – your escape from winter doldrums has arrived. Meet Mata’s new Spring/Summer 2017 collection!

Take a look at some fresh, fun pieces to add to your warm-weather wardrobe. Whether you actually get a vacation or just plan on daydreaming your way to a sandy beach, our spring break style tips will take you there. You’ve worked hard – treat yourself to a destination-worthy outfit.

No matter where you’re headed, our Spring 2017 collection is flexible and flattering, with bold prints and style to spare. Four trips, four outfits; we’ve got you covered.

Mountain Trip Outfit

Etta skirt *coming soon!* // Crosswinds cuff gold

All that urban air gotten to your lungs? Take a deep breath of some mountain air and be bold – that’s right, hike in a SKIRT. That’s crazy, you say. It’s so silly, you say. But if you like feeling a little girly, there’s no reason not to! Go straight from trail to taproom in a skirt that’s got plenty of room to stretch but looks nice enough for a night out. Add a fitted cuff for a smart accessory that won’t get in the way.


Sydney dress black // Santa Fe ring *coming soon!* // Althea neckalce gold *coming soon!*

Galavanting across Europe is a gift in itself, but take a cue from the Euros: get a chic new outfit, and make it look effortless. No need to shy away from prints just because you’re in the most fashion forward area of the world – a graphic black and white dress will do the trick! Bright earrings and a big ring add the right amount of punch, and a gold layered necklace dresses it up.


Tea Time dress red //  Hex Cutout earrings emerald

Stick a straw in that coconut, it’s time to relax (lucky you)! Take your funky side out for a beachside stroll in a bright dress and standout earrings. The salty breeze will carry you all the way to a dressy dinner. Just give your windswept hair a quick brush, and change out of your flip flops. Our favorite perk of spring break style? Versatile dresses take up minimal space to keep your luggage packed light!


Maisie Trim Top black // Empress earrings red

Who says you have to go somewhere exotic to treat yourself to a new look? Most of us don’t make time to explore our local hidden gems, so a hometown weekend is the ultimate opportunity to rediscover great places in your own backyard. Be the new tourist in town (wink) with a comfortable top and dangly earrings. After all, adventure goes beyond a passport stamp!










Women-Owned Businesses in honor of International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day, a day to acknowledge the perseverance and determination of women everywhere. What better way to celebrate than by supporting your local and nationwide women-owned businesses (luckily, Chicago is FULL of them)! We compiled a list of just some of the hundreds of thousands of women-owned businesses nationwide, so you know your money is going to a fellow female. Happy shopping/eating/spending!


Uncommon Ground link

A Chicago jewel, the weekend brunch is a must try! Their menu changes seasonally, and they use organic, sustainable, and locally grown ingredients whenever possible. In the summer, enjoy dishes made using produce from their certified organic rooftop garden above their Edgewater location.

Located: 1401 West Devon Ave., Chicago, IL 60660 & 3800 North Clark St., Chicago, IL 60613

Women & Children Firstlink

Not only women owned, but over the years Women & Children First has grown to be one of the largest Feminist Bookstores in the country with over 30,000 books by or about women on the shelves! Be sure to keep an eye out for the many special events and book signings they have with well-known female authors throughout the year.

Located: 5233 N. Clark St. Chicago, IL 60640

Art Effect Boutiquelink

A “one stop shop,” the Art Effect Boutique offers a wide and continuously changing selection of clothing, jewelry, accessories, home goods, and bath and body products.

Located: 934 W. Armitage Ave., Chicago, IL  60614

The Growling Rabbitlink

An adorable, laid back cafe that is very vegetarian and vegan friendly! Recently relocated from Roger’s Park to Edgewater, The Growling Rabbit features a slightly updated look with the same delicious food.

Located: 5938 N. Broadway Ave, Chicago, IL 60660


A store full of handcrafted and vintage items, that is devoted to the principle of buying better–not more. Swing by for gorgeous jewelry, home goods, and more!

Located: 1452 W. Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60642

Ethiopian Diamondlink

Whether you’re already a fan of Ethiopian food or simply an adventurous eater, Ethiopian Diamond is the go-to for Ethiopian food in Chicago. Just don’t forget to make sure your hands are clean before you chow down.

Located: 6120 N Broadway St., Chicago, IL 60660 & 7537 N Clark St., Chicago, IL 60626

Lori’s Shoeslink

Lori opened her first shop in a small storefront in Lincoln Park in 1983. Since then, Lori’s has expanded to occupy nearly 4,500 sq. ft. and sell shoes, bags, accessories and, most recently, apparel.

824 Armitage Ave., Chicago, IL 60614 (See website for suburban locations)

Badass Cross Stitchlink

Cross stitchers unite! If you are a fan of the craft, you have to look into Badass Cross Stitch. Not only are the patterns created by a woman, but many feature various influential women and women leaders–just check out the Badass Women Series!

Twisted Scissorslink

A funky salon that specializes in bold color and cuts. If you have been contemplating an edgy new style, this is the place to get it done!

Located: 2001 N. Point St., Chicago, IL 60647

Dirt Body Carelink

Reasonably priced body scrubs that are good for your skin and the planet! Dirt body scrubs are all natural and never use parabens, mineral oils, petroleum, artificial colors, or animal testing.



Nation-wide Businesses


Gorgeous handcrafted accessories and kitchenware. Badala provides employment to female artisans in East Africa and Central America, with the goal to eventually put an end to poverty and sex trafficking worldwide.

Mater Soaplink

Handcrafted, small batch soaps that are made using 100% natural and sustainably-sourced plant ingredients.


S’well was founded in 2010 as a way to combat plastic water bottle waste. Fast forward seven years and it is the fastest growing female-owned business in the country!

Juniperseed Mercantilelink

Juniperseed Mercantile is where you can find eco-friendly alternatives to many common but wasteful household items. They offer handmade cleaning solutions, beauty products, and cloth versions of everyday paper goods.


Handcrafted in L.A., Kosås lipsticks are not only rich in color but they do not contain any parabens, preservatives, or synthetic fragrances. As well as being gluten, egg, nut, soy, and cruelty free.

Rae Venalink

Describing herself as a Visionary Pop Surrealist, Rae Vena’s piece are rich with color and play with perspective. View her work on her website or at one of the many festivals and art fairs she attends.

Le Feu De L’eaulink

Translated into English, Le Feu De L’eau means “the fire of the water.” Appropriate, as Le Feu De L’eau candles are sculpted using water rather than molds!


Created to encourage young creatives to pursue a career in the arts, a portion of every sale is put into a tuition fund for the artist.

Cleanse by Lauren Napierlink

Not only are Cleanse wipes easy and effective at removing makeup, pollution, and impurities from the skin, but you can rest assured knowing that they contain only pure ingredients and complex natural compounds that have been deemed safe by the World Health Organization.


A curated selection of worldly goods from artisans and Fair Trade Organizations across the globe!


Handcrafted and ethically-sourced jewelry, Soko utilizes mobile technology to introduce small-scale and marginalized artisans into the global market.

Moon Juicelink

No doubt you heard about their “sex dust” when Gwyneth Paltrow revealed that she adds it to her infamous $200 smoothie, but Moon Juice offers a wide variety of different holistic and plant-based juices, milks, and snacks.

Moonrise Whimslink

Love cross stitch but don’t know how to do it yourself? Or simply want to support another artist’s work? Moonrise Whims offers numerous beautiful designs, many with funny or empowering sayings.

