Finding Fair Trade
Not too long ago my sister, who lives in Montana, asked me where she could find fair trade clothing. She had seen the documentary “The True Cost”, which focuses on the human and environmental impact of the fast fashion industry. She was moved to act on her new awareness of the plight of apparel factory workers in developing countries. And so she asked me “where can I purchase fair trade clothing?”
For those of you who are not familiar with “fair trade” – in its simplest form it assures consumers that farmers and/or workers were paid a fair or living wage. Several certification programs exist for fair trade products. For example, Fair Trade USA (2015) certification means that “products that bear our logo come from farmers and workers who are justly compensated.” Fair trade certification by Fairtrade International (2015) assures that products that carry the Fairtrade International label have met trade standards associated with fair wages, collective bargaining, labor standards (e.g., no child labor), health and safety standards, and democratic decision making.
Now back to the question – where can one find fair trade clothing? There are essentially four ways for consumers to find fair trade clothing. The companies I have listed below are definitely not an exhaustive list, but meant to provide a sampling of what’s available.
1. Apparel brands that are in partnership with Fair Trade USA. A number of fashion brands have partnered with Fair Trade USA to create and sell certified fair trade clothing. These include:
· US outdoor apparel company, Patagonia, was one of the first large company to partner with Fair Trade USA to create and sell certified fair trade clothing.
· PrAna offers a number of men’s and women’s fair trade shirts and accessories.
2. Apparel brands that pride themselves in paying fair wages and refer to themselves as fair trade. A number of apparel companies offer evidence that they pay fair wages and empower workers. Evidence of fair trade practices is essential to assure consumers of the authenticity of claims. Examples include:
· Eileen Fisher offers several fair trade shirts, jackets, and sweaters. In addition, the website provides stories and videos of the company’s work in Peru in creating fair trade merchandise.
· People Tree’s entire lines of men’s and women’s apparel are fair trade and made with environmentally responsible materials. Their “Who Makes Our Clothes?” area on their website offers evidence of their mission and values.
· Winter Sun, a company located in Ecuador and sells to the North American market. I have personally visited the Winter Sun factory and talked with workers. Videos and other visuals are also available on their website:
3. Retailers who sell fair trade merchandise (bricks-and-mortar and/or online). A number of retailers focus on fair trade merchandise. For example:
· Ten Thousand Villages has both bricks-and-mortar stores as well as an impressive website along with videos as stories o their fair trade partners.
· NOVICA is an online marketplace of artisan apparel and jewelry
· Many communities have local stores that sell fair trade merchandise. Here in my hometown of Corvallis, OR, we have Many Hands Trading
4. Online resources for fair trade clothing
· Fair Trade USA has a list of products and partners
· The Good Trade offers their recommendations of 30 fair trade clothing brands
· Fair Trade Federation has a wonderful listing of fair trade clothing companies
As you can see, a number of fair trade clothing brands and retailers are available to consumers; although, unfortunately, consumers must seek them out. If in its simplest form, fair trade is about paying fair or living wages, then why are not all clothing brands fair trade? It means that many brands are not paying fair or living wages. Why? I will attempt to address some of the issues surrounding challenges to responsible global fashion in future blogs. Until then, look for fair trade, look for evidence to any claims of fair trade, and when purchasing clothing, purchase fair trade.
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