Welcome to EcoSalon’s Fair Trade Fashion Guide—your destination for sustainable and ethical fashion alternatives! Learn all about the benefits of Fair Trade, who’s making great Fair Trade fashion, and where to find it!
What is Fair Trade Fashion?
Fair Trade certified fashion is considered clothing and accessories made from materials produced in a way that helps producers in developing nations obtain improved levels of income and community infrastructure, and therefore better living conditions.
In other words, it is fashion made from cotton and other materials grown or produced in a way that respects the people and the environment where it’s produced. This means that a cotton farmer will receive a fair price for growing cotton, and laborers will receive decent working and living conditions.
Fair Trade certification also indicates the freedom for farmers to organize cooperatives and unions, allowing arenas for unified decision making, alongside a commitment to stay away from agrochemicals. This is especially important for cotton, since the estimated amount of agrichemicals used on traditional cotton is 16-25 percent more than for any other single crop.
Fair Trade Cotton
There is currently only one major Fair Trade certified crop for the fashion industry, and that’s cotton. Cotton is one of the most used textile fibers in the world. It is vital for the survival of many in low-income, developing communities in Africa and India.
In fact, it is estimated that about 100 million households directly engage in cotton production, and 300 million people work in the cotton industry through either farm or factory labor. With challenges such as climate change, poor seed prices, and competition from highly subsidized farmers in richer countries such as the U.S. (where farmers receive $4.3 billion in subsidies), cotton farmers in third world nations often live in hardship.
When Fair Trade certification of cotton is employed, it not only affects the wages of the farmers and workers, but also provides them with premiums to use toward community projects such as establishing water access or building schools. This is what makes Fair Trade certification important not only on the supply chain level, but as a tool to create better living conditions across the supply chain.
Fair Trade has also been instrumental in creating new opportunities for women, especially in the fashion and clothing markets. Since equal pay and equal worker’s rights are at the forefront to Fair Trade policies, women are provided with specific privileges for maternity leave, healthcare, and freedom from harassment. Several women working in the Fair Trade cotton and artisan industries have used their income to invest in small business opportunities in order to support their families and children.
While Fair Trade certification certainly promotes environmentally and socially responsible practices, it does not mean that a product is necessarily certified organic. Some Fair Trade products are organic but not certified, while some are certified organic. Organic certification is another cost to farmers and producers, and many do not have funds to obtain it even though their growing methods are essentially organic.
Other Types of Fair Trade Products
From the rice you eat for lunch, to the comforter that keeps you warm in your bed at night, these items and so many more can be sourced and purchased as Fair Trade products. You are no longer limited to coffee and clothing. In fact, even that bottle of wine in your fridge and your child’s prized soccer ball are capable of supporting a farmer or village in need of greater monetary gain.
The importance and urgency of buying Fair Trade is becoming more mainstream. Consumers are beginning to see the differences being made, not only in terms of quality products, but also in terms of quality treatment of deserving and hardworking individuals in impoverished regions. Check out Fair Trade USA for a comprehensive list of Fair Trade products.
There are many major Fair Trade organizations today, but the main internationally recognized organization working to administer Fair Trade cotton certification is Fair Trade International (FLO). FLO works as a third party, objectively measuring the viability of cotton utilizing the company’s raw material, supply chain, and final product through audits.
Auditing involves visits to farms and interviews with workers conducted by members of the certifying organization, alongside research evaluating the practices involved further along in the supply chain. These audits are comprehensive, and are followed up with at least twice during the following three years.
Since the supply chain for fashion items is so long and complicated, with many parties involved, it’s important to have each part of the chain meet Fair Trade standards. The FLO-CERT initiative does just that, indicating that Fair Trade practices have been implemented from growing the raw material through to producing the final, cotton product.
It is also important to realize that although a certain product may be Fair Trade certified, the company that produced it may not be fully dedicated to Fair Trade practices. By seeking out brands and companies that are part of membership organizations such as the Fair Trade Federation (North America only) and the World Fair Trade Organization, you can rest assured that they are fully committed to Fair Trade practices.
Other “Fair” Certifications
There are several other organizations that offer certifications and symbols for fair labor practices, although the viability of many may be questionable.
This certification is similar to the Fair Trade certification, covering fair working conditions alongside social responsibility practices. However, the standards for receiving certification are rather loose, and companies can contract the organization to certify their internal social codes and practices for a fee.