Isabel Halley Ceramicslink

Handcrafted pottery that is not only incredibly chic but also undeniably unique!

Sprinkles Cupcakeslink

Founders of the Cupcake ATM, by now the bullseye topped cupcakes have become iconic. Not to mention that it was founded and is owned by a woman! As if you needed another reason to eat a cupcake today…





Behind the Scenes: Spring 2017 Fashion Shoot

As we get ready to launch our Spring ’17 Collection (coming soon to stores and our website!), we’re excited to share a little sneak peek of the catalog photo shoot, which took place in September 2016. From the time we start designing a collection to when it hits stores takes more than a year, and the spring 2017 fashion shoot happens before the goods even go into production in India and Nepal!

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Theme of the Shoot:

This season we really wanted to capture the essence of the “classic” Mata-lovin’ girl, with unpretentious, relaxed styling set against romantic, beachy, bohemian scenery. Here is the moodboard we created to kick-start our spring 2017 fashion inspiration:


Location Scouting

In need of a dreamy, woodsy location to evoke the right mood for the catalog, we looked in our own backyard. The Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary was perfect for the outdoor portion of the shoot, and only a short drive from our office in Chicago. Not only is it a beautiful place to walk around and explore right in the city, it’s also a stone’s throw from Montrose Beach –two different backdrops in one trip!

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Since we had more than 75 garments to photograph, we also shot a full day in the studio – but tried to carry over the playful, relaxed vibe of the outdoor locations.

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The amazing crew:

We worked with our awesome photographer, Ashley, hair and make-up artist Caitlin, and three models: Carissa, Colleen, and Sierra (our very own Sales and Operations Assistant!).

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The Styling

For hair and make-up, we kept it natural and effortless – long loose chignons, natural waves and curls, easy up-dos, and minimal make-up.

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Our staff raided their closets and brought in accessories and shoes to help us style each outfit and our lovely friends at Greenheart Shop (hi, guys!) lent us some fair trade purses and totes to add the finishing touches. They say “it takes a village,” and that couldn’t be more true.

Last but absolutely not least, our Customer Service Manager, Emily, brought in her too-cool vintage blue bike. How cute is this thing?

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Our Spring ’17 Collection launches online mid-March – stay tuned!


Behind the Seams: a Special Q & A with Kristin


By now, you’re well aware that we specialize in unique prints and original designs – we create our own clothing and jewelry from start to finish. The prints come from us, patterns for the clothing are developed in-house, and we learn a lot with each collection we launch. One of the best parts of fair trade is remembering that there are human beings behind every piece we make, but we usually think more of the artisans physically producing our products than of the people designing and planning. Our Design & Production team here in Chicago is so involved and experienced with the immersive process of designing and creating garments and jewelry that we wanted to spend this Q&A hearing from one of Mata’s early employees and our Designer, Kristin. She joined the team in 2010 and will be taking her 10th trip to India & Nepal next month! Here’s what she had to say:

1) What is your favorite part about traveling to India/Nepal?
The first time I traveled to India and Nepal I had no idea what to expect – it was overwhelming and new. Now, it has become such a part of my life, a familiar place with familiar people. I have so many favorite parts: the animals – cows, donkeys, dogs, an occasional camel or elephant sharing the road with your rickshaw, the vibrant colors – organized chaos is the best way I can describe it. I can’t get enough of the food, the daily cups of chai, and the go with the flow attitude.


2) What is it like working with the artisans directly, when you visit?
I love working with the designers and patternmakers at each of our co-operatives, these are the people I email and talk to the most – having that global network of friends makes part of traveling so easy. A lot of my favorite memories are the chances we get to visit their homes, meet their families, and eat some of the best home cooked meals I’ve ever had. Visiting the artisans who stitch our clothing or make our jewelry and seeing the impact of our orders each season are some of the best parts about traveling. The feeling you get when they all pile in for a picture with you or their faces any time we get the courage to try and say a couple phrases in Hindi goes beyond any words.


3) Do you have any specific memories or stories of your first trip there?
Oh gosh, one of the funniest memories I have is when Maureen insisted on riding an elephant to complete my first tourist-y India experience. Not only was this elephant ride down the narrowest of all narrow streets – which ended up completely holding up traffic in both directions – but the elephant’s tail whipped and hit jewelry displays in front of small shops on the street, all while the owner riding with us used a wooden stick to hold the power line cords up so we didn’t run into them – or get electrocuted. True story, there is video evidence to prove it.


Fair Trade:

4) How did you first hear about fair trade? Was it something you had known about before working at Mata?
I had actually never heard of fair trade before I started working at Mata. Only left with an internship to complete before graduating college, I was searching through this huuuge binder of internship opportunities. Almost every page looked the same but somehow I stopped on Mata Traders. I went home, looked up the website online, and decided to apply for an internship. It wasn’t until then that I learned about fair trade and what that meant. Getting the opportunity to visit the artisans in India and Nepal is what made fair trade come full circle for me.

5) What is your goal, when designing for the fair trade fashion market?
When I’m designing sometimes I think back to 21 year old me and remember I wasn’t actively searching for fair trade items but attracted to unique pieces that caught my eye. Just because someone isn’t aware of what fair trade is or means, doesn’t mean that they don’t care. I feel like part of my job when designing to the market is to capture those people by their love for the product and to help them become passionate about the mission second. It’s all about reaching people in different ways.



6) What’s your favorite part of your job?
Favorite part of my job would have to be traveling and being able to be creative. If someone told me 10 years ago, this is where I would be I would have thought they were absolutely crazy. I’ve always loved to travel, but Mata has given me the opportunity to go so much further than I ever imagined. It sounds cliche, but it pushed me completely out of my comfort zone – teaching me a lot about myself and broadening my horizon in so many ways.

7) Do you have an all-time favorite Mata print?
Oh gosh – trying to mentally scan 12+ seasons of Mata prints and it is hard to choose! My favorite animal is a giraffe so when the SS13 collection came out with the giraffe print I was so excited! The delicate tumbling giraffes were just too cute! More recently, I am loving all the custom woven plaid/stripe designs we get to design. We are taking Mata to a whole new level!


8) All-time favorite piece (dress, top, etc.)?
Again…it’s so hard to say. Sometimes I just have a love/hate relationship with the styles designed. All the work in getting the fit right – picking fabrics, sometimes I have nightmares about them (not a joke). But then, once you see someone else love it and the way they feel in it – that makes it all worth it. One of my favorite memories of design would be the Shanghai Shift Dress (bringing it back to SS13 again) – mainly because that is one of the first dresses I designed and saw come to life. I’ll forever remember when I had my first “Spot a Mata” and saw a woman wearing it around Andersonville. It was the coolest feeling!

9) What most excites you about Mata’s future?
Having worked here almost 7 years already (which I can’t believe!), I have been so fortunate in witnessing how much Mata has grown in such a short time. Our staff has grown from 5 to 18 and with that growth so has the recognition for the brand. Most importantly, I’m excited to keep bringing more work to our artisans and to continue growing and building our relationship with our suppliers.  Design wise – there has been some talk about going deeper in some of our apparel categories…Mata blazers, shorts and pants may be in our future, people!

In case you missed it, here’s the last post in our Behind the Seams series, a Q&A with our Director of Sales & Social Impact.


