Fairtrade fashion: The Benefits and Why We Need More of It

Fair Trade

As sustainable and ethical fashion have been becoming buzzwords in the past decade, Fairtrade fashion has been on the rise. Nowadays, we care more about the conditions under which our clothing is made and its impacts on the environment – two things buying Fairtrade fashion helps us tackle. While the certification focuses mainly on the ethics of fashion production, many of its regulations and requirements also imply more sustainability.

In a fashion world dominated by the unsustainable and unethical fast fashion concept, why is it so important to go against the flow and buy Fairtrade instead?

Fairtrade Fashion Overview

Fair Trade Fashion
An important note before we get into the details – Fairtrade is a certification awarded to the materials clothing is made from, not the resulting garment. Most often, the companies that produce their garments from Fairtrade materials also include more sustainable and ethical practices through the whole production process – but this is not guaranteed by the Fairtrade label. Keep this in mind when buying Fairtrade fashion and always check for evidence of sustainable and ethical practices through the rest of the supply chain.

Fairtrade fashion uses natural, GMO-free and plastic-free materials which come from independent farms with a high standard of working conditions. The Fairtrade certification also focuses on supporting small, disadvantaged farms and does not award the label to mass-producers.

Fairtrade Fashion: Fairtrade cotton

Fairtrade cotton has been one of the most popular materials, arguably because cotton itself is one of the most widely used materials. However, only 13% of all cotton produced worldwide is grown sustainably – a number that Fairtrade production is helping raise (Nicholson). Without Fairtrade, cotton is a dirty trade which employs child labour and utilizes pesticides and herbicides harmful to the environment and the people producing the cotton (Maki).

Fairtrade cotton has only about one-fifth of the social and environmental footprint of conventional cotton (Nicholson). It reduces its impact and makes a positive difference by setting minimum costs for materials to be sold at, removing harmful chemicals from the production process, strict rules of who works at cotton farms and how much they’re being paid, and overall promotion of more sustainable practices through the supply chain.

Next time, check out if your if your clothing brand is using fairtrade cotton or not. Especially if the brand claims to be fairtrade fashion brand. Take a quick dive and find out if they are truly a fairtrade fashion brand.

Fair wages

You’ve probably noticed that Fairtrade and ethically-produced products usually tend to come with a slightly higher price tag. This is not a margin that you pay just because shopping Fairtrade is trendy – it’s the portion of the price tag that goes towards paying fairly-treated employees a decent wage. Unfortunately, Fairtrade fashion is an exception in the industry.

Most fast fashion companies, which dominate the fashion market today, have very low operating costs because they’re cutting the amount of money workers in their supply chains and farming the materials used in the clothing get paid. These brands don’t cut their own profit to make their garments so dirt cheap – they reduce the pay of their employees. A Fairtrade label ensures that the workers producing fabrics to make garments are paid the living wage in their respective country – as the first label to require this from producers.

Additionally, since Fairtrade fabrics are most often used by ethical and sustainable fashion companies, the rest of the supply chain, including the craftspeople sewing the garments, is usually also managed at a high ethical standard. However, the Fairtrade label does not guarantee this. Which is why we need more fairtrade fashion, where we can provide workers with fair wages and ethical working conditions. Fairtrade fashion is more than just a trend, it is a need.

Fairtrade Fashion: Working conditions

The production of materials such as cotton is troubled by child labour and unfair working practices. In fact, the US department of labour has detected child labour in cotton production in 18 countries including China, India, Pakistan and Brazil.
Fairtrade has strict regulations of absolutely no child labour in the farming of materials laboured as Fairtrade but that is not where the label’s guarantee of working conditions ends.

In non-Fairtrade supply chains, workers are often denied the right to unionize and collectively organize. Fairtrade ensures that workers not only have this right but also that they’re aware that they have it and use it – by electing worker representatives regularly. This way, the workers have a say in the practices of the company that employs them.

Worker safety is one of the main concerns often associated with garment production. Fairtrade fashion workers must work in structurally safe buildings, must always use adequate protective equipment when handling chemicals and avoid the use of some pesticides or herbicides which are harmful even despite the use of protective gear.

Developing local communities with Fairtrade Fashion

Last but certainly not least, a Fairtrade label ensures that the activity of the farms and factories used to make certified fabrics are of benefit to local communities and do not pose any threat to the surrounding area. Any chemicals used in the production must be disposed of in a safe manner that doesn’t pollute the surrounding land or waters. The job opportunities the farm or factory provides also have to be of benefit to the people in the position, rather than putting their health at risk.

The presence of a thriving, ethically and sustainably managed business can do wonders for a local area, especially if it has previously been deprived by unethical production.

Fairtrade fashion does more than just providing fair wages, but it takes the local community, working condition, environmental aspects all into accounts. Fairtrade fashion is an amazing concept, and one more brands should follow.

Why we need more ethical, sustainable and fairtrade fashion?

Colorful shirts from fair trade fashion brands
While the ethical and sustainable, fairtrade fashion brand can make a big difference in the world, the lives of those in the supply chains and our environment, these practices are still in a minority. Most clothing nowadays remains in unethical and unsustainable production chains of fast fashion companies which exploit workers, pollute the planet and support mindless shopping for clothing we don’t need. In order to fight this, we need more fairtrade fashion throughout, not sure fair trade material but overall fairtrade fashion brand.

If we hope to make the world a more ethical place and fight environmental threats such as climate change or plastic pollution, we need to switch to more responsible practices. The Fairtrade fashion brand along with sustainable and ethical concepts are helping make this change happen – vote with your dollar and support them rather than fast fashion corporations.



Resources:
Maki, Reid. “Reid Maki.” Stopchildlabor. Reid Maki Http://stopchildlabor.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/logo-enfold.png, 08 Nov. 2018. Web. 26 Oct. 2020.
Nicholson, Heather. “Top 10 Facts about Fairtrade Cotton.” 01 July 2020. Web. 26 Oct. 2020.
               
Author: Monica Chang
On my own ethical journey since 2010. Always happy to learn more!