Another non-profit organization, WRAP consists of a group of social compliance experts aiming to promote safe, humane, and lawful manufacturing practices in the apparel, footwear, and textile industries. Although the mission of the organization is laudable, the main flaw in certification is that most included members are accepted through a process of self-assessment, and only have to have been utilizing socially compliant practices for a minimum of 90 days prior to certification.
MADE-BY is a European non-profit organization providing fashion labels with tools and resources for creating more transparency. It offers a signature certification label, indicating that the brand’s production process can be traced and followed on MADE-BY’s website. The organization’s mission is to “make sustainable fashion common practice.”
Oeko-Tex is an independent and international testing and certification system used mainly for textiles and indicates the prohibition of certain chemicals in the production process. The basis for certification is built upon the latest scientific findings, and is continually updated as new research is provided.
Where to Buy Fair Trade Fashion
Fair Trade certified fashion is available through many outlets, so it is most important to know which brands and companies to trust. Green America offers a list of brick and mortar shops selling Fair Trade apparel across the United States. There are also several online boutiques selling Fair Trade certified brands, such as model Amber Valletta’s project Master & Muse, U.S.-based Shop Ethica, UK based The Fair Shop, and European My Maracuja.
EcoSalon’s Top 20 Fair Trade Certified Fashion Brands
Although this list doesn’t cover all the Fair Trade brands on the market, it’s definitely a great place to get your feet wet in the world of conscious fashion. We’ve chosen these brands for their unwavering commitment to sustainability, their dedication to enriching and improving the lives of women, their fashion-forward attitudes, and trend setting designs. If you’re ready to diversify your wardrobe with compassionate apparel, then continue reading for EcoSalon’s exciting list of top 20 Fair Trade certified fashion brands.
Brand Highlights: Anjali is a yoga wear brand that offers men and women a chic collection of active wear pieces that are stylish enough to wear outside of the yoga studio. The brand selects fabrics that feel good against the skin and align with the yogic principles of non-violence and purity. Most all Anjali products are made in New York City or Los Angeles, in Fair Trade certified facilities, and utilizing Fair Trade certified cotton where possible.
Why We Love It: Not only are Anjali’s clothes some of the hottest around, but the brand also has a killer philosophy. “We wanted to make our clothes in the US, to be ethical in our business and to be environmentally and socially responsible.”
Our Top Picks: Ohm Burnout Hoodie, Veracity Bra in Ocean, Vira Capri in Ocean, and Everyday Pant in Heather.
2. Ace & Jig
Brand Highlights: Ace & Jig is a quintessentially American fashion line that utilizes the amazing skills of Indian crafters and artisans to create its signature apparel and accessories. Woven textiles are the benchmark of Ace & Jig’s casual chic collections, often made from fairly sourced and produced cotton fabrics. Ace & Jig’s manufacturing process is fascinating, educational, and utterly natural – check it out here.
Why We Love It: With a mature boho vibe, this resort-style clothing line is perfect for those of you who aren’t afraid of a little pattern mixing. Whether you’re heading to the beach, or picking up the kiddos from school, you’ll be sure to look chic, no matter the task.
Our Top Picks: Union Seafarer Popover, Union Quilted Jacket, and Surplus Jumper.
Brand Highlights: Gallant International offers up a collection of all sorts of bags. From backpacks to clutches to super handy shopping and wine bags, there’s something for everyone. The Gallant International brand has received the FLO-CERT certification for many of its products, indicating the brand’s commitment to Fair Trade and labor principles throughout the entire supply chain.
Why We Love It: Gallant International is great because, as the company states on its website, “We source the finest natural materials, including 100% organic cotton, jute and juco, fair trade certified, bio-degradable, and vegan products. As the direct supplier, we offer products that are customized to your needs by style, design, and price.”
Our Top Picks: Soon Gallant International will have a fully customizable bag design program for your computer, tablet, or smart phone. Until then, hang tight and preview the current collection of bags on the website.
Brand Highlights: Good & Fair’s simple but ethical collection primarily includes men’s and women’s tees and undies, alongside a collection of trendy scarves, all made from Fair Trade certified and GOTS certified organic cotton. We know the consequences of undies that aren’t all natural, which is one reason why Good & Fair is so great. With a relatively small and close-knit production supply chain located in India and much of its cotton sourced from India, the brand can vouch for the fair and equal labor practices throughout the production cycle.
