Do you know the difference between ethical fashion and fair trade fashion?
Don’t feel bad if you don’t – you’re not the only one. The lines between these are often blurred, combined and crossed, to the point that many people don’t have a clue what the terms mean anymore. But despite sounding similar, there is a difference between ethical and fairtrade fashion, and that difference matters when you’re trying to make smart shopping decisions. And in a world where we are more conscious than ever of our impact on the environment and other people, it’s already tough to make good decisions. That’s why we want to take this opportunity to clear things up and explain the difference so that you can make the right decisions for yourself when buying clothes and lingerie.
Definitions And Branding
According to the Fair Trade guidelines, only products that come from farmers and workers who are justly compensated are allowed to bear the Fair Trade logo. They have to be visited, inspected and verified before they can display the logo, and it can only be shown on products that meet the criteria. So a brand might stock 50 items, but if only 25 of them are fair trade then only the products can show the logo. This is the main way to identify Fair Trade clothing and products.
Ethical fashion on the other hand simply represents an approach to the design, sourcing and manufacture of clothing that maximises benefits to people and communities while minimizing the impact on the environment. It’s all about sustainability and damage limitation. There is no official branding or logo for ethical products, and you very much have to take a company at its word that they are following ethical practices. Often companies who are selling ethical fashion will be very transparent about their supply chain to build that confidence.
In short, Fair Trade focuses on the treatment of the people producing your clothes, while ethical companies strive to reduce the impact we have on the environment and native cultures when producing clothes. In an ideal world, all clothing would be both ethical and fair trade by default, but sadly that’s not the case.
When Something is Fair Trade/Ethical
In Fair Trade, it’s all down to the workplace. According to the Fair Trade Association, garment factories must meet minimum workplace requirements based on the core conventions of the International Labour organisation to comply with basic standards. So when you buy Fair Trade, you know without a doubt that the conditions and compensation for the workers creating those garments are good, and no exploitation is taking place. In ethical fashion, the entire production process must make the best attempt to provide the maximum benefit to the people producing the products, while minimising their impact on the environment at the same time.
Factory conditions are where there is a really clear difference between the two sides. With Fair Trade, the companies must provide workers with a good wage and a safe, supportive working environment. They must provide a place to see their children, allow workers time to see their families and have at least one working bathroom facility. These are just some of the very strict requirements that Fair Trade companies have to meet, and there are many more on the list.
But ethical fashion is still a little ways behind on this one. There are no set requirements and no list of things that must be done to qualify as ethical. Instead, there are guidelines about providing a safe and hygienic work environment, with regular health and safety training, adequate facilities and absolutely no child labour. These standards aren’t enforced by a third party – instead, it’s up to the company to provide these things and determine if they are adequate to meet the guidelines.
Sadly, we still have a long way to go before the entire fashion industry switches over to Fair Trade and ethical production. But the good news is that, for shoppers willing to put in a little time, there are plenty of signs and guidelines to allow us to shop ethically and Fair Trade. We’ll talk a little more about that next month, so stay tuned for the next instalment. And in the meantime, if you have any questions about ethical fashion, fair trade or where our items are from, get in touch and we’ll be happy to help.