Ethical clothing. Fair trade. Organic cotton. Sweatshop labour. All words we've heard strung together and often put in sentences to make us feel guilty about our consumption. The guilt is often swept aside once another cheap and disposable clothing purchase is made, and not thought of again in most cases.

Why is this? I spoke to a Fairtrade certified retailer in my hometown of Carlisle a couple of weeks ago, and she showed me some interesting statistics. The month of the Make Poverty History campaign in 2007, her sales almost doubled. Gradually, as the media frenzy and guilt towards developing worlds faded, so did trade. The interesting fact I took away with me from the conversation was not that sales dwindled, it is that people actually cared enough to chnage certain habits, and it improved trade for that one month. For one month, twice the amount of people sought purposefully to buy Fairtrade certified goods, and ethically made products. People began to see that everything they bought at an ethical price benefitted someone else. Instead of going for the cheapest option which deprived someone somewhere in another country of what is rightfully theirs, people took note.

So where did the interest go?

The word "recession" rings loud and clear in my ears, but yet the Fairtrade Foundation reported a 22% sales increase worldwide at the end of last year. Organic cotton was the the fourth most popular bestseller. Australia and New Zealand reported an astonishing 72% growth rate in Fairtrade certified sales. Online sales alone saw a 58% sales increase in the first quarter of 2009.

The evidence shows that recession is not the issue, it is education and promotion. Information on shopping ethically is not as readily on hand when people need it. Information such as how, where and what our clothes are made from should be readily available to consumers. A "Made in China" tag on the inside of a t-shirt is just not enough nowadays.

As a consumer, it is my right to know what my clothes are made of, where they are made, and at what price.

Did you know for example, that 22% of ALL pesticides are sprayed on cotton? Or that 20,000 farmers die each year in developing countries from agricultural pesticides?

Or what about the Primark jewellery made by thousands of underpaid labourers every day? Do you know that the person who made your bead necklace eats far less than the recommended 2,000 calories a day? Or that despite the extremely physical 14 hour work days in a sweatshop they get only 2 days off a month?

Yet Fair trade goods, ethically sourced products, and ways to help support and take people out of sweatshop labour is an easier option than it may seem.

People Tree are an ethical and organic label who pay all their artisans a fair wage to support their families for making their clothing and handicrafts. They often have online sales too, which makes their clothing affordable at the best of times.

Monkee Genes are an ethical and organic jeans and cords company who produce some of their products in Britain. Their jeans come in fashionable colours and 'supa-skinny' fit too. Perfect.

Kenyan handicraft group Bega kwa Bega which means 'shoulder to shoulder' take hundreds of women from the slums of Nairobi each year to teach them trades such as tie dye; scarf making; sewing; and knitting. They ship to as many businesses as possible in the UK.

I know my friends always say to me, 'When you only have a certain amount, how can you stop shopping at cheap places?' Here's how.

Once you start looking, there is a world of opportunity available to you at a fair price, and ensures the maker of your product was entitled an even fairer wage. I used to get paid £6 an hour in a part-time job. Some labourers get paid £6 a week. Really, who's the one losing out?

So here's a friendly tip, just so you know I'm not getting on your case for no reason; often have Fairtrade certified labels on their website, and if you Google 'Fair Trade clothing', 1,620,000 hits come up. American Apparel are ethically sourced and Fairtrade certified. Arcadia Group which includes Dorothy Perkins, Miss Selfridge and the notorious Topshop have all signed up to the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan to reduce clothing waste, pay fair wages, and stop using pesticides eventually. The Fairtrade Foundation have pledged to increase the volume of Fairtrade cotton products to at least 10 per cent of cotton clothing in the UK by 2012.

Now is the time to stop making excuses, and make a difference. Why? Because it costs you a lot less than it costs them.

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Comment by Mary Bee on August 24, 2009 at 16:22
I totally agree. There seems to be a certain image associated with fairtrade clothing; that it is boring, plain and uninteresing. But if you look, there is plenty out there and things like the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan just show that some big high street names are starting to take notice.

However I definately think that the biggest potential change in attitudes lies with the consumer, if only we could convince more people that fairtrade and sustainable fashion offers something exciting and convenient for them we could turn everything around. More education and information is definately the key.

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