Why We Love It: The brand does what’s necessary even when it’s the more difficult choice, “We use fair trade certified factories and organic cotton. We ensure fair wages for cotton farmers and garment workers internationally, as well as provide resources for those fighting to get out of poverty within our own community. Operating this way is challenging for sure, but we believe it’s work worth doing.”
Our Top Picks: The selection may be small, but the quality is evident. We’re crazy for the Hipster Panties, Grey and White Striped Scarf, and all the men’s and women’s tees.
Brand Highlights: A U.K. based brand, Gossypium offers a collection of active wear and jersey-based casual wear. All Gossypium items are made from certified organic, and where possible Fair Trade certified cotton. The brand cuts and sews all of its garments at a Fair Trade factory located in East London, where appreciation for organic materials, fair labor rights and high quality machinery and working conditions are prioritized.
Why We Love It: The company is so dedicated to the use of organic cotton that it named the business Gossypium after the botanical name. Furthermore, the line of yoga clothes can be easily mixed and matched thanks to the wide variety of solid colors.
Our Top Picks: Mini Fold Over Waist Capri, Scoop Neck Double Layer Vest, Wide Leg Yoga Trouser, and Kaftan Neck Vest all in organic cotton.
6. HAE Now
Brand Highlights: HAE Now is the go-to brand for basic tees made from Fair Trade certified, organic cotton. The brand offers t-shirts for every member of the family in a variety of colors, as well as aprons and tote bags. HAE Now is exceptionally committed to achieving high environmental standards, placing the use of organically grown and ethically produced cotton at the forefront of its production ethos.
Why We Love It: The company’s name stands for “Humans, Animals, and Environment…NOW!” It states, directly from HAE Now’s website that, “Every business needs to be profitable. However, we believe that ethics and social responsibility should not be forsaken for profits but seen as a roadmap to lasting success.”
Our Top Picks: The t-shirts, of course…and the aprons, too! When someone specializes in something, and has honed the process in such a quality controlled manner, it must be good.
7. Honest By
Brand Highlights: Honest By is considered the first fully transparent fashion label in the world, providing a full break down of the origins and production process for each of its garments and accessories. The label often sources Fair Trade cotton that is always certified organic. Another cool aspect is the designer compilation – there are several designers, rather than just one – and the clothes look much like preppy couture clothing from the latest fashion magazine.
Why We Love It: “Products in the Honest by store are made with consideration for all beings,” says the company, and it also symbolizes a commitment to fair labor and production.
Our Top Picks: Black and Off-White Herringbone Linen Pencil Wrap Skirt and Black Organic Cotton Shirt with Organic Knit Sleeves.
Brand Highlights: 4 All Humanity is focused on empowering women, not only though its Fair Trade goods and apparel, but also through the message being sent with the Smart is Beautiful clothing line. The company is currently working with artisans in Guatemala in order to connect them to the global market and provide technical assistance to help their small businesses grow. All of the fabrics used in 4 All Humanity’s designs are eco-friendly and hand-crafted.
Why We Love It: The current Smart is Beautiful campaign is working on donations that will go directly to women and girls in Guatemala to help put them through school. 4 All Humanity believes, “What is considered beautiful changes year to year and from culture to culture, but what is beautiful across the world is a smart mind, and a kind heart. We live in a society whose seemingly sole focus is on women’s outer appearance.” And now it is working to change just that.
Our Top Picks: Ciudad Pencil Skirt, Smart is Beautiful V-Neck, and Layered Stone Necklace.
Brand Highlights: Launched in 2000, Kuyichi was one of the first labels to be completely committed to the use of Fair Trade certified and organic cotton from the onset. The brand’s collection is comprised primarily of denim, but it also offers casual wear for both men and women, all made out of the most ethically and environmentally light-weight cotton available.
Why We Love It: Aside from hoping that some of the site’s gorgeousness will rub off on us, the brand also has some seriously cool casual clothes that can really be worn by anyone. Kuyichi also believes “…sustainability isn’t just a trend. And it shouldn’t be the next generation’s job. We see it as our mission. Now and in the future.”
Our Top Picks: Nora LS Check Shirt, Gianna Sweater, and Lil Lucky Vintage Jeans.
