In our first post in our ethical shopping series, we rounded up several clothing brands made in the United States, mostly startups and small and/or independent labels. In part two, we shared a list of mainstream, more widely available workwear brands that sell clothing made in North America or Europe. Today we’re looking at clothing that’s fair trade certified, as well as clothing not officially considered fair trade but produced more responsibly or ethically than the average brand.
Of course, when a brand makes admirable claims like those, we as shoppers must simply take their word for it — but I would rather give my business to a company that explicitly details their (supposed) commitment to ethical labor practices and fair trade than to one who doesn’t say a word about its products’ origins or production. (Pictured: Brooks Brothers Wool Stretch Small Windowpane Circle Skirt, $168.)
Fair trade certification is more complicated than you might think; there’s more than one certifying organization, and each has a slightly different definition of the term “fair trade.” It’s also possible that we may not be doing as much good as we think by buying these products. Ndongo Sylla, a former Fairtrade International employee (who has a PhD in developmental economics), wrote a book last year called The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich (excerpt here in The Guardian). In The Economist’s book review, the reviewer called it “an arduous read” but wrote, “It is hard to dispute [Sylla’s] conclusion that, so far, the fair-trade labelling movement has been more about easing consciences in rich countries than making serious inroads into poverty in the developing world.” (Sigh.)
That said, here are several brands that engage in fair trade: