Fair Trade Clothing – The Pros and Cons

A guest post by Michael Williams
Fair trade clothing is a growing niche within a larger offering of ethical clothing. As a concept, the primary focus is on equality and fairness for the people involved in production.

Although this article focuses on Fairtrade, there are other factors that buyers of ethical products need to consider, these include organic clothing, second hand clothing, recycled clothing, and clothing that protects factory workers, such as those accredited to the Fairwear Foundation standards. It is important not to automatically assume that because a clothing product is Fairtrade certified, it is also organic, sustainable, and ethical in ways outside the remit of the Fairtrade Foundation.

What is Fairtrade?
Fairtrade is a global movement that has been in existence for a number of decades, with the aim of improving the conditions for workers of raw materials in less developed nations. It also looks to provide better pay and more opportunities for these people. It does this by using a minimum price that the raw materials must be bought for, with a “social premium” added on top to help fund schools, and other projects that improve the lives of those in the local community.

Fairtrade is governed by the World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO) and its network of “fair trade organisations” in different countries. In the UK, this job is given to the Fairtrade Foundation, who provides certification (the labels you see on Fairtrade certified products).

Fairtrade’s remit focuses mainly on the working conditions of producers of raw materials, like cotton, rather than environmental standards or working conditions in factories. Fairtrade also prevents the use of some pesticides, which has a secondary environmental benefit, but the primary motivation for this is to protect the workers’ health. It’s important to be aware that when you see a Fairtrade label on a cotton t-shirt, for example, it will only be the raw material fibre that is certified Fairtrade, not necessarily the whole garment (i.e. not the manufacturing process).

What isn’t Fairtrade?
Fairtrade isn’t a magic label that solves all of the world’s problems. It is a great tool to work towards that goal, but shouldn’t be considered in isolation. When considering ethical/sustainable clothing, you should also consider these factors:
• Is it Organic?
• Is it produced in factories that have good environmental records (eg. do they use renewable energy/minimise their pollution)?
• Are the factory workers protected?

When you buy a Fairtrade product, don’t assume these 3 things are protected too. The Fairtrade label only covers the workers that produce the raw material, although it would be nice to think that it’s probably more likely at least something is being done within the supply chain for these other elements.

What makes clothing “Fairtrade”?
Fairtrade clothing is made from materials that are Fairtrade certified, nearly always this means cotton. However, it doesn’t mean that it contains only 100% Fairtrade cotton, for example many clothing products are made blends such as 80% cotton, 20% polyester. Given that synthetic materials can’t be grown on a Fairtrade certified farm, this means that only the cotton will be Fairtrade.

The Pros
• The Fairtrade brand is one of the most well known ethical labels in the world, so you can be sure it’s genuine.
• Fairtrade clothing is usually of a higher quality (to match the higher price).
• This higher quality often feels and fits better.
• Fairtrade clothing can be useful for businesses to help them be more socially responsible.
• Some environmental benefits from less pesticide use.
• You get a warm fuzzy feeling when you buy it.*

The Cons
• Fairtrade clothing usually costs more (but you might be ok with that).
• Despite its growing demand, the supply is still lacking. You will have to look a bit harder to find Fairtrade clothing.
• Fairtrade isn’t a magic pill; you need to look at other ethical factors too.
• The minimum price for raw materials is often below market values, making it redundant (the farmers will get the market rate if it’s higher).
• You get a warm fuzzy feeling when you buy it.*

*The Warm Fuzzy Feeling
When you buy ethical products, including Fairtrade clothing you get a nice, warm, fuzzy feeling inside, knowing that your purchase has done some good in the world. Except consumer purchasing doesn’t necessarily make a big impact. Sushil Mohan discussed the limited impacts of a single consumer purchase in his book: Fair Trade Without the Froth.

Conclusion
Fairtrade is a great way to improve the imbalance within the global supply chains, by no means is it a magic pill, and it should be considered within the wider group of ethical accreditations. It costs a little more, but if you’re looking for ethical products then this difference probably doesn’t matter to you. Whilst it’s not perfect, it is definitely better than nothing.

About the author
Michael Williams is a writer and marketing professional with a keen interest in sustainability and the environment. This work often sees him writing bids for organisations, particularly assisting with their social value offerings.

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Say it with a t-shirt: the new political discourse in ethical fashion

Bee Maverick Tee, Deborah Campbell, £32. Fair Wear certified, £5 donation to Womens Aid

On 17th April I went to an ethical fashion and beauty event hosted by Southampton Solent University Fashion student, Anna Macken. The PR event, developed for part of Anna’s final major project, showcased four fantastic ethical fashion or beauty brands. Know the Origin and Willow Beauty both presented their products at the event, along with Deborah Campbell Atelier and Maison de Choup. Representing the latter two brands in person were the two respective founders, and listening to the two founders deliver talks to the audience, a common theme rose to the fore. Both were producing garments in a responsible manner, but, more than that, they both wanted to say something through their designs. Unlike some creative endeavours, these messages weren’t meant to be subtle fashion statements; both brands were using slogan tees to take a stand.