Brand Highlights: Lemlem offers up a collection of clothing, accessories and home wares made by artisan crafters in Ethiopia. Founded by Liya Kebede, former supermodel and the World Health Organization’s Goodwill Ambassador for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, this brand is committed to providing fair and justified working conditions and wages to all the laborers and artisans involved in the production process of its collections.
Why We Love It: “Ethiopian hand weaving is world renowned for its intricacy and luxurious texture. Lemlem preserves and celebrates this art form by empowering and partnering with local artisans.” Not only is Lemlem committed to humanity, but the clothes are gorgeous too!
Our Top Picks: Fitted Shirt Dress, Zare Smock Shirt, and Biftu Scarf.
Brand Highlights: A highly commendable fashion brand, Loomstate is entirely committed to providing garments that are made through ethical practices and in a way that helps the communities involved in production thrive. Its goal is to help create sustainable communities where equality and good standards of living for all reign supreme, thus its commitment to the use of Fair Trade and certified organic cotton.
Why We Love It: Loomstate believes that “Quality is defined by more than how long your t-shirt lasts. It’s about the health of the farmer growing the cotton, the health of her community and all the communities who contribute to making this product. Quality is about sustainability. Sustainability starts with organic cotton.”
Our Top Picks: Selvage Chambray Work Shirt, Warm White Racerback Tank, and Mossy Stone Crew Tee.
Brand Highlights: Maggie’s Organics is committed to what it refers to as “Real Fair Trade,” implying that the company purchases the cotton directly from the suppliers, pay for entire harvests, process all of its own organic cotton and wool, and commit to fair labor practices and wages across the length of the supply chain. The brand is a necessity, as it offers basics such as socks, tights and leggings made from clean and fair cotton.
Why We Love It: Maggie’s does so many wonderful things and shares them all with its customers directly on the website, but one of the best things we discovered was this: “We know most workers and each production facility – not just the owners and bosses. We know when their kids are sick and we hear about their basketball games. We laugh with them, and we have cried with them.”
Our Top Picks: ¾ Sleeve Scoop Top, Organic Cotton Leggings, and Organic Cotton Striped Footie Collection – because your feet need love, too.
Brand Highlights: The Mountain Equipment Co-op has developed a Social Compliance Program that renders the brand responsible for improving the working conditions in factories where its items are produced. One method for this is by committing to Fair Trade cotton and fair labor practices throughout the supply chain, which the brand does by conducting audits at least every 18 months. The brand has also openly published its factories and code of conduct on the webpage.
Why We Love It: Great for the outdoorswoman and adventurer, you’re sure to find something you love for your next hiking trip. In addition to awesome rugged clothing, MEC states “Sustainability goals are embedded into our business operations. We see it as our responsibility, and we want to be an agent for change in the outdoor, apparel, and retail industries.”
Our Top Picks: MEC Obsession Hoodie, Toad&Co Diamond Sweater Skirt, and Prana Tashia Pants.
14. Monkee Genes
Brand Highlights: Trendy, comfortable, and made from Fair Trade, certified organic cotton, Monkee Genes are some of the most ethical and environmentally conscious jeans available on the market. The pops of color and variety of washes and materials are all made from GOTS certified organic cotton that is sourced from fair-trade farmers and weavers.
Why We Love It: Owner and designer of Monkee Genes, Phil Wildbore, says, ‘Monkee Genes is simple. The Monkee Genes design, when all the ingredients are added in, evolves into a piece of clothing which you can’t wait to put back on. Looking after your body and soul; this is the natural evolution of jeanswear, this is Monkee Genes!’
Our Top Picks: This was the toughest part. There are seriously so many great jeans it’s hard to choose, but here are our top three: Green Room Sateen Skinny Jean, Monkee Boy Old Organic Denim Ripped Boyfriend Fit, and Dark Denim Skinny Peanut Jean.
Brand Highlights: Considered one of the most socially responsible and ethical footwear labels on the planet, Oliberte staunchly supports workers’ rights in sub-Saharan Africa where its items are produced. The label’s production facility is the world’s first Fair Trade Certified™ footwear manufacturing factory, helping inject income and stability into the infrastructure of the local communities, also providing it with B-Corporation status. Although no Fair Trade cotton is used in the shoes, the manufacturing facility has been Fair Trade certified due to its ethical practices and sourcing methods.
