What Is Fair Trade Fashion?

Marlene de Wilde

Fair trade fashion is made up of clothing carrying the international FAIRTRADE Mark, which is an independent consumer label. Fair trade is an internationally recognized strategy designed to create fair access to previously economically disadvantaged or marginalized markets with the aim of alleviating poverty and reaching sustainable development. The focus of Fair trade is to help farmers and workers take control of their future by improving their quality of life through empowering producers in developing countries.

Some fashion designers may specialize in fair trade fashion.
Some fashion designers may specialize in fair trade fashion.

A fair trade label on clothing ensures that the producers have received better trading conditions such as long-term trading agreements, fair working conditions and living wages. There is also often an improvement in infrastructure such as education and other facilities. Fair trade fashion is made available to the public by many large companies who support the move towards more ethical fashion.

In order for fashion items to be considered fair trade they can not be produced using child labor.
In order for fashion items to be considered fair trade they can not be produced using child labor.

The clothing industry is huge with an annual turnover of over one trillion US Dollars but many of the products being sold are made by cheap labor in countries where there are no labor laws or environmental regulations. Child labor, below subsistence level wages, no health care or insurance and improper disposal of the often harmful chemicals contribute to a system that results in a cheap buy for the shopper in the wealthier countries. Fair trade fashion is an increasingly successful movement to stop the exploitation of labor and the environment by reversing the trend and pursuing a more ethical approach to the clothing industry.

Prices for fair trade fashion vary but as the emphasis is on giving producers a fair deal, there are probably cheaper products to be found in shops. It is up to the consumer to decide whether the cheap prices they pay are worth the exploitation of more vulnerable societies. Many fair trade products, however, are competitively priced and it is in the area of style that they face the most competition. It has been found that a consumer is more likely to pay a little bit more for a clothing or fashion item if it is stylish and fashionable. It is not enough to appeal to the ethics of a consumer, products must also be up-to-date and attractive.

Fair trade fashion includes jewelry and accessories as well as clothing items. Over 4,500 products carry the FAIRTRADE mark including coffee, tea, chocolate, fruits and nuts, wines and beers. The international fair trade system benefits over 7.5 million farmers, workers and their families in 58 developing countries. Consumer demand for fair trade fashion is growing as the media becomes more involved in highlighting the ethics or the lack of them behind many aspects of the conventional clothing industry. Concern for the environment is also a factor as evidence mounts as to the impact industries are having on the planet.

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