Our Team’s Mata Holiday Wish List

While many of our wish lists have some wants (“needs,” really) from other amazing ethical companies, most of us started by looking right in our own backyard – on the Mata shelves! We have lots of favorites. Lots. We just picked a few that would make great gifts:

1. Navy Hand Screened Infinity scarf –“Dala horses on an infinity scarf? Yes please! Andersonville is one of my favorite neighborhoods in Chicago, so any Swedish reference is near and dear to my heart. I love how the pattern can also look abstract depending on how it’s worn.” – Laura

A gift for a dweller of any climate, a scarf is the best way to accent an outfit and add an easy layer. Cover it in this quirky print and voila! A gift with a little personality.


2. Et Cetera cuff gold“Classic enough for my mom, but quirky enough for a friend. Plus it dresses up a bummy outfit pretty easily.” – Katie

A cuff that’s as versatile as they come – take it for a night out on the town or let it simply upgrade a basic outfit.


3. Boho Back-Wrap Dress“It’s like wearing fancy pajamas around all day — you look gorgeous but it’s so soft and warm.” – Emily G.

It’s organic cotton jersey, so there’s plenty of flexibility (will probably fit even if you aren’t 100% sure on what size to give). In a holiday-neutral color, you can wear it all year round! A lot of fans of this dress have been wearing it backwards, too – swing the V around to the front and you’ve got an evening dress that’s a little more playful.


4. Curated Color Necklace red – “It is busy enough to wear on its own, or you can layer it up!” – Lilly

A bright necklace makes for a bold present, but the wood keeps it subtle. Whether your giftee is down-to-earth or fine and fancy, this neckpiece is a work of art appreciated by anyone.


5. Tide and Moon necklace gray“Neutral, but not. I NEVER fail to get compliments  when I wear it, and it works with everyone’s skin tones.” – Maria

So much more than a simple necklace, this layered piece lets the gray sing and gold *bling*.


6. Helios studs“A reminder that we will have sunshine again someday.” – Emily

Because it’s really, REALLY easy to forget sometimes.



Mata Team Holiday Wish Lists: Lilly

Our last Mata team holiday wish list comes from Lilly, our Sales Manager:

1. Closed Clog with Dot Design – These red polka dot clogs are made to order in Germany. You can send the shop owner the length of your foot and he will make them custom for you!



2. Gilmore Girls Coloring Book by Etsy artist The Card Architect – With the new episodes out on Netflix, what better way to celebrate your love for #TeamJess than by gifting this coloring book? Browse the shop to see other fun items featuring pop culture personalities.



3. Tea for Two Set from SERRV – Tea for two, and two for tea! How perfect is this little tea set?! Handmade by fair trade artisans in Vietnam. Brownie points if you can pair it with a box of fair trade tea, such as Numi.





Mata Team Holiday Wish Lists: Laura

The next Mata team holiday wish list comes from Laura, our Marketing Manager:

1. Convivial Production Hanging Planter – Most of the flat surfaces in my apartment already have plants on them, so I need to start hanging them! 🙂 This planter is handmade in Kansas, and the cool graphic design fits my decor aesthetic nicely.



2. Oaxacan Tortillera Basket by Territory Design – These beautiful baskets are made by a group of women weavers in Southern Mexico, and continue a long tradition of basket weaving in the region. I love that they have lids so I can put things inside them and appear to have less mess around my apartment.



3. Blockshop Textiles Diamondback Scarf – I’ve been eyeing the beautiful scarves from Blockshop Textiles for awhile. They are hand block printed by 5th generation master printers in Bagru, India.



4. Pretty much anything and everything from the store Alapash –  This is my favorite shop in Chicago – the owner sells a beautiful selection of fair trade/ethical items, handmade products by artists in Chicago and around the U.S., and awesome PLANTS. My husband could pick out any item from here for me for the holidays and I would not be disappointed :).





Mata Team Holiday Wish Lists: Justine

I’m Justine, Designer & QC Coordinator, and I’m next up for Mata team wish lists – here goes!



1. Oxfam Australia’s Everest Stoneware Teapot – I could drink Chai all day. I saw this at the Sana Hastakala store in Kathmandu and regret not getting it for myself. I’m all about little details so I love the textured detailing at the bottom.



2. West Elm’s Peruvian Artisan Mirrors – I’ll always be a fan of big box brands carrying handmade, artisan items. The more demand there is for ethically made products, the more likely they’ll continue to carry them, so BOOM purchasing power.


3. Cookbook from Women for Women International – Recipes from around the globe, beautiful photography, contributions from humanitarian powerhouses like Aung San Suu Kyi, AND a foreword from Meryl Streep? Somebody please get this for me.


4. Nappa Dori Ikat Backpack – Discovered this brand on my first trip to India and I just love their aesthetic coupled with traditional Indian fabrics – I already own a couple things from here but want this backpack for all my imaginary trips.


Mata Team Holiday Wish Lists: Chris

We’re continuing our series of our staff’s holiday wish lists this week! Next up is Chris, our Managing Director:

1. Nisolo’s Smoking Shoe in Brandy – I am a shoes and handbag nut. My cravings for clothes are nothing compared to my “need” for accessories. So on my list this year is the Smoking Shoe in the brandy color from Nisolo, which is handmade by artisans in Peru. And because I like to matchy-match, the Luisa leather clutch in brandy is also spectacular!




2. Matt & Nat’s Chanda Backpack in any color – I just love its simplicity. Matt & Nat is a vegan brand, so no animal products are used in production.



3. Pact Camisoles – Besides Mata clothing, I love Pact and their camisoles. Made out of organic cotton in a sweatshop-free and child labor-free factory.






Mata Team Holiday Wish Lists: Kacey

We’re continuing our series of some Mata team holiday wish lists! Next up, our Sales Manager Kacey:

1. Accompany’s Chiri Vintage Gold Corkscrew – Opening a bottle of wine – now even more beautiful! Made of brass by fair trade artisans in India.



2. The Citizenry’s Noche Blanket – This blanket is gorgeous and it looks so soft! Hand-loomed using 100% baby alpaca by weavers in San Pedro, Peru.



3. Fedora from Equal Uprise – I’m not sure I’m cool enough to wear fedoras, but I’m old enough not to care :). Handcrafted in Ecuador; 100% wool.



4. SquareHue’s 1900s Nail Polish Set – I like to do my own nails and love the colors in this set. SquareHue is a vegan-friendly and cruelty-free line that dedicates a portion of their monthly subscription fees to social causes.



5. Cincinnati City Series Market Bag at Apolis –  For carrying things while asserting my Ohio pride. The bag is handcrafted in Bangladesh and finished in California.



Mata Team Holiday Wish Lists: Katie

Tis the season for peppermint mochas, stockings, and…holiday wish lists! Over the next few weeks we’ll be sharing the Mata team’s dream gifts and must-haves this holiday season, so check back soon for more!

First up, our Graphic Designer and Community Manager, Katie:

I want stuff. I like stuff. But it’s hard to want stuff when so much of it isn’t “necessary” ( <– a very subjective term, in my opinion). So my wish list this year is full of products I have a real use for, all from companies who are doing some good.

  1. Raven + Lily journals – Handmade of recycled cotton by artisans in Northern India.

A photo posted by Raven + Lily (@ravenandlily) on


2. Schoolhouse Electric’s “Want Better Not More” print – This print is handmade via a woodblock printing process by graphic artist, print-maker and designer Anthony Burrill. 

