Fair Trade Fashion – How Do You Define ‘Fair’?

Buy a pair of jeans, and the chances are they’ll have travelled further across the globe in their short life than you.

The clothing and apparel industry is a complex one. It is now common for a piece of clothing – let’s take that pair of jeans, for example – to be made up of components from five or more countries, often thousands of miles away, before they end up in our high street store where you buy them.

Fair trade fashion aims to create clothing and accessories that take into account their impact on the producers who make the goods at all the different stages of its production. Ethical fashion companies are not engaged in a ‘race to the bottom’ in pursuit of the very cheapest products at the expense of producers’ livelihoods and their environment. Ultimately, this is an international trading system built on equitable relations and fair dealings.

So far, so good. But how do you define the notion of ‘fair’?

Although there is no universally accepted benchmark for what a fair price is, it is generally accepted that producers earning a fair wage are able to live relatively comfortable lives within the context of their local area. This means enough money for housing, a generous amount of food, health care, education for children, and some disposable income.

Commodities such as coffee, tea and fruits offer a very simple economic model. They are traded in commodity markets daily, resulting in a global market price. Importers can simply pay a premium above that market price and they are following the rules set down by the major certification schemes.

Manufactured, of ‘finished’, goods like clothing or jewellery or accessories are much more complicated because components often come from literally dozens of sources. Also, wages, labour laws, and factory conditions are much more difficult to monitor compared to commodity prices. So for example, it becomes very difficult to define what constitutes an ethically-sourced pair of jeans.

That’s why fair trade fashion items are not all certified and stamped yet. It’s not that they are trying to con you. It’s just that the companies are ahead of the certification bodies.

However, as a consumer you can easily identify some key practices and attributes that an fair trade fashion company should pursue if it is genuinely working in an ethical way.

Firstly, the very fact that enterprises are working with value-added goods, like jeans or necklaces, is positive. Although the trade in coffee is fantastic, coffee is just a raw material, the real value of which is gained when you use those beans to make a cappuccino. When you buy a fair trade coffee in London or New York or Paris, the farmer obviously benefits, but the great majority of the price you pay goes to the coffee company, not the farmer in coffee farmer in Ethiopia or Colombia. The value-added element, which is a posh way of explaining how some beans and hot water and milk can be sold for £2.50 or $4, goes into the pockets of European or US companies.

With fair trade fashion, producers are essentially exporting finished products, for which there is a higher added-value, rather than just raw materials. Continuing with the example of the pair of jeans, the producers are exporting a finished pair with pockets, a zipper and button, not just reams of denim in a roll. So they are benefiting by earning more money and gaining more skills. This is a huge benefit to producers in developing countries.

In addition, in the world of fair trade fashion, companies tend to work with eco-friendly products such as organic cotton, organic wool, recycled fabrics and natural dyes. This has huge environmental benefits.

Ethics in fashion is growing, and with more and more top designers becoming involved in the movement, and sustainability growing in importance, this is an issue that isn’t going to disappear. The certification bodies are likely to catch up with the leading companies to introduce some kind of labelling system. And when the storm clouds of the global economy start to move away, this movement will still be there.

Because the bottom line is that the low-cost-at-any-cost global economy just isn’t sustainable.

Starting a Fashion Accessories Business

Wanting to start a business but do not know which industry to venture into? A fashion accessories business may be the most fascinating and interesting industry for you due to the amazing fact that this is a more fad-driven business than any other industries you can possibly come across. It changes rapidly with the trends of each season and always tends to prosper, be it in the good or bad economy. During the economy upturn, people spend their money freely on buying accessories to give each piece of the garment they owned a different look or feel. When times are tough, people still are unable to avoid buying “blings blings” to brighten up one’s life. According to the fashion industry’s national advocacy organization which is known as The Accessories Council, accessories itself is a $30 billion business of the overall fashion industry.

