What Is Fair Trade Clothing and Why Is It Important?

Many people are under the impression that eco-friendly fashion is somehow reserved for the upper class. However, even though fair trade clothing may have been affordable only to the rich a decade ago, times have changed. With so many conscious brands emerging in recent years, the masses now have access to ‘conscious consumption’.

What is Fair Trade Clothing?

Fair trade applies to a wide range of products produced under a certain set of high standards. Just like food or crafts, brands design fair trade clothing to prevent and end poverty, environmental degradation, and sweatshop labor conditions. Fair trade seeks to overturn the current situation, which puts profits above people and the planet.

Purchasing fair trade certified products can help reduce poverty, safeguard humane working conditions, and encourage production techniques that are environmentally friendly. In addition to clothing, the fair trade label can also appear on other products, including chocolate, coffee, or bananas.

But what does the fair trade label mean? It means that an organization (Fair Trade USA, for instance) has certified that brands, producers and farmers adhere to fair trade standards. The organization also audits the product’s supply chain to ensure the workers have been paid fair trade prices.

Affordable Eco-friendly Fashion

When it comes to affordable fashion, many people expect prices that match those found at Forever 21. However, the whole point of developing eco-friendly fashion is to embrace a “less is better” mindset. Do not make a habit out of paying less for disposable and ultra-trendy items. Instead, invest in clothing that is high quality and durable.

If you want to become a more conscious consumer, here are some average prices for various clothing pieces you could afford each season. For high quality and fair trade clothing, you should be buying basic tops in the $15-50 range, fashion tops for around $100, and dresses for under $150.

For those who cannot work these prices into their budget, it’s time to experience the beauty of thrift stores. When it comes to shopping, thrifting will always be the greenest option (and not just for clothing). A combination of ethically-sourced fashion apparel and thrifted items sounds like the best shopping philosophy.

Damages Caused by Fashion Industry

Some suggest a fix-all solution would be for all of us to wear a uniform of sorts that could be endlessly recycled. However, human beings have been using their clothes as one of the oldest forms of expression. Woven Mohawk tribal patterns, Irish donegals, Peruvian embroidery, or African kente prints are the result of thousands of years of human creativity. And why would anyone want to do away with personal expression?

What we can do instead is shop ethical and vintage fashion, buy less clothing, and recycle and upcycle where we can. Even swapping clothes among your family and friends is better than participating in the current fashion junkfest. One of the most important things to remember is that cheap clothing is generally made by people who aren’t paid or treated well. These are the modern slaves, working in environment-polluting factories. And seeing that these clothes aren’t made to last, they take a quick route to the landfill.


Here are some of the reasons why you should support ethical fashion and fair trade practices instead of the cheap fashion industry:

1. Fashion Industry Affects Young Women in Developing Countries

More often than not, the clothes you buy from unethical brands are sewn by women in developing countries. It should be common sense for these people to receive a fair wage they deserve for their work. You are what you wear, so why should you associate with clothing companies that care more about profits than about basic human rights?

2. It Pollutes Local Ecosystems

Fashion – including the sewing and dying of clothing, and textile production – is one of the most profitable industries in world. It’s also one of the biggest users of labor and polluters, so we need to make some changes. If you buy new clothes from responsible designers or gently used clothing, it means your money does not encourage the heavy-metal dyes that flow freely in the rivers of Vietnam. Fresh water is a dwindling resource, so we should preserve it with our best efforts.

3. Most Clothes Create Waste in Landfills

Unfortunately, we recycle only about 25 percent of our clothing. This accounts for the items resold on the racks at Goodwill, those downcycled into industrial rags, and the clothes sent to developing countries as usable clothing. And we have the fast fashion retailers to blame for the fact that textiles account for more than 4 percent of the waste in landfills. Almost 95 percent of textiles are recyclable, so this means we’re throwing away plenty of usable material.

Why Buying Certified Fair Trade Is Important

1. Fair trade helps the world’s poor. Thanks to free trade, large subsidized companies take over the industries, leaving small-scale producers behind. As large contracted farms sell commodities at lower prices, local farmers, who have been supplying these products for a long time, are driven into debt. Competing with subsidized farms often becomes a matter of life and death for many. Farmers are forced to lower their product prices to the point where quality of life is unsustainable.

2. The fair trade license fees generate money, which is then poured into the fair trade communities. These funds are specifically designated for economic, social, and environmental development projects. Each community can benefit of schools, scholarships, quality improvement organic certification, and leadership training. Democratic systems set in place help them determine how the funds will be use.

3. Products certified as fair trade entail transparency and a high level of traceability in global supply chains. They also ensure equitable trade practices, starting from the farming groups, which receive a guaranteed minimum floor price. Certified organic products also entail an additional premium. Farming organizations also are eligible for pre-harvest credit.

4. Forced child and slave labor are strictly prohibited on fair trade farms. The workers enjoy safe working conditions, freedom of association, and sustainable wages.

5. To be fair trade certified, products have to be free of genetically engineered ingredients. Farmers also have to produce them with limited amounts of fertilizers and pesticides, and proper management of waste, energy, and water.

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William E. Eubanks

I'm one of the main writers on the site; mostly dealing with environmental news and ways to live green. My goal is to educate others about this great planet, and the ways we can help to protect it.

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