3. Pact Apparel socks (I can’t get enough.) –  Handmade of organic cotton by artisans in a sweatshop-free and child-labor-free factory.

A photo posted by PACT Apparel (@wearpact) on

4. Cotopaxi’s Waxed Canvas Jacket – I was SO excited to discover this company! Cotopaxi makes outdoor clothing and gear that fund sustainable poverty relief, move people to do good, and inspire adventure.

A photo posted by Cotopaxi (@cotopaxi) on


5. Ten Thousand Villages’ Seed Pod Ornaments – So cute! I have a handful of seed pod birds that I love, but was excited to find ornament versions, with new animals.


6. Drawing supplies from my new favorite Andersonville shop: Martha Mae



Looks Made for Mingling

Hi! I’m Mary, a college student interning at Mata Traders this fall, and I’m here to share some festive looks for the holiday season. It’s a season full of gatherings and good cheer, so I pulled together a few suggestions that will have you ready to mix and mingle.


Keep a fancy lace dress grounded by adding some black booties and the boho-chic Knotted Fringe necklace. Slip on geometric earrings and a warrior-style cuff before dashing out the door.


Let your jewelry shine on the classic canvas of this favorite Little Black Dress. The Midnight Song necklace, Mantra earrings, and Criss-Cross cuff will be the stars of the evening. Keep it simple with a leather clutch and nude wedges.


Home for the holidays? Strut through the door with style. An effortless Gathered Ikat skirt paired with a textured top and the Maya Luna necklace shows off the sophisticated you. Add the playful Empress earrings for the finishing touch.


Finally, celebrate the season with color! Take the Amazing Lace dress and add bright heels, a luminous necklace, and dangly earrings to reflect those twinkle lights.

These four festive looks are a perfect way to shop ethically this holiday season! To shop more dresses and jewelry for the holidays, check out our new arrivals.


Behind the Seams: a Special Q & A with Jonit

When our founder Maureen started Mata, she had two best friends, Jonit and Michelle, by her side on a ’round the world trip. While she knew those relationships would last a lifetime, it was anybody’s guess that those friends would be her business partners at a thriving fair trade fashion company over a decade later!


Jonit has worn a lot of hats both before and after officially joining Mata as the Marketing Director in 2011; she has packed orders, gone to trade shows, taken trips to India, and everything in between. A valuable resource to Mata Traders as well as the fair trade community as a whole, she has embraced her position here as Director of Sales and Social Impact. We asked her to reflect a bit on how she got involved and what she loves about working here.


1) When did your awareness and passion for fair trade start?

I actually don’t remember when I first heard of fair trade, but my awareness of global poverty and inequity started when I started traveling and living abroad after college. I saw stuff that made me realize that the world was not what I thought it was and that just wasn’t right. It was pretty eye-opening.

Following our senior year, Michelle, Maureen, and I applied for and were granted work visas to live in Australia for a year and during that time we also took the short flight to Southeast Asia and spent some time there, too. In Australia, the situation for Aboriginal Australians was shocking. Right when we got there we saw protests demanding that the government apologize for the Stolen Generations. Then we went into the outback and witnessed Aboriginal communities living in poverty as second class citizens, facing blatant discrimination in employment and education. It was like we’d traveled back in time to a pre-civil rights era. Then in Southeast Asia we walked through cities made of shanty houses and rural areas dotted with dirt floor huts. A stark contrast to the life we came from.


2) What’s your favorite thing about your job?

Without a doubt it’s visiting our producer groups and seeing the impact that we’re having on families. I’m talking about women with a 4th grade education able to support their families and send their own children to college. Women in domestic violence situations accessing the support and the means to leave with their children. Women, who for their whole lives lived under the suppression of social roles as the inferior sex in their own homes, coming into their own and finding their voice among a community of other women. It really makes me proud that we’ve been able to go back to these women each year with bigger orders, that they can rely on us as much as we rely on them. The thing that could make my job even better would be the opportunity to take our customers to India and Nepal to meet the women who make our products. I want our customers to understand like I do the impact they make by purchasing a Mata dress.


3) You travel to India and Nepal quite frequently to visit our producers – what’s the coolest thing that’s happened to you there? What story stands out that you’ve ever heard from an artisan?

I’ve heard many stories that have made an impression on me and motivated me to work hard to generate more business for the artisans. One cool thing that I was able to do on my last trip was visit the organic cotton farmers that grow the cotton for our jersey line. I got to walk amongst the cotton fields and even pick some cotton. It was cool.

There is one artisan story that stands out. It was told to me by Choti, who is one of the women who leads a hand-embroidery group. Her village was experiencing a severe drought and the women organized to appeal to the local officials to have water trucked in. They said they would help, but nothing happened. Every time Choti and the women returned, they got the run-around and empty promises. Finally, the women decided they needed to do something more drastic. They set up a blockade on a highway road that passes the village and the women, all 250 of them, stood there and would not let traffic pass. It didn’t take long before the water trucks arrived. The thing that really struck me about the story is that Choti credits the women’s co-op for giving them the confidence to stand up for themselves. She said that without the trainings they had received, they wouldn’t have known their rights and would not have even thought to go to their local officials to voice their problems and demand action.



4) What does it mean to be an FTF member?

FTF members commit to an all-encompassing, 360 degree practice of fair trade. It’s not just about fair wages. That’s important, but there are other tenets of fair trade that are part of our business model. One example is that we pay our producer groups up front when we place our order, rather than 30 to 90 days after we receive the goods, which is the apparel industry norm. This means that our artisan groups do not have to pay out-of-pocket for the materials and that they have been paid the full price for their work no matter what the ultimate sales results. In India, it is common for merchants to only pay artisans for their handcrafts once they sell. The FTF’s holistic version of fair trade protects against this practice.

Another example is our commitment to long-term relationships with our suppliers. Our goal is to provide a sustainable and stable source of income for the artisans and that both our business and theirs flourish and grow together. Mainstream fashion brands might shop around each season to find suppliers that will give them a better price. If costs go up in China, they move to Bangladesh. That’s not how fair trade works. FTF members work specifically with groups from marginalized communities with the goal of making lasting change and breaking the cycle of poverty. That’s why we commit to partnering with our suppliers for the long-term. [You can read more about the FTF’s principles of fair trade here.]

One last thing I want to mention about being an FTF member is that we are part of a national network (USA + Canada) of wholesalers and retailers who are fully committed to these strict practices of fair trade. It’s a great feeling to be among such a passionate and hard-working community and to know that together we are making a difference in ending global poverty and bringing ethically-sourced alternatives to consumers.


5) Why do you think fair trade matters? What’s the most profound impact that fair trade has on it’s member artisans?

The accepted way of doing business in our corporate, globalized world is to drive up profits by driving down costs. Certain costs are fixed, though, like materials and transportation, so what usually suffers is labor wages. Fair trade turns that approach on its head and instead of being motivated solely by profit, fair trade businesses ensure that everyone involved in the supply chain is able to benefit.

With injustices rampant in the fashion industry as it exists now, fair trade companies like ours are offering people options that avoid problems like dangerous working conditions and child labor. It’s is giving consumers the power to change the industry. I think people feel a little powerless about their ability to affect the world and the industry, and fair trade is an accessible way to act on your ethics and make change in the world.

