Is fair trade fashion just another trendy marketing term or does it mean something? Many consumers are aware of it, but not sure what it represents. There’s also a great deal of confusion with the label ‘Fairtrade’. So, what is fair trade clothing, and why does it matter?
In this guide to fair trade clothing, we cover the difference between the terms ‘fair trade’ and ‘Fairtrade’, and why both are important. We also outline the benefits of fair trade for farmers, garment workers, supply chains, and consumers because ethical practices and products should never go out of style!
What Does Fair Trade Mean?
Fair trade fashion refers to the movement for fair pricing for textiles and products from lower-income countries and populations. It also includes the ethical treatment of material producers and textile workers and ensuring they are paid fairly.
Clothing produced through fair trade is manufactured in factories that practice fair labor standards and protect workers’ rights. This is in contrast to conventional trade that often leaves the very people making high-end fashion brands possible with low-end wages.
Fair trade in the clothing industry also promotes eco-friendly fashion products made through ethical and sustainable practices. This includes practices like using more sustainable materials and natural fibers, such as organic cotton, as well as low-impact dyes during clothing manufacturing.
The fair trade movement follows 10 key principles as laid out by the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO):
- Creating opportunities for economically disadvantaged producers
- Transparency and accountability at all levels of the supply chain
- Follow fair trading practices
- Payment of fair prices
- No child labor and forced labor used throughout the supply chain
- Commitment to non-discrimination, gender equality, freedom of association
- Good working conditions
- Providing capacity building
- Promoting and raising awareness of fair trade
- Having respect for the environment
Understanding Fair Trade Practices vs. Fairtrade Labels
There is much confusion, understandably, between the fair trade movement and the Fairtrade mark or logo.
Fair trade, as stated above, has far-reaching effects all the way from the cotton fields to the factory floor. It refers to ethical sourcing of textiles and materials, fair payment for these products, better working conditions in clothing factories, and living wages.
Fairtrade, on the other hand, refers to the Fairtrade International logo featured on fair trade certified products. Fairtrade International upholds a set of Fairtrade Standards that producers, exporters, and importers must comply with in order to obtain the certification. This is so that consumers can see that the products they are buying are, in fact, produced with fair trade principles.
Fairtrade Labels and What They Mean
Here are some common Fairtrade labels that indicate whether clothing items are Fairtrade certified:
Fairtrade International Certified
The Fairtrade International certification is easily identifiable with its blue, green, and black logo. Clothing labeled with this logo has been ethically sourced and produced from the crops to the shops.
You can confidently buy such items, knowing that no resources were wasted or workers exploited.
Sourced Ingredient (FSI) Mark
This mark features the same Fairtrade International logo, but it is blue, green, and white instead. That’s not the only difference, though. This label indicates that components in a product are sourced according to Fairtrade standards.
However, it also means that the component in question (for example, the cotton used in the garment) has been clearly distinguished from non-Fairtrade cotton through all the stages of production.
This label could mean that 100% of the cotton used in organic cotton t-shirts, meets Fairtrade standards, Other components or elements of production might not.
Fairtrade Mark with an Arrow
This proves that all of the materials that could be sourced under Fairtrade conditions were done so. This implies that the item may contain several materials that don’t qualify.
Using the example of the cotton item, the cotton may be Fairtrade sourced and the other materials are not.
But it could also be the other way around. Other materials may have been ethically sourced and produced, but not the cotton finishing touches.
The product must include at least 20% certified Fairtrade-sourced content to feature this particular logo.
Fairtrade Textile Standard
When garments are certified under the Fairtrade Textile Standard, it means all their materials meet Fairtrade standards, including the thread used.
Fairtrade-certified cotton implies that both the crops and the farmers/workers were treated ethically.
This does not necessarily have any bearing on the other workers in the supply chain’s wages or their daily working conditions. It merely indicates that the materials and production of those materials with the Fairtrade mark meet Fairtrade standards.
Why Is Fair Trade Important In The Fashion Industry?
As you can see, the different Fairtrade labels can mean different things. When consumers are aware of this, they can make informed choices about the products they want to buy and the manufacturers or brands they want to support.
When fair trade practices are followed, they offer distinct benefits to everyone involved - from the people working in cotton fields to factory workers to fashion houses and consumers. Let’s examine a few of these fair trade clothing benefits:
Fair Wages and Better Treatment of Farmers
The fair trade movement’s focus is on fair wages, pricing, and treatment. This means that fair trade farmers and workers from third-world countries or lower-income indigenous communities don’t get shortchanges, and workers' rights don’t get abused or exploited.
Child labor and discrimination against women are also not tolerated in any company claiming to follow Fairtrade International policies.
Everyone enjoys decent working conditions, gender equality, dignity, and a living wage.
Fair Trade is Better for the Environment
Fair trade aims to promote more eco-friendly practices such as organic farming, reduced water usage, and the prevention of harmful chemicals being used in textile production. This not only minimizes pollution but also preserves the health of ecosystems and communities.
Moreover, fair trade fashion promotes responsible manufacturing processes. It encourages the use of renewable energy sources, ethical waste management, and more efficient use of resources.
All of this contributes to lower carbon emissions and reduced energy consumption, making it better for the environment than conventional fashion practices.
Lastly, fair trade fashion encourages the idea of "slow fashion" where consumers buy fewer, higher-quality items that have a longer lifespan than cheap fast fashion items. This reduces the overall demand for new clothing and its associated environmental costs, such as textile waste.
Quality and Sustainability
In a world where a sustainable wardrobe of ethically sourced clothing is trending, more and more consumers are waking up to the lasting quality of fair trade principles and Fairtrade textiles.
You don’t have to replace your entire closet that you already love to create a sustainable wardrobe that’s kind to women, children, and the environment. Just aim to purchase new items from fair trade fashion brands committed to ethical and sustainable fashion.
And as mentioned above, support the slow fashion movement by focusing more on buying high-quality clothing items made with fair trade practices.
Everyone can make this simple yet impactful choice that benefits both the environment and the hardworking people who produce your clothes.
If you want long-lasting pieces of clothing produced without damage to the planet or exploitation of workers, focus on buying fair trade products.
And if you want to support a small company making a big difference along these same principles, look to Melomys. We are dedicated to education, activism, and above all, beautiful organic clothing you can wear with pride.
Recycled materials, organic fibers, and other lower-impact materials are crafted into ethically made and distributed fashions. So you can always be fashionable without guilt.