You’ve probably heard about fair trade before, most likely when shopping for coffee or chocolate.
But have you ever heard it in relation to clothes? Yes, fair trade clothing is actually a thing. But how does that work exactly? Can clothes actually be fair trade, and what does that mean for the fashion industry? That is what we are setting out to answer in this article. So let’s get to it.
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What does Fair Trade mean for clothing?
Before we can answer what fair trade clothing is, we need to understand what the concept of fair trade is about.
Most have probably heard about fair trade or seen the certifications on products in supermarkets.
The first thing we need to get settled is the distinction between fair trade and Fairtrade. Yes, it is confusing, but there are actually two ways t look at fair trade. Fairtrade refers to a specific organization where fair trade refers to the movement itself.
If you want to learn more about the Fairtrade organization, you can visit Fairtrade International’s website here.
The term fair trade refers to a movement including multiple organizations with a shared vision to promote sustainable development and a goal to reduce poverty around the world. This is done by creating transparent supply chains, with high ethical standards.
For a brand to be fair trade it needs to meet certain standards throughout the supply chain. The goal of these standards is to protect producers in countries with poor production and working conditions.
The goals include everything from workers’ rights, wages, supporting production, and environmental protection.
How can clothes be fair trade?
The concept of fair trade can be applied to a great deal of the fashion supply chain.
If we start at the beginning of the supply chain, the sourcing of materials, this step is an obvious option to be fair trade. Let’s take cotton as an example.
Cotton farmers face multiple risks and obstacles. First of all the weather can have a huge impact on the harvest. If the cotton farmers are part of the fair trade movement the buyers have long-term contracts that secure the farmers don’t go bankrupt due to one bad harvest.
Fairtrade supports vulnerable farmers, such as cotton who are highly affected by climate change, rising production costs, and decreasing yields.
If you buy a shirt made of fair trade cotton you are then supporting these local farmers and helping them stay in business.
Another example could be local weavers. If there is a local brand making scarves or something else by hand and selling them, the fair trade movements will help them not to get exploited on the market.
As you can see there are multiple ways to make fair trade clothes. Some items are completely fair trade and some are only partly fair trade because cotton is the only fair trade. So remember to read about what the brand means when they say they are making fair trade clothes.
How does fair trade help the fashion industry?
Fair trade is, as the name suggests about a way of trade that is fair for all parties involved.
Fair Trade has emerged in opposition to free trade. In theory, free trade should be beneficial for the world economy, but a lot of people are hurting under the conditions of free trade.
Workers and small companies and production sites in what is often referred to as developing countries are often being exploited by larger global companies. This also happens in the fashion industry.
Maybe you’ve heard all that workers in countries such as Bangladesh, India, and Thailand are paid a wage way below the living wage for their work. Fair trade tries to break with this way of doing business.
Instead, all parties agree on a minimum price in advance to make sure that producers will be able to earn a living wage. Most fair trade groups also use long-term contracts in order to provide stability and security for producers.
So how does this apply to the fashion industry?
Well, for a company to be labeled fair trade there are a bunch of standards they need to live up to. This includes working rights such as healthy and secure working conditions, and child labor and slavery are strictly banned. Workers under the fair trade label are also allowed to organize unions.
Fair trade clothes then help to ensure workers and local producers are treated fairly and are receiving a fair wage for their work.
Environmental benefits of fair trade clothes
But how about the environment? Does fair trade clothes benefit the environment?
Sometimes local environmental crises and damages are actually caused by local companies out of desperation to earn money. Without any fair agreements, foreign companies can also exploit local environments and ecosystems in order to get a higher profit.
Because of this the fair trade movement, including companies producing fair trade clothes, emphasizes the importance of protecting the environment and having a sustainable practice.
Fair trade clothes are made under other standards than fats-fashion items. The fair trade practice includes water conservation, ensuring responsible handling of waste, supporting biodiversity, and restricted use of chemicals.
Is fair trade legitimate?
During the last couple of years, people have started to question the legitimacy of the fair trade movement. Is it really as ethical and fair as it claims to be?
Some have argued different fair trade certificates have been abused by many brands who actually aren’t following the fair trade principles but just use them for false marketing.
When talking about the legitimacy of fair trade we have to distinguish between the two fair trades – the Fairtrade organization and the Fair Trade movement.
In order to become Fairtrade certified, you have to follow certain standards and rules. The organization ensures complete tranparency and traceability when it comes to the companies it work with’s supply chain.
The term “Fair Trade” on a label on the other hand is not protected by law. That means it can be used for false marketing unless it is supported by a recognized validation system or organization.
There are fair trade organizations that ensure their claim of fair trade products is being verified by independent third-party fair trade programs.
But since a brand can call themselves fair trade without actually having to follow any certain standards you have to do your research before throwing your money after a brand you think is fair trade just because they claim to be.
So how do you know if a brand actually has an ethical production? That is what we are going to dive into next.
How to known if clothes is fair trade?
It is usually pretty simple to find out if a brand is Fairtrade, cause they tend to advertise with it. For a brand to be Fairtrade it needs the official certification from the Fairtrade organization.
If the brand has the certificate you can be sure that 9 out of 10 will have that certification on their website and probably write it out as well that they are Fair Trade certified.
If you aren’t sure the brand is Fair Trade or whether it is just something it claims you can also check the official Fair Trade organization’s website. They have a list of members, who are Fair Trade certified.
As usual, remember to do your research. A brand isn’t necessarily ethical just because it says it is. So keep your eyes and ears open for any red flags and look out for greenwashing.
There are a lot of certifications out there, and not every certificate is more than, well a certificate. So keep an out for the brands that only use a lot of fancy words, but don’t provide any information on how they live up to those words.
Fair trade brand you should check out
Location | United Kingdom
Prices start at | $22
Why we love them
People Tree is the first clothing brand ever to receive the World Fair Trade Organisation product label.
The brand is truly committed to slow fashion and ethical fashion. On top of tracing its supply chain and having an ethical production the brand also uses eco-friendly materials.
The best part is of course, that the clothes and design are chic and timeless as well.
Shop the brand’s fair trade clothes here
Location | Germany
Price starts at| $70
Why we love them
ArmedAngels has a cool edge when it comes to design but definitely also its opinion about the right way of doing fashion.
The brand is Fair Trade and Fair Wear certificated, and the brand is known for its detox items, which are made without any harsh chemicals like most clothes.
If you are looking for stylish, minimalist, and highly sustainable items this cool clothing brand is for you.
Shop the fair trade clothes here
Looking for more fair trade clothes?
There are a bunch of amazing fair trade brands out there that actually care about ethical fashion. If you are looking for more inspiration you can check out our guides to sustainable brands on the site.
If you are looking specifically for fair trade brands you should check out our guide to fair trade jewelry brands. If you are looking for a pair of new shoes you should check out our guide to fair trade shoes.