The biggest change we have seen is among female artisans. I think most women in India and Nepal aren’t in positions to economically support their families, provide continued schooling for their children, or to be leaders in their communities. In the co-ops we work with, members learn literacy and financial literacy, and they have access to healthcare for themselves and their families. There are democratic structures within the organization, so they vote on who among them will be the leaders, and there are opportunities for advancement to supervisor positions. Belonging to the cooperatives has had a very positive effect on the women involved.


6) What is it like being a fair trade company in Chicago?

Chicago must be the greatest city to be a fair trade company. As the biggest fair trade city in the U.S., we have so much support in this really vibrant community, so many companies with similar stories to ours, and a really excited and motivated fan base. Every year Chicago Fair Trade has a World Fair Trade Day festival downtown in the middle of a pretty corporate area of the city. So many business people in the middle of their hectic days make time to talk to us about what fair trade is and how they could get behind it. It’s always really exciting to have such a receptive and openminded response from a lot of people who were unfamiliar with fair trade before.

Keep an eye out for Jonit as she travels to trade shows around the country!


Mata and 360° Fair Trade


As a member of the Fair Trade Federation, Mata is happy to use Fair Trade Month as an excuse to introduce a new way of talking about what fair trade is and what it means for the people who are doing this work: 360° fair trade. Our commitment to social, economic, and environmental responsibilities goes beyond fair wages and safe conditions. Fair Trade Federation members are also committed to building long-term and holistic partnerships with small farmers and artisan producer groups. These meaningful relationships in turn empower small farmers and artisans to sustainably grow and develop their businesses and communities.


How does Mata embody 360° fair trade? Here are just a few ways:

  • The artisan sector is one that is known for being unregulated, and often artisans are not guaranteed pay unless the merchant sells their products, leaving artisans vulnerable to exploitation. One of Mata’s fair trade practices requires paying our producers for half the order up front and then paying the remaining amount when the products are shipped to us. This ensures that our artisans can afford the materials and will be paid their price no matter if we sell it for full price or on sale.
  • We are slow and deliberate to expand the number of artisan producer groups we work with because we believe in establishing a long-term commitment to artisan businesses. In fact, we still continue to work with the first artisan group we partnered with when Mata was founded almost 10 years ago! The relationships we have with our artisans are not only professional, but they also symbolize the deep commitment we have to the personal well-being of our artisans.
  • Rather than leave producers behind when products have problems, we work with our artisan groups to determine how we can improve the quality, fit, or materials of the products. At Mata, we believe that collaboration between our artisans and product development team is the key to the success of our business and artisan producers.

What does this mean to you as a Mata customer? It means that the product you purchase will be one of high quality and authenticity that has been ethically sourced and made with traditional skills. Each purchase also means that our artisans will continue their long-term partnerships with Mata Traders and impact their families and communities with positive changes.

As a Fair Trade Federation member, we’re proud to continue building healthy and long-term relationships with our artisans through 360° fair trade. We’re excited to be a part of this authentic approach to developing stronger commitments to social and environmental responsibility through our power as a business and as consumers.



Fall Fashion to Beat the Cold in Style

Hi, I’m Elizabeth, a college student interning at Mata, and I’m here to share some styling tips for the fall season!

Crisp autumn days and frosty-aired nights are approaching, but the cooler weather doesn’t mean it’s time to pack up all those pretty dresses. In fact, our vibrantly printed fall frocks are perfect for the most colorful season of the year!

As the temperatures drop, just layer it up. Check out these ensembles for plenty of outfit ideas that will keep you fashionably cozy for hayrides, bonfires, or baking some homemade pumpkin pie: (and don’t forget to pin your favorite looks to your Pinterest style boards!)


This fun and classy Pleated Panel dress can be accentuated with a bright pendant, like our Mod Gem necklace.


Who says work-wear has to be boring?  Our Stretch Twill Sheath dress has a print that pops with personality, yet the fit is appropriate for professional-attire.  Add a touch of savvy shimmer with our gold Ava necklace.


This back wrap dress is super comfy for any autumn adventure!  A quirky-printed scarf adds a touch of whimsy and the knit legwarmers are an essential for those extra chilly days.


We’re headed back to school for a lesson in classic, all-American style. Study hint: polished loafers make a smart pairing choice with this preppy plaid dress.  (And extra credit for adding a sleek tan tote to the ensemble.)


Slip on some tights and add a sophisticated blazer over this maroon knit dress to keep you warm during all your Fall festivities.  Add a touch of sparkle with our Leila necklace for gold measure.

For more fall clothing and jewelry, check out our new arrivals!




Upcycling Bone, Transforming Lives

Check out this short video to see the process of how our upcycled bone jewelry is made!

 Meet the Makers


Before they began their bone jewelry craft eight years ago, husband and wife Naseem and Nasima didn’t have a steady income to provide for their family. Community unrest had caused them to flee their ancestral home and livelihood in Northern India, resettling on the outskirts of Delhi. But with the help of a local fair trade organization, the couple built up their workshop cooperative and developed a strong customer base through Mata Traders. Naseem and Nasima now support their seven children and their parents, as well as provide jobs as jewelry artisans for members of their new community.


One of major difference that the cooperative makes in the lives of its artisans are the opportunities afforded to their children. The crafters earn enough from the co-op that their children do not have to work to supplement the family income and are able to attend school.

Not only that, incorporating the principles of fair trade into their work, such as gender equity, has had a big impact. The sons and the daughters of every artisan in the co-op receive an education, which as Naseem explains, is not the norm. “In our community, 99% of daughters aren’t sent to school, but because of my association with fair trade, our thinking has changed and we see the value of sending our daughters to school. Now we are part of the 1% who do.”


Women working outside the home is another rarity in the community. Social norms dictate that women are not free to seek employment, but Naseem and Nasima’s bone workshop is unique in that they employ female and male artisans, giving both men and women opportunities for steady work.


In fact, Nasima played a significant role in starting up the workshop, working diligently to learn the various processes involved with crafting the bone jewelry, including the dyeing techniques.  She is in charge of managing all the designs in the workshop and producing the dyes.


Behind the Process:

From Bare Bones to Beautiful Jewelry


In the workshop that Naseem and Nasima lead, the artisans craft earrings and necklaces from bone they purchase at a government-run bone market. The market sources this material as by-products from farms, restaurants, and slaughterhouses throughout the region (the bone is mainly from water buffalo). Just how do they upcycle bare bones into stunning, vibrant jewelry? Take a peak behind the process to see how the transformation happens:

A Design in the Rough


The artisans cut, sand, and smooth the bone to sculpt it into the outline. Then, they carve the silhouette and etch delicate designs into the pieces.  They finish off this segment of the process by cutting holes in each piece so that they can be strung through the wires.

Transforming a Blank Slate with Bright Hues


Once the bone is shaped, the artisans at the workshop color the pieces with vibrant pigments. Rather than using chemical-intensive dyes with health and environmental hazards that are commonly used in the industry, the cooperative introduced the artisans to AZO-free and natural dyes, along with techniques that create richer, longer-lasting colors.

DSC_1035 (3)

The artisans string the bone pieces and brass beads through wire by hand to transform the miscellaneous components into gorgeous jewelry.  As these photos show, this is an incredibly intricate step requiring great attention to detail!



Naseem expressed his gratitude for all those that have supported the growth of their workshop:

“First and foremost I really thank my wife, who is the pillar of support.  Secondly, Mata Traders who provided us with the opportunity by bringing us samples which helped us to create new designs that we wouldn’t have thought of on our own.  And thirdly, I want to thank the customers who are buying our products, therefore making us successful.”






