Ethical and Fair Trade Fashion

"Fair Trade" clothing has been emerging in the eco-fashion scene as an ethical, socially-responsible code of manufacturing conduct. When it comes to specialty foods like coffee and chocolate, the term "Fair Trade certified" is an established, verifiable standard with clear criteria. When it comes to clothing, the term is used with a looser definition, less monitoring and less authenticated documentation. This is not to say that fair trade clothing doesn't authentically exist. More accurately, it's left to the designers and companies to define thier ethical and "fair trade" practices and to monitor and enforce standards.

For the most part, companies that tout "fair trade" clothing follow a manufacturing code of conduct that includes some or all of the following attributes:

+ fair wages and working conditions

+ barring child labor and sweatshop practices

+ adhering to civil labor and safety laws

+ environmental sustainability, and equitable partnerships between overseas producers and North American marketers. 

To get a more solid and clear picture of what "fair trade" means to a given company means, dig into the company's Code of Conduct or mission statement description and look for details, which often appear on the websites of clothing designers and companies that publicize the term "fair trade". Most designers and companies that are genuinely adhering to fair trade protocol will not be shy to share and post their measure of standard.

Concern, attention, and demand for ethical, fair trade garments have come of age, in part, as response to media exposure of transcontinental corporations that have capitalized the advantages of reduced trade barriers and transportation costs. The result of lowered trade barriers and cheap shipping are a big part of why a considerable amount of manufacturing has moved out of the U.S. to developing countries where few ethical labor standards may exist, and even fewer may be enforced. However, terrible labor conditions exist in the U.S. too. Sweatshop labor is not cool, domestically or abroad. Some of the biggest brand-name transcontinental corporate tyrants are changing their ways, thanks, in large part, to media exposure and consumer demands. And in the simple economic law of supply-and-demand, consumer interest, pressure, and demand for ethical clothing is a sound catalyst for socially-conscious supply. It's becoming cool to care. "Activism is the new chic," writes Newsweek's Jessica Bennett, "and we, the consumers, have become the new activists - saving the world one credit-card transaction at a time."

Socially-conscious business are in vogue. Marketing strategies and initiatives that are for-a-good-cause are gaining momentum in popularity and success. The EDUN collection, created by U2 singer Bono and his wife, Ali Hewson, has heroically raised the bar, making ethical clothing as cool as it gets. EDUN is working with the premise of "trade, not aid" to foster sustainable communities and long-term economy in Africa, South America and India, instead of simply supplemental charity. The movement of "trae, not aid" is in accord with the well-know proverb, "give a man a fish and you'll feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and he will eat for a liftime."

It is growing to go both ways: socially-conscious companies like EDUN have woven environmental sustainability into the protocol of fair trade manufacturing, just as more and more eco-friendly fashion brands are incorporating ethical practices as a standard code of conscious conduct.

As with most things in life, there seems to be a bell curve of ethical, fair trade clothing manufacturing in what it means and how it's being regulated and enforced. Although a gap still exists between the pursuit of justice and its realization, ethical fashion has hit the radar. It's not without need of improvement, but fair trade fashion standards and popularity are growing and strengthening. While it's probably as difficult to raise a family on minimum wage in countries abroad as it is domestically, there are some formidable designers and companies that are pushing the envelope with terms of engagement. In time, with the vote of consumer dollars, a certified Fair Trade Standard develop for the garment industry will be established, as it has in the food industry, with meaningful criteria, enforceable standards and a recognizable stamp of approval.