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:
Fair Trade Fashion
- Indigenous: A B Corporation, this California-based company’s clothing — made solely from natural fibers and with environmentally-friendly dyes — is entirely produced through fair trade in South America. The styles are mostly suited to business casual and casual/creative dress codes.
- Nomads Clothing: A member of the Ethical Fashion Forum and the British Association of Fair Trade Shops, this UK company’s offerings are produced in line with fair trade policies. Much of the clothing is work-appropriate, although most of it would be best for business casual and casual/creative offices.
- Noonday Collection: A member of the Fair Trade Federation, this company sources its products from artisan businesses in 13 countries. It doesn’t sell clothing but offers jewelry and accessories, some work-appropriate.
- Ten Thousand Villages: The only nonprofit organization on our list, Ten Thousand Villages has hundreds of brick-and-mortar stores as well as an online storefront. A founding member of the World Fair Trade Organization, it holds fair trade partnerships in 38 countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East. It doesn’t sell any clothing but offers jewelry (statement necklaces, etc.) and accessories as well as gifts and home items. (Canadian customers should use this link to order.)
Imported But Ethically-Made Clothing (may not be “fair trade”)
- Accompany: Accompany’s website tells customers that their mission is to “ensure our merchandise meets the standards in at least one of these three key areas,” which is followed by images labeled “artisan made,” “fair trade,” and “philanthropic.” Much of it is too casual for the office (low-cut shirts, short dresses, crop tops, etc.), but there are some workwear possibilities, including some jewelry and scarves.
- Brooks Brothers: Brooks Brothers holds its producers to strict rules that are explained in detail on its website; they also addressed their production in a Facebook post a few years ago.
- Ethica: This NYC company’s website offers a short list of ethically-produced brands (sent to you via free carbon-neutral shipping) and lets you shop by category: sustainable, made in the U.S.A., trade not aid, handcrafted, and vegan. Its detailed explanations for each category are here. Much of the clothing isn’t work-appropriate (sleeveless hoodies, graphic tees, crop tops, short hemlines, etc.), but you can find office-wearable shoes, scarves, and jewelry on the site.
- Naja: Through its Underwear for Hope program, his Los Angeles-based lingerie brand, which sells bras, panties, and swimwear, trains and hires single or head of household mothers in Colombia (its founder’s home country). A portion of each customer’s purchase goes toward this entrepreneurial sewing project.
- Raven + Lily: Raven + Lily, a B Corporation, is a member of the Ethical Fashion Forum and sells clothing, jewelry, accessories, and gifts. We’ve mentioned their U.S.A. Collection before, but the company also offer fair trade items made by women in India, Ethiopia, Kenya, Cambodia, Pakistan, and Guatemala. The clothing is most appropriate for business casual or casual/creative dress codes.
- St. John: According to the company’s corporate responsibility page, St. John’s business partners are monitored for fair labor practices and compliance with local environmental laws as well as adherence to its own strict code of conduct.
- Victoria Road: Victoria Road focuses on women-run small business, and they strive to use “mills and factories we’ve personally visited and thoroughly vetted for their ethical working conditions.” Most of the clothing isn’t work-appropriate, but the site also offers silk scarves, jewelry (e.g., statement necklaces), and handbags that include unique pieces like a Frida Kahlo–themed clutch.
- Mashable recently shared “five tools to check if your clothing is ethically made.” If you live in the UK, check out this list of 21 ethical brands available there, from Marie Clare (UK).
- You can see which companies are members of the Ethical Trade Initiative (and what that entails) on their website; a few examples are ASOS, Boden, Burberry, and Eileen Fisher. That’s not a guarantee that you can trust all of their clothing is ethically made, but at least you’ll know they’re working on it.
- Fair Trade sites: Fair Trade USA, Fair Trade International, Fair Trade Federation. You can also search Nordstrom specifically for “fair trade” items (just don’t expect to find any workwear).
Is it important to you to buy fair trade clothing, chocolate, coffee, or other items? How much does it matter to you where and how the things you buy are made?
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