The days when fair trade fashion meant tie-dyed pantaloons and ill-fitting ethnic smocks are long gone. Top designers are now working with new ethical fashion labels to create clothes and accessories that are desirable, not just because they’re associated with a good cause, but because they’re stylish and beautiful.
So what makes fair trade fashion fair? Here is a quick summary of the 5 things to look out for:
1. There are a number of fair trade certification bodies that you should look out for when you’re browsing for fair trade products. A good one is the World Fair Trade Organisation, while in the UK, the British Association for Fair Trade Shops (BAFTS) is another standards organisation. These organisations help customers know that the products they’re buying are genuinely ethical.
2. Where are the products made? And under what conditions? Do you really want to buy from companies that outsource their production to sweatshop manufacturers with poor conditions and low wages for their workers? Fair trade or ethical fashion companies will be happy to explain where and how their products are made. Rembember: transparency and fair trade go hand in hand.
3. What materials are being used? Fair trade and environmental sustainability are different concepts, though in practice fair trade fashion companies will also engage in eco-friendly sourcing practices. So look out for organic cotton, recycled items and other ‘green’ materials.
4. Fair trade fashion isn’t just confined to the margins of the fashion world. Many mainstream shops have fair trade concessions, and there are now ethical and eco-friendly fashion labels showcased on the catwalk at all the major fashion shows.
5. Price. Ethical fashion is no longer the preserve of the wealthy, with increasingly affordable products available as the movement becomes more mainstream. However, fast fashion goods like T-Shirts for £2.99 are not a realistic price. Someone somewhere will be paying the true cost of that T-Shirt – most likely in a miserable wage and poor conditions. According to the NGO ActionAid, if the retail price of a £6 dress was increased by just 10p it would be enough to double the wages of the factory worker in Sri Lanka who produced it. Ethical fashion can make a real difference.
You might think the global economic downturn could impact on customers’ appetites for fair trade fashion. But according to the Cooperative Bank’s Ethical Consumer report, sales of fair trade and organic clothing grew by 70% to £52m in 2007, and this year is scheduled to see still further growth.
And consider this: in 2007 a survey by TNS Global found that 60% of under-25s said they bought what they wanted, regardless of where or how it had been made. This year that figure had dropped to 36%, suggesting that child labour and sweatshop scandals have made their mark.
The future’s great for ethical consumers and suppliers.