Organic and Fair Trade Fashion – What’s the Big Deal?

The conventional clothing industry is huge at over one trillion in sales annually. To keep this engine running smoothly, the clothing industry has developed the concept of fast fashion. The clothing industry works hard through advertising to ingrain in our minds, the idea that we must upgrade our wardrobe regularly with the latest style and/or seasonal changes. We must do these things or be viewed as behind the times, old fashioned, out of sync, unattractive, etc.

And the clothing companies have made it real easy for us to throw out the “old” and bring in the newest clothing trend by offering up cheap fashion. Heck, when that flashy shirt is only $5 bucks and that complimentary pair of pants is only $10 bucks, why not, right?

But what we don’t realize is that the true cost of these cheap fashions have simply been externalized. What do I mean by that? In order to produce cheap clothing to keep this whole consumerism tread mill going, the clothing industry must find inexpensive manufacturing options.

They do this by outsourcing their production to countries where labor is cheap, labor laws are lacking or non-existent and environmental regulations are minimal. So, let’s say Big Clothing Corporation A goes to a third world country to find a clothing manufacturer. They shop around to find the best price and decide on local manufacturer B. They generally don’t ask questions as they don’t want to know exactly how the manufacturer can possibly produce the clothing order for such a cheap price. Knowing equals guilt right?

Third world manufacturer B can make the clothing so cheaply because they use child labor, pay workers wages that are barely at subsistence level, offer no health care, child care, insurance benefits and have no costs associated with proper disposal of hazardous chemicals such as dyes, formaldehyde, fire retardants, etc or textile waste because they just dump it all untreated into the nearest river or stream.

This is what I mean by externalizing the cost. Big Corporation A now gets their nice new, shiny shirt for $2 which they then turn around and sell to you for $5. But as you hold up the shirt that little voice in your mind asks – how the heck can they sell this for just $5 bucks? They can because the local lakes, rivers and streams and the local work force where that shirt was made took the brunt of the cost. In other words, the cost was externalized.

Do you want to be a part of this tragedy? Because you have read this far, I don’t think you do. So what can we do to effect change? Thankfully, we can do a lot. The fact is that over 70% of our economy is driven by you, by me, your next door neighbor. That’s right, consumerism drives almost three quarters of our economic activity. It is the bread and butter of big corporations.

If you say NO to fast fashion and yes to organic, fair trade clothing, you are making a difference. As more people stand up and say the same thing, your combined voices will force big corporations to change. They will simply have to change or become obsolete. You hold all the cards.

So, what’s your choice? Do you choose organic clothing which is made without the use of harsh chemicals such as pesticides that pollute our environment making our drinking water unsafe, destroying habitat and killing innocent farmers by the thousands? Will you say yes to fair trade clothing which protects workers rights, allowing them to rise out of poverty and become productive and proud members of our global society?

Or do you choose to stay on the consumerism treadmill and keep buying cheap, fast fashion while ignoring the consequences of that decision?

Your New Year’s Resolution – Invest In Eco Fashion

Every year billions of tons of harmful chemicals are pumped into the atmosphere during the harvesting and manufacture of consumer goods. Western cultures are the biggest polluters because we have created a culture of immediacy and every industry from technology to fashion is constantly reinventing itself. You can take a huge bite out of that by buying eco fashion items.

Eco fashion is, just what it sounds like, fashion items that are eco friendly. Eco fashion items tend to use more natural raw materials and are often manufactured either by hand or on basic machinery in small batches.

In fact, many such producers of eco friendly fashion outsource to or source products from small artisan communities. These artisans take materials that are readily available and using time honored traditions and basic machines such as personal sewing machines turn them into beautiful eco friendly fashion pieces that can’t be distinguished from factory made.

Eco friendly fashion of this sort is not only great for the environment (and your closet) but for the artisans as well. They receive compensation for their time and skills and which provides for their families. In the West, that not may sound exciting to us but many of these artisans are living in what are somewhat unfairly referred to as third world countries where even pennies a day can make a life or death difference.
Take that sentiment to the extreme and you’ve got Fair Trade fashion. Fair Trade fashion defined is fashion accessories and clothing that have earned Fair Trade certification. These products are guaranteed by international organizations to be produced in a humane manner.

That means that the producers of these Fair Trade fashion items get paid more than producers in the same region who sell their finished goods to other buyers. Fair Trade fashion wholesalers and retailers alike agree to abide by a set of strict regulations designed to protect the human rights of the people producing these finished products.

So instead of simply buying a sweater or handbag, you’re actually investing in the very lives and livelihoods of people half a world away. You can (and should) choose where your money goes and doesn’t it make more sense to buy from somebody you know is giving their producers a fair share of the profits? Remember, even pennies a day can be a life or death situation for these folks and if they’re getting paid 30% more to sell to one buyer than another that’s a huge difference.

Fair Trade Fashion – The Ultimate Guide

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.