10 Tips on How to Start Shopping Consciously


So, you’ve read about the environmental and social damages of fast fashion and the failure of retailers or factories to adequately improve working conditions and you’ve decided to make the leap into more conscious consumerism.

But, you’re bombarded with confusing information, nervous that slow fashion pieces will put you over budget, or just don’t know where to begin. Well, have no fear, Mata is here!  We gathered advice from around the office and we are sharing some of our favorite tidbits to help guide you on your journey into ethical fashion!


1.) I think one of the easiest ways to start learning about and understanding fair trade is as simple as looking at your own clothing labels and finding out where things were made. How far back can you trace it? –Kacey, Sales Manager

2.) Figure out what issues are important to you, such as: the environment, child labor, fair wages, good working conditions, etc. and research companies that satisfy those requirements. – Lizzy, Production Intern


3.) In the beginning, shopping ethically doesn’t have to be about replacing your existing stuff, it can just be about slowing down your support for less ethical companies. Take baby steps by not letting yourself make unconscious choices – just because a store has new clothes every week doesn’t mean you need to buy them. Ask yourself if you’ll still want the item in two years. – Katie, Graphic Designer & Community Manager

4.) You can start small. You don’t have to try to change everything you buy all at once. Start by looking at your closet – what items do you reach for the most? When it comes to spending a little more on clothing for a bit better quality and ethical practices, I’d start with the pieces you wear most frequently. – Katrin, Marketing Intern


5.) Living frugally is a MUST. One of the main driving forces of unethical production of goods is our obsession with materialism and changing fashions. When you’ve decided there is something you want to buy, try checking if there is a comparable ethical or eco-friendly alternative first. Also try to buy classic pieces that are of quality and can last you for years.  – Shannon, Sales Intern

6.) One tip that has worked for me is to really think about what you wear. Be more “plan- full” with your wardrobe (i.e., Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up), especially for those women in the corporate world. So you can splurge on one or two wardrobe additions every season, but have staples that are more versatile–all can be done within fair trade fashion. – Chris, Managing Director


7.) Build up your “Go-to Brands” list. One of the reasons people don’t shop ethically is because it’s not as easy as shopping fast fashion. So spend an hour or two investigating some brands you like and make a list. Then when you are looking for something you don’t need to spend time investigating what’s out there. You’ll already have a little list to refer to! – Katie, Graphic Designer & Community Manager

8.) Visit websites and blogs like the Fair Trade Federation, The Good TradeLife+Style+Justice, and Sustainably Chic to find out about some of the more popular socially conscious brands. Follow your favorite brands on social media to find out about deals or prizes and also to see what other brands they may partner with who may interest you. – Macaira, Fulfillment Assistant


9.) In terms of buying practices, shopping vintage and second-hand is an accessible and budget-friendly way to tiptoe into ethical shopping. – Kacey, Sales Manager

10.) If money is the issue, sign up for email lists and wait for the sales. Most companies have them, and there’s no harm in waiting until something you can afford comes along. – Katie, Graphic Designer & Community Manager


Fair trade rug from West Elm that Mata’s founder, Maureen, bought on sale!


Have your own piece of advice on shopping responsibly for us and our readers? Feel free to share any tips you have in the comment section!






Beat the Heat with these Summer Styles!

If your summer style inspiration has dried up in the August heat, fear not – Mata is here to help! We’ve got outfit ideas for everything from your weekend getaways to your at-home adventures. All of these great looks start with some fabulous Mata staples, but we also featured our favorite conscious choices from other like-minded brands. Take a look!

Staying in Chicago for the rest of summer? Attending art and music festivals is a must! You’ll have just the right amount of funk for the creative scene with the Islander shirtdress. Complement the fun pattern with the Tumbling Arrows earrings and a sleek watch, then pair with espadrilles and a practical cross-body purse for a day on foot. Top it off with chic sunglasses, a must-have to combat the sun’s rays.

summer style

Mata Traders’ Islander shirtdress / Mata Traders’ Tumbling Arrows earrings / Toms espadrilles / Mat and Natt purse / Toms sunglasses / Classic Engineering watch


Summer boasts plenty of picnics and barbecues, so be prepared in the Darling Poets dress, whose gingham pattern is great for any outdoor dining event. Slip into sandals and throw on the Layered Lotus earrings and Altered Eclipse necklace for a bit of shine. To shield yourself from the sun, sport a woven sun hat, and you’ll be picnic chic!

summer style


If your vacation packing list is in need of a night-out ensemble, we’ve got you covered! The Pinstriped mini skirt is perfect when paired with simple yet sophisticated heels and a white top. Add splashes of sparkle with the Rise and Shine earrings, the Linked Shapes necklace, and the Wind and Water bracelet, then grab a chic red clutch for a pop of color on your way out the door.

summer style

Mata Traders’ Pinstriped mini skirt / Mata Traders’ Rise and Shine earrings / Mata Traders’ Linked Shapes necklace / Mata Traders’ Wind and Water bracelet / Eileen Fisher white top / Matt and Nat red clutch / Nisolo heels


Heading to the lake? We have a cabin-ready dress for your relaxing weekend on the water. The Truth or Flair dress is the perfect mix of comfort and style for a sun-soaked day of boat rides and adirondack chairs. As evening approaches, add the Coral Reef earrings, the River Bend bracelet, and sandals for dinner in town. For a little extra edge pop on a pair of bold emerald sunglasses, and tote it all to the lake with an ethical weekender bag.

summer style

Mata Traders’ Truth or Flair dress / Mata Traders’ Coral Reef earrings / Mata Traders’ River Bend bracelet / Toms sandals / Everlane weekend bag / Toms sunglasses


Soak up the inspiration, and enjoy the rest of the summer!



An Insider Look Behind Our Blogger Event!

As a fair trade brand, Mata Traders is passionate about ethical fashion and using our power as consumers to bring about change in the industry.  So, we were thrilled to engage with other like-minded individuals at our blogger event hosted by Life+Style+Justice writer Hannah Theisen! Hannah invited local fashion bloggers along with a few Chicago-based social enterprises to come together as a conscious-minded community here at Mata headquarters.

The evening was a great opportunity to connect and learn about the endeavors of these bloggers and businesses.  We enjoyed meeting each one of these incredible individuals! Take a peek behind this fabulous event:

Photo Credit: Louis HintzPhoto Credit: Louis Hintz


Photo: Shannon Jahrling


Photo Credit: Louis HintzPhoto: Louis Hintz


Photo: Shannon Jahrling


Photo: Louis HintzPhoto: Louis Hintz


Photo: Louis HintzPhoto: Louis Hintz


Photo: Shannon Jahrling


Photo: Louis HintzPhoto: Louis Hintz

Hannah spoke to us about the online community she founded, Ethical Blogger Network: an excellent resource for writers, bloggers and other creatives passionate about living an ethical lifestyle.

Photo: Louis HintzPhoto: Louis Hintz

Brad from Cause Gear discussed the mission-based company’s 5X Jobs Model (they pay the crafters five times the normal wage), which provides enough money for the life’s essentials of not only the crafter, but for the three others that depend on them also.

