Understanding Fair Trade Certification for Fashion

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What exactly does Fair Trade fashion mean?

Fair Trade is a term that is often loftily thrown around, just like its compatriots “sustainable”, “eco” and “green”, causing several of us to have no concrete understanding of what the term entails. When it comes to Fair Trade fashion, we may have a fragmented understanding of the fair wages and working conditions that the certified garments were made in – but how is the certification acquired and what does it mean in reality? We’ve investigated to find out, so read on!

There are several different types of Fair Trade certification processes in existence -part of which makes understanding the viability and significance of the certification confusing. However, all Fair Trade certifications are created on the same base-line principles. To receive certification a product must meet all of the criteria, which is the case of a fashion item must:

  • Be made from a material grown and processed under Fair Trade conditions, meaning that the farmers receive fair prices and credit for their crop.
  • Be manufactured by factory workers or artisans working under satisfactory, safe conditions and receiving fair wages. Forced child and slave labor are strictly prohibited.
  • Be purchased by the retail label as directly as possible from the makers, cutting out the middle men. Most often the designers or design team of the fashion label will work directly with the artisans to convey their designs to the weavers, knitters, sewers and embellishers.
  • Be created in a setting that fosters transparency and accountability throughout the textile and garment supply chain.
  • Be created by communities of farmers, artisans and/or factory workers whose economic independence, social infrastructure and business organization skills are consequentially developed.
  • Be manufactured in an environmentally friendly way, most favorably with organic certification of the raw materials (e.g. cotton, silk, wool, rayon, etc.) used, and with strict prohibition of harmful agrochemicals and GMOs.

These points are carefully inspected by the Fair Trade organization, which carries out routine check ups to maintain worker safety and health and ensure fair wages and prices to workers and farmers. This in turn helps the communities where various fashion items are made (which often are in third-world, developing countries or underprivileged communities) to improve standards and help establish sustainable local economies to develop local health care, education and social services. People Tree (a committed and certified Fair Trade fashion label) has beautifully outlined the benefits of Fair Trade on their blog.

The benefits of developing Fair Trade certified products and markets are immense, especially in developing countries where many fashion items are produced. The fragmented and often far from transparent supply chain of the fashion industry can often make Fair Trade certification difficult for garments and accessories, but can be trusted if the company provides specific information, down to the person who made your particular item, on the clothing tag, website or in-store.

If a fashion brand claims to be selling Fair Trade certified items, you can do your research, looking them up online to see if the information they provide backs up this claim. There are several online stores selling crafts that adhere to Fair Trade principals, and can be found through the Fair Trade USA website, which also points out Good & Fair ClothingHAE NowprAna, and Tompkins Point Apparel as Fair Trade fashion producers. Although based in the UK, The Fairtrade Foundation’s shopping guide also provides a list of brands and retailers providing us with Fair Trade fashion. To see more Fair Trade fashion options become available, contact your favorite label to educate them on the matter and inform them of how you and several others are more likely to invest in their products if they source Fair Trade certified ones.

Related on EcoSalon

New York Fashion Week’s Fair Trade Runway Show

Fair Trade USA Launches New Garment and Textile Certification

Sole Food: Fairtrade Espadrilles by Alice & Whittles Support Sustainability

Image: People Tree