You’ve probably come across an item with a fair trade label on it. Maybe it was some farm produce or even an outfit. You might even have heard the term in conversation, but what does it mean?
Fair trade is a market-based method aimed at providing market opportunities to producers in developing countries while maintaining transparency and ethics. The sole purpose of fair trade movements is to ensure that farmers and producers in developing countries get better prices and improved environmental and social standards.
Fair trade clothing incorporates fair trade practices into the fashion industry. It seeks to promote equity and ethics while encouraging a balance in the payments along the supply chain. It also supports the production of eco-friendly clothing to reduce pollution and save the planet. In this article, we are going to look at the following fair trade clothing highlights:
- What inspired fair trade clothing?
- Can fair trade clothing create sustainable fashion?
- Does fair trade clothing make the planet better?
- How can you support fair trade clothing?
What inspired fair trade clothing?
In 2013, a building full of factory workers collapsed in Bangladesh killing over 1,000 people and injuring countless others. A thousand families lost their loved ones in the blink of an eye. It’s heart-wrenching tragedies like these that brought the exploitation and unethical practices in different industries to light. The fashion industry is one of the biggest industries in the US. It is, however, filled with unscrupulous companies that apply unfair trade practices to increase profit margins.
Most apparel companies around the world outsource labour to developing countries where most of the exploitation takes place. Workers work under sweatshop labour conditions for unsustainable wages. Most have no other options to earn an income. As a result, they persevere with low wages and poor work conditions to feed their families. Farmers suffer a similar predicament, when they get low prices for their produce. With nowhere else to sell, they accept unsustainable rates. Exploitative companies later sell the finished products in developed countries and pocket all profits.
Fair trade clothing creates awareness around the plights of such farmers and workers. It focuses on creating equity so that workers and farmers get the right value for their efforts. Today’s consumers are beginning to notice this unfairness in the fashion industry. They’re increasingly cautious about buying ethically produced clothing from companies that promote fair trade practices.
“Sustainable, fair-trade, eco-friendly, ethical and cruelty-free are of-the-moment buzzwords. They come from an acknowledgment of the not-so-chic side to the fashion story—it is one of the world’s most polluting industries. A 2017 report by Global Fashion Agenda and The Boston Consulting Group states that the fashion industry consumes nearly 79 billion cubic metres of water per year (enough for 32 million Olympic-size pools); by 2030, the figure is likely to increase by 50%.” —Sohini Dey
Can fair trade clothing create sustainable fashion?
The simple answer is yes.
Local, curated and niche brands such as Thought Clothing, Fairtees, Reformation, and Threads for Thought are creating conscious buying habits in Western markets. However, true change comes from scale. And it’s heartening to know that large-scale fast fashion brands such as Zara, Mango and H&M have joined the ranks of those trying to correct exploitative and unsustainable trade practices. Most have launched ethical fair trade lines of their own, and are participating in global fair trade discussions.
All of this ensures that fair trade practices will bring transparency and ethical production to the fashion industry. The goods news is that cotton farmers are beginning to get reasonable prices for their produce. There’s also been a recent shift toward providing workers with good working conditions and decent wages that can sustain them and their families.
Introducing ethical practices and transparency into the fashion industry ensures that everyone along the supply chain is satisfied and able to sustain themselves. It also encourages companies to produce organic clothing that does not pollute the environment.
Does fair trade clothing make the planet better?
What do we need to make the world better? Encouraging equity and discouraging pollution would be a good start. Fair trade seeks to promote ethical clothing which ensures that there is fairness along the supply chain and the use of eco-friendly materials.
Mainstream methods in textile production, in particular, require large amounts of water. For instance, “to make just one cotton t-shirt, it takes 2720 litres of fresh water” (source: Sydney.edu.au).
It is, therefore, not only the companies’ duty to make the planet a better place. Consumers also play a prominent role in making the planet better. You can help save the planet by wearing organic clothing from ethical companies. Recycling and down-cycling clothes are also good habits to build in order to reduce fabric waste.
Supporting ethical fashion companies is the least we can do to make lives better for the hardworking folk in developing countries. While at it, we will also be saving our planet by wearing eco-friendly clothing. Talk of killing two birds with one stone.
“We can’t just blame corrupt governments or lack of environmental regulation—it is the colossal overconsumption of Western countries that is driving the demand.” —Kirsten Lee & Liberty Lawson
How can I support fair trade clothing?
You are probably wondering if there is anything that you can do to support fair trade clothing. Well, there is indeed! For starters, ensuring that you only buy fair trade would go a long way in supporting ethical clothing. That simple purchase would ensure that a worker or a farmer somewhere in a developing country gets the means to feed his or her family.
When you support fair trade clothing, you are fighting for the basic human rights of the people who make production possible for the fashion industry. You will be ensuring that the farmers and the workers get sustainable wages and safe working conditions.
By not supporting unethical companies, you are not only standing up for humanity but also protecting the planet. You can prevent the loss of lives in tragedies like the 2013 Bangladesh building collapse by buying fair trade. Wearing organic clothing and recycling or down-cycling your clothes would go a long way in reducing pollution. It is our responsibility as human beings to protect the planet and look out for the vulnerable in our society.
All things considered
We can all agree that it is essential to change the way we produce and consume products. Starting from our most basic purchases such as clothes, we can create sustainable fashion. The goal is not only to make fashion economically sustainable but also environmentally sustainable too. How would you feel knowing that the outfit you are rocking is helping save humanity and the planet?