Why We Love It: Oliberte believes in “empowerment, transparency, and doing right by all,” which is evident in the company’s unique rating, but also in the commitment to employing an Ethiopian team with 60 percent of those employees being women.
Our Top Picks: Lalina in Light Grey Brush Wax, Anjula in Camel Pullup, and Mbozi in Dark Grey Nubuck.
16. PACT Apparel
Brand Highlights: As a leader in the promotion and production of sustainable intimates and basics, PACT apparel offers up undies, hosiery, sleepwear and activewear all made from GOTS certified organic cotton. The brand is also now committed to Fair Trade, and is in fact offering the largest quantity of Fair Trade certified garments in the USA.
Why We Love It: “PACT is obsessed with a big idea: clothes that make the world a better place. You change your underwear. Together, we change the world.” Sounds like a win-win situation to us!
Our Top Picks: Stripe Heather Grey Pocket Dress, Watermelon Bikini Underwear, and Organic Cotton Zip Hoodie in Pomegranate.
17. Patagonia Inc
Brand Highlights: Patagonia is an active member of the Fair Labor Association (FLA), indicating the brand’s sincere commitment to equal and fair working rights and conditions. In fact, the company is at the forefront of the sustainable garment movement, sharing information on its production processes, constantly conducting research for more environmental and efficient fabrics, and works with factories that have demonstrated ethical practices.
Why We Love It: Patagonia is staunchly opposed to what had been referred to by the United Nations as “human trafficking,” or modern day slave labor that is still being used by many apparel corporations today. In addition, “Patagonia prohibits any form of forced labor, including slavery and human trafficking in our supply chain. This is a zero-tolerance issue.”
Our Top Picks: Triolet Jacket in Chartreuse, Merino Midweight Zip-Neck in Pearson Stripe, and Quandry Pants in Forge Grey.
18. People Tree
Brand Highlights: People Tree, a UK based fashion brand, is a completely Fair Trade certified brand throughout the length of the supply chain. Certified through the World Fair Trade Organization, People Tree supports 50 Fair Trade organizations working with a specific social issue or community empowerment in 8 different developing countries. These groups employ over 4,000 artisans and farmers that make items such as hand-wovens, hand knits and handcrafted jewelry to improve the quality of their lives.
Why We Love It: “For every beautiful garment People Tree makes, there’s an equally beautiful change happening somewhere in the world. When you wear People Tree, you look good and feel good knowing your unique garment was made with respect for people and the planet.”
Our Top Picks: Enid Slim Fit Trousers, Sheridan Skirt in Black and White, and Katia Fleece Coat in Dark Grey.
Brand Highlights: Another member of the Fair Labor Association, prAna has been offering Fair Trade certified garments since 2010. The brand’s collection offers certified garments alongside other environmentally responsible and ethical items, as prAna is committed to sustainable practices in all parts of its supply chain.
Why We Love It: “prAna is Sanskrit for breath, life and vitality of the spirit. This ancient word holds great meaning for us, and so we borrowed it for our name. It lifts our aspirations and helps guide our actions towards becoming an ever more socially mindful and environmentally sustainable organization.”
Our Top Picks: Bridget Lined Shirt in Stone, Diva Skirt in Plum Red, and Mantra Pant in Black Herringbone.
20. Raven + Lily
Brand Highlights: This Texas based women’s apparel brand was originally started by two friends in an effort to alleviate property among women in poor, developing countries. The label’s collections are all handmade by artisans in India, Kenya, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Cambodia, Guatemala and the USA under ethical and safe principles.
Why We Love It: “Raven + Lily currently helps employ over 1,500 marginalized women at fair trade wages to give them access to a safe job, sustainable income, health care, education, and a real chance to break the cycle of poverty for themselves and their families. Raven + Lily is committed to providing products that are made by hand, follow fair trade standards, and honor our eco-friendly commitment.”
Our Top Picks: Dyna Two-Toned Jersey and Gauze Dress, Chanda Harem Pants in Grey Jersey, and Ravi Printed Cascade Tank in White Jersey with Black Print.
Now that you’ve seen the rundown from our Fair Trade fashion guide, we want to hear from you. Do you purchase Fair Trade clothing? Why or why not? What did you think of our list? Did you learn anything new? Share your opinions on the EcoSalon Facebook page!
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