Photo Credit: Louis HintzPhoto: Louis Hintz

Emily from Heshima Kenya spoke about the non-profit’s holistic model of protecting and empowering refugee girls and young women from Africa.  Their program includes protection, education and development of economic independence through their Maisha Collective, where the women produce gorgeous scarves.

Photo: Louis HintzPhoto: Louis Hintz

And finally, Laura from Mata Traders gave some background to the bloggers and other Chicago enterprises on the brand’s journey and mission!

Photo: Louis Hintz

Of course no one left empty handed: all the bloggers took home a fun swag bag along with a Mata Traders piece!

swagbag2Photo: Louis Hintz

Photo Credit: Louis HintzPhoto: Louis Hintz

Photo Credit: Louis HintzPhoto: Louis Hintz

Thank you to the bloggers (Hoda Katebi from JooJoo Azad,  Ashlee Piper From The Little Foxes, Zahra Sandberg from Love Zahra, Desirée from Fashion Lingual, Christina Pippin from Finny + Dill and Rebecca from Consciously Styled) that came out to Mata for this event.  Be sure to check out each of their wonderful blogs for some great reads!



A Peek at the Process: Ajrakh Blockprinting

Dating back many centuries, Ajrakh block-printing is a traditional Indian craft that uses vivid natural dyes and wooden blocks to print unique patterns on cotton fabric.  The process is elaborate and laborious, requiring numerous stages of printing, dyeing, and washing to achieve the gorgeous designs.

Ajrakh is said to come from the Hindi word ‘aaj rakh”, meaning “keep it today” or “making beautiful”.  Some also believe the word may have roots in the word, “azrak”, Arabic for “blue”.

Ajrakh was historically characterized by its symmetrical geometric patterns, with some floral designs.  As the tradition was passed down through generations, the Ajrakh printing technique developed to include a much wider variety of motifs and patterns.


Every layer of each design requires a different hand-carved wooden block for printing. This can add up to a lot of blocks!


The Ajrakh technique begins by washing the cloth numerous times, called Saaj, and treating the cloth, Kasanu, to make the cotton softer and more absorbent of the dyes. After prepping the fabric, the craftsmen start printing.  The multi-day, multi-step process includes many layers of resist printing and dyeing to achieve the final product.


The crafters start out by “resist printing”, which protects the areas where the dye is not going to be printed.  Before any colors can be added, the artisans define the outline of the pattern in a step referred to as Rekh.


Then, they can begin block printing with the colored dyes. While the Ajrakh printing process was originally limited to dark red and indigo with elements of black & white, there is a wider spectrum of colors that Ajrakh artisans use today.


If the pattern incorporates blue in its design, the cloth is dyed with indigo in a plastic barrel, clay vessel, or concrete vat.

The dyeing is followed by rinsing and drying the fabric in the sun, a step known as Vicharnu.
Next, the cloth is boiled in a solution during a stage called Rang (meaning “color” in Hindi), that reveals the black and red colors fully to achieve those truly eye-catching designs.

Depending on how deep the colors must be for the desired design of the fabric, Ajrakh printers must repeat the necessary dyeing and washing steps over many days.

This centuries-old practice is by no means simple, but the beautiful result is absolutely worth it!

Ajrakh printing is used for a variety of products such as tablecloths, blankets, and clothing – including our very own Jaya dress from the fall 2016 collection – coming soon!


For a more detailed look at the steps in the process, check out The Hindu’s article on Ajrkah printing and for a more in-depth historical background of the tradition, this is a great read.


Failure after Rana Plaza

Retailers and Factories Fail to Live Up to Promises to Improve Worker Conditions

Three years after the infamous Rana Plaza factory collapse killed over 1,100 garment factory workers in Bangladesh, reports show there are many significant safety hazards that remain in the country’s garment factories, as demonstrated by the recent Bangladesh factory fire this past February. Thousands of potentially life-saving improvements have passed their deadlines and reports estimate that in 2015 there were still 78,842 workers working in H&M supplier factories without adequate fire exits.

Photo Credit: Rijans

Following the media attention of the Rana Plaza collapse and the public outrage over the working conditions for millions of Bangladeshi garment workers, retailers made promises to take measures that would protect these workers.

H&M, the largest purchaser of clothing from Bangladesh, along with over 200 other brands, NGO witnesses, and Bangladeshi and international unions signed the independent, legally binding Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. The Accord publishes inspection reports and Corrective Action Plans for each factory and terminates factories that don’t take necessary safety measures. 

Photo Credit: Solidarity Center

The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh dispatched engineers to evaluate the structural, electrical and fire safety of over 1,600 Bangladesh factories. In their first rounds of evaluation, they found 108,538 safety issues, and categorized every inspected factory as “high risk” with issues requiring “extensive repairs”.

Yet, the Clean Clothes Campaign (one of the Accord’s signatories) reports that “despite the scale and urgency of the work required to fix these safety defects, there appears to have been a very limited effort on behalf of the factories and the brands they supply to actually ensure that renovations have been carried out.”  

As of April 2016, 1556 of the 1660 factories part of the Accord were “behind schedule” with renovations or had no plan in place at all.  Three years after the deadly factory collapse, a mere 4% of the factories are on track or have completed the required renovations. Many research and worker advocacy groups are concerned about the speed of these remediation efforts. 

So, what’s holding up the process?

Most of the original obstacles that the factories faced, such as locating qualified engineering experts and gaining access to the necessary safety equipment (like fire doors), have been resolved.  The Clean Clothes Campaign reports that the delays that still remain can be attributed to the lack of efforts from factory owners and the fashion companies’ weak commitments to monitoring and financing the safety improvements.

Bob Jeffcott from the Maquila Solidarity Network (a signatory of the Accord) reports that “H&M now knows all the renovations needed to finally make its factories safe so that workers will no longer risk their lives” but “despite this knowledge, they continue to drag their feet to carry out these critical renovations.”

A major roadblock in the reform process has been funding. While 1311 factories have a financial plan in place, only 37 factories reported receiving any financial support from a brand or retailer. Many labor groups assert that the safety improvements could be resolved in a much more timely manner if companies dedicated more resources and efforts towards improving conditions.  

The Asia Floor Wage Alliance reports that while H&M has made PR efforts lauding their own sustainability and transparency efforts, “the gesture to date has proved largely symbolic.” Liana Foxvog from the International Labor Rights Forum also expressed concerns over H&M’s transparency, saying that the company “still fails to inform us on what the company itself is doing to speed up the renovations.

With companies and factories slow to act on improving vital work safety efforts, it’s becoming increasingly important for all of us to take on our responsibility as consumers to get involved and buy products that we know were ethically sourced. 


Learn more about fair trade and Mata Traders’ mission and the artisans behind our clothing.


The Impact of Fast Fashion

When you think of the word “fashion,” what comes to mind? Bright lights, bumping music, and models stomping down a white runway?

The traditional framework of the fashion industry, in which a designer or company releases a collection twice a year, used to be the norm. For many upscale designers this structure is still in place, but in the last decade retail stores have dominated the everyday fashion world, flipping tradition upside down and straying from the standards of its high-end counterparts. Stores like Target and H&M are so consumer-driven that they must meet the demand for runway looks at affordable prices, their stores displaying new collections every few weeks. Customers who don’t even care to keep up with trends are exposed to dozens of microtrends every season, in stores’ efforts to push the newest and coolest clothing and accessories. The speed at which big companies produce, market, and sell these collections has dubbed their clothing “fast fashion.”

clothing pile

This heavy demand has transferred to the manufacturers of our clothing – for large retailers, this is almost entirely an overseas process. The U.S. only produces 2 percent of the clothing its consumers purchase, compared to 50 percent only 25 years ago. Hundreds of thousands of people in countries like China, Hong Kong, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Cambodia, India, and the Philippines are working unrealistically long hours for little pay to produce garments for cents apiece.