Knowing the above facts, you are most probably full of enthusiasm now and can’t wait to start your very own fashion accessories business. There are so many different ways you can enter this industry, ranging from deciding what kind of fashion accessories you are targeting at such as hats, scarves, jewelry, bags, belts etc. to considering whether if you want to create your own products such as hand made jewelry to buying them from wholesalers or distributors. You have to also consider how and where you want to sell your accessories, whether you prefer opening a brick-and-mortar store, selling at fashion fairs, by consignment to shops or starting a virtual store. The method you choose to enter the industry will affect your initial capital and the type of resources you need to research on. You have to select the best business plan to start your fashion empire. Your business plan must be as detailed as possible because this will be your roadmap to success.

There is a huge reason why you should start this business now as the internet is here to help you with all the above major decisions that you have to make. They can also provide you with invaluable start-up advices. In addition, a virtual shopping cart is also a good way to start your fashion accessories business and at the same time, allow you better management of your operation costs and other expenses.

Dazzling Image, an online fashion accessories business that sells fashionable earrings, necklaces and sweater chains with very cute designs pass their savings to their customers mainly by saving on operation costs like rental and overheads. Customers are delighted with getting such likable fashion accessories at competitive prices, accompanied with good customer services, just by shopping in the comfort of their homes. On top of that, they provide wholesale packages of their accessories if you are thinking of reselling their fashion accessories. Entrepreneurs will be very thrilled to find out all the good deals they can get from Dazzling Image.

How the SA 8000 and Other Standards Are Shaking Up the Fashion Industry

Environmental, social and ethical pressures on the global textiles and fashion sector emerged in Europe in the early 1980s. The main driver was consumer concern over the safety of the materials. However, in parallel with this trend, a minority group of ethical consumers demanded “chemical-free” and low environmental impact clothing and fashion goods. This resulted in the European and later the U.S. organic labeling system being extended to include criteria for clothing and textiles, such as organic cotton. As of 2007, the sector was the fastest growing part of the global cotton industry with growth of more than 50% a year. Regarding safety standards, the Oeko-Tex standard has become highly popular in the industry. Although unknown to consumers, it tests for chemicals such as flame retardants in clothes and categorizes goods according to their likely exposure to humans (e.g. baby clothes must adhere to the strictest standards for chemicals). Thus the issue of chemicals in clothing has become largely one of liability risk control for the industry with the consumers obviously expecting products to pose no risk to their health. Organic and eco fashion and textiles attracts a far smaller, but fast growing group of consumers, largely in Western Europe and Coastal U.S.

Of far greater concern to the global fashion sector is the issue of worker welfare. The issue was highlighted by pressure groups such as:

Global Exchange in the U.S. targeting Levis and Nike and others.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s anecdotal evidence began emerging from labor activists in the U.S. and Europe concerning the supply chains and overseas factories of leading U.S. and European multinationals. A key target was the world’s leading maker of denim jeans Levi Strauss, but more significantly Nike, the world’s largest sports shoe marketing firm. Global Exchange launched its Nike Anti Sweatshop campaign, focusing on the firms sourcing in China and Indonesia.

A good deal of negotiations and stakeholder meetings led to a generally accepted code of practice for labor management in developing countries acceptable to most parties involved. The SA 8000 emerged as the leading industry driven voluntary standard on worker welfare issues. SA 8000 supporters now include the GAP, TNT and others and SAI reports that as of 2008, almost 1 million workers in 1,700 facilities have achieved SA 8000 certification. TheFair Trade movement has also had a significant impact on the fashion business. The standard combines a number of ethical issues of potential concern to consumers – environmental factors, fair treatment of developing country suppliers and worker welfare. The Fair Trade label has show explosive growth.

Albeit on a very small scale and not always at the top end of the fashion industry, many niche brands have emerged which promote themselves primarily on sustainability grounds. People Tree in the UK states that it “creates Fair Trade and organic clothing and accessories by forming lasting partnerships with Fair Trade, organic producers in developing countries. Leading fashion journal Marie Claire ranked its “top 10″ eco brands in a recent issue. The key issues remain chemicals in clothing (certified by organic and Fair Trade labels), worker treatment (certified by SA 8000 and Fair Trade) and increasingly mainstream environmental issues such as climate change. The world’s largest fashion brand Louis Vuitton recently acquired a small eco fashion label. It is clear, however, from the example of Nike and Levis, that certain issues are here to stay, such as a demand by Western consumers that leading brands manage the issue of worker welfare in their supply chain properly.