Fair Trade: How to wear it

October 31, 2013 in Fashion, Social Responsibility, Style, Sustainability by alliemcc

Here it is: the last part in my series on Fair Trade for Fair Trade Month! Now we get to the good stuff: fashion.

Ethical and sustainable fashion has come a long way since the movement really started taking off in the 90s. There's still way too much yogawear and graphic t-shirts in that space, but the tide is turning. Now, you can actually wear stylish, on-trend, high quality garments out in public!

This year brought the first cohort of Fair Trade certified clothing and shoes, certified by Fairtrade USA (Fairtrade International is continuing to work on standards). Previously, only agricultural products were able to be certified, not manufactured ones.

Cotton— the fabric of our lives– as an agricultural product, is currently eligible for certification by Fairtrade Int'l and Fairtrade USA. The complication comes in certifying an entire supply chain which creates a single garment.

This article at Entrepreneur explains how factory workers in the garment industry will benefit from Fairtrade USA auditing, pricing, and certification:

All workers at Fair Trade certified factories receive a Fair Trade "premium" paid by the brand hiring the supply services. That extra money goes into a single, collective bank account controlled by the laborers in the factory. The workers themselves then vote to decide whether they will use their Fair Trade premium for a community need or pay it out as a cash bonus to each employee. In Liberia, Fair Trade factory workers voted to use their disbursement to support a local school. In India, factory workers are considering establishing a computer training center and clean water projects in nearby villages with their disbursement.

Here's a great short video that gives you a window into how Fair Trade works for small cotton farmers:

On the Trail of Fairtrade Cotton from Fairtrade International on Vimeo.

And if you've been skimming the news headlines for the past 5+ years or so, you may have an inkling into why organic and fair trade cotton is so super important.

Of the Fairtrade USA certified brands, here is my pick:

oliberte shoes f13 lookbook

Oliberte – shoes made in Ethiopia using goatskin leather, of the desert-boot/ boat-shoe variety– quite rugged-looking. They also have a very cute light blue sneaker. And some badass looking backpacks.


There are gajillions of other ethical fashion companies, social enterprises, sustainable designer brands out there who are doing the right thing, but don't happen to be using Fair Trade-certified factories. As I mentioned before, if you find something to covet, do some snooping around on their about pages and in the ethical and eco-fashion media to check out their standards and their reputation.

Jewelry and accessories are heavily represented in this arena– as I mentioned here and here.

Some of my favorite ethical, responsible, and fair– one way or another– fashion brands are:

people tree stripe dress

People Tree Tilly Stripe Dress


For high fashion, with commensurate prices, Maiyet and Edun are doing amazing things, and creating beautiful products.

Etsy is a great source for small brands and independent designers that care about the same things you do– enter the factors that are important to you (i.e. organic, ethical, sustainable, upcycled) in the search box, and prepare to be wowed.

Don't forget to shop Made in the USA! Our democratic government, rule of law, and protections for workers mean that garment industry workers here are generally well paid, safe, and healthy. Brands doing American Made really well are American Apparel, Nanette Lepore, and Milly.

Be sure to take a look through my sustainable Shopcade closet here for a selection of my faves from these brands.


Series NavigationFair Trade: What is it?