As the world discovered after the Rana Plaza factory collapse in 2013, retailers have routed their manufacturing processes through middle men, diverting the accountability for any accidents off of themselves. After the collapse, over 200 brands have signed the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety and the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, both established to protect and ensure the safety of Bangladeshi workers. While the intention is just, the scope of the agreement applies only to one geographical area of garment production, and the compliance of production facilities and implementation of safety measures is proving difficult and time consuming.

Fashion’s social impact isn’t the only negative facet of the industry. It’s the second highest polluting industry in the world, second only to the oil industry. That’s right, that soft cotton shirt you’re wearing is worse for the world than the chemical you put in your car’s engine. While garment production and manufacturing garner media attention for the involvement of child labor, or for the aftermath of a large disaster, the industry as a whole (and the lifetime of its products) has a monstrous effect on the world.

Because of fast fashion’s quick turnover (and cheaper production materials), consumers are discarding clothes at a faster rate than ever before. The average American discards 65lbs of clothing every year, some of which is recovered but half of which could have been recycled rather than thrown away.

The solution? First, we need to work with local governments, businesses, and organizations to ensure discarded clothing ends up somewhere it can be reused or recycled. San Francisco is a model city for promoting textile recycling, providing drop-off bins and prompting it’s businesses and buildings to get their own bins (the city’s goal of Zero Waste by 2020 is an ambitious one!). Then, we as consumers need to better understand the environmental and social impact of the clothing we buy. Supporting fair trade companies alleviates the safety & humane issues surrounding fashion, but what about environmental? Livia Firth, noted ethical fashion advocate, suggests asking yourself if you will wear an item 30 times before purchasing it– a great way to begin to consider your clothing a valuable part of your life rather than a disposable outfit, ready to toss when a better one comes along.

Your choices matter

You and me, the average shopper, the standard clothing-wearer, the American Female – we have been the driving force behind the fashion industry’s metamorphosis from an individual-produced craft to a mass-produced monster. We didn’t do it intentionally, but the take away is that consumers have power, money makes decisions, your choices matter, and choosing fair trade and ethically produced goods will steer the fashion industry back in the right direction.

What should you do when the time comes to get rid of clothes but you don’t want to add to the landfill? We have a post coming up with plenty of ideas. 


You Be the Judge – Spring ’17


Spring ’17 samples are here, which means we need your help! We have to whittle this collection down to a lean, mean, stylish, fair trade fashion machine, and your opinions matter!

Tuesday, July 26th & Wednesday, July 27th


Mata Traders Warehouse/Office

1770 W Berteau Ave.

Suite 406

Chicago, IL 60613

Please stop by on either day between 5pm and 8pm — it’s an open house! Expect to stay at least a half hour to view and rate the collection. After the survey, stick around to browse TONS of sale items, treat yourself to snacks and drinks, and, on your way out, grab an item from the free boutique.

Bring your friends and RSVP to the Facebook event. We hope you all can make it!


An Ethical Wedding Must-Have: Fair Trade Bridesmaid Dresses

Planning a wedding comes with many choices, and for the conscious-minded bride, finding the right fair trade products on that special day is one of them.  Mata Traders’ fashionable and flattering dresses make the perfect bridesmaid dresses for ethical weddings.  Take a look at these Mata dresses in a few of our customers’ weddings!

A sophisticated silhouette in a dreamy blue, these bridesmaid dresses are swoon-worthy.

…and best of all, they were comfortable for these lovely ladies to wear all night long!

Forget about any stereotypes of dull bridesmaid dresses! This flattering red dress is vibrant and beautiful.

Selecting different dresses within the same color scheme gives each bridesmaid her own individual style while staying with the overall wedding vision. The hues of blue complement each other beautifully for picturesque group photos!

These pretty floral frocks looked absolutely lovely for Mata founder Maureen’s fair trade wedding! And she happens to be wearing an ethical wedding gown from Celia Grace.


Congratulations to all these beautiful brides! If you’re planning a wedding, be sure to check out more Mata dresses for your best gals to wear on your special day. For more inspiration, check out this wedding photo album showcasing our customers’ weddings.


Trend to Try Now: Tropical Jewelry!

Grab your beach towel and lather on that sunscreen, we’re headed to the tropics!  Whether you’re jet-setting to a Caribbean getaway or enjoying your stay-cation this summer,  Mata Traders’ tropical-inspired jewelry will have you island dreaming.

Take a peek at our mouth-watering jewelry for some sweet summer style:

Indulge in fun patterns and vibrant colors that will delight your [style] sweet-tooth.

Conjure up thoughts of clear skies and azure waters in these gorgeous blue necklace and earrings.

MATA-SS16 (14) (1)

Uncover your golden nautical treasure, no scavenger hunt necessary.

Delectably dazzling, these versatile pieces are perfect for a casual walk along the beach or a classy dinner overlooking the ocean sunset.

Mix metals with ease in Mata’s artisan-crafted jewelry. Our Regalia necklace is perfect for tying together silver and gold-toned accessories.

Truly a-peeling, our Athena cuff and Modern Moon necklace are picturesque statement pieces.



Dangling earrings ideal for enjoying the island breeze under the palm trees (or your ceiling fan…)! Printed Feather earrings and Sayulita earrings



For more paradise-influenced accessories, check out our Tropical Trends Jewelry!


Red, White, & Blue Giveaway 2016 [Giveaway Closed]

Update: Four winners have been chosen (@lindseyll2, @emmekamalei, Melissa S., and Lizzay Grrasherr) and notified!

Time to pack away the sweaters and bust out your swimsuit. Stow your mittens and rock some rings. Hide your boots and whip out those pedicure-loving toes. You get the idea: summer is here! It’s no surprise at Mata – summer is our favorite time of year. It’s dress season, ladies!

Lisbon Dress Mata Traders Vintage Dress

If you’ve been following us for a while, you know we do a red, white, and blue giveaway every summer. Well, friends, that time has rolled around again, and this year’s prize is the lovely hand screen printed Lisbon dress! It has a faux button placket in the front and zips up the back for a flattering fit. And best of all, its red, white, and blue print is the perfect palette to show your patriotism this Independence Day. Plus, we’re not just giving away one dress. We’re giving away FOUR Lisbon dresses for July 4th.

There are five ways to enter (each counts for one entry), between June 15th and June 22nd:

1. Comment below with your favorite piece from the Spring/Summer 2016 collection.
2. Retweet this status on Twitter.
3. Repin this pin on Pinterest.
4. Share this post on Facebook and comment on our post saying you did so.
5. Repost this post on Instagram. Include the hashtag #RWBgiveaway

Nominate a friend and you both get an entry!

1. On our original Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest posts, tag a friend in the comments.
2. On Twitter, RT this tweet with your friend’s Twitter handle.

The giveaway will be open through the end of the day (in Chicago) Wednesday, June 22nd. We’ll announce four randomly-drawn winners the next morning, Thursday 6/23!

Sorry Canadian and international customers, this is open to U.S.-dwellers only.