Slogan t-shirts aren’t new. Although Katharine Hamnet is often hailed responsible for popularising the radical slogan tee in the 1980s, clothing had been used to silently demonstrate political standing earlier than that. T-shirts are universal items: democratic, cheap, and unisex. They are the perfect canvas to communicate something more. High fashion designers were incorporating political ideas into their collections in the 1970s (think Vivienne Westwood) and more recently, Dior sent a model wearing a ‘We should all be feminists’ t-shirt down the catwalk, directly referencing Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s ‘We should all be feminists’ book. It seems, when Maria Grazia Chiuri became the first female artistic director of Dior in 2016 she wanted to make her mark. The feminist tee certainly did that, but not for all the right reasons (plenty complained about the undemocratic price tag of £500). That aside, Dior’s t-shirt perfectly encapsulated the mood of the moment. Clothing could once more be used to political effect.

Fortunately, Deborah Campbell Atelier and Maison de Choup come in at a more accessible price tag than Dior, and with a more interesting profile for that matter. Their founders are driven by purpose, integrity and creativity. After years working in the fast fashion industry, Deborah Campbell started her eponymous brand by producing beautiful printed dresses, tops and skirts drawing on the work of contemporary artists. Her current focus lies in statement t-shirts and charity collaborations. Deborah works with the Bumble Bee Conservation Trust and Women’s Aid. The latter charity inspired her ‘Future Female’ campaign – a range of ‘Future Female’ tops and corresponding blog championing gender equality.

Future Female tee, Deborah Campbell

Deborah says: “Future Female promotes every day gender equality through conversation. I became aware of casual sexism, and soft mysogynistic behaviour after hearing Emma Watson launch the #heforshe campaign and I really started listening to every day conversation. And what I heard was, littered with casual sexism and stereotyping that holds women and men back. The need to change the everyday is key because I believe these small changes in behaviour and attitude will lead to bigger changes and women and men will begin to see freedom from gender in-equality and we will see humans evolve to be more united”.

The impact of everyday conversation can’t be underestimated. What we wear can be a conversation starter, and so can what we post on social media. Deborah has made the most of these platforms to create her own movement, using her fashion brand as a springboard. It’s a feature reflected in the mission of Maison de Choup. Maison de Choup, also at the Southampton event, was founded for a specific reason – not to produce fashion per se, but to lift the taboo on mental health. Conceived in 2014, Maison de Choup is the creation of George Hodgson – a young artist who found the strength to be able to draw something positive from his own struggles with mental health. T-shirts adorned with slogans such as ‘Warrior not worrier’ and ‘Words fail me’ have touched the hearts of many as the profile of mental health has increased in public discourse. Maison de Choup works with many charities and offers a percentage of proceeds to YoungMinds.

Maison de Choup is taking a stand on mental health

Both brands use organic cotton and ethical sourcing to develop their respective ranges. One might have expected them to talk about this at the ethical fashion event, but they didn’t. They didn’t because they have so much more to say than that. Sustainable sourcing was taken as a given, and these passionate founders want to use their products to say more. Fashion has always been a vehicle to communicate and it’s interesting to see true ethical fashion merge with other worthy causes. Whether you call it fashion, politics, ethics or culture, more and more of us (propelled by social media) are using clothing as a platform for debate. With this trend, ethical fashion is taking on a whole new meaning.

https://maisondechoup.co.uk/
https://www.deborahcampbellatelier.com/

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Sustainable Fashion and Beauty Pop-Up Event: Southampton, 17th April

Purest.PR is a virtual PR agency with the aim of supporting ethical and sustainably minded fashion and beauty brands. The idea of the agency has been developed by Anna Macken for her BA(Hons) final major project in Fashion Promotion and Communication at Southampton Solent University (my old Uni!).

Under the Purest.PR name, Anna is hosting an ethical fashion and beauty event at Mettricks, Southampton on 17th April 2018 – open to all those with an interest in environmentally and socially responsible shopping. The event, which I shall be attending, will showcase four fantastic brands:

Deborah Campbell Atelier: One of my absolute favourite ethical fashion designers, Deborah designs stunning painterly prints and charity tees.

Maison de Choup: “The fashion brand with a mental health cause at its heart”.

Know the Origin: Wearable and affordable, responsibly-sourced garments from a LCF graduate determined to do fashion the right (ethical) way.

Willow Beauty: Organic bath and beauty products.

The event aims to have a relaxed and friendly vibe, with plenty of opportunities to ask questions to the brand representatives. Products will be available to touch and buy.

I’m pleased to see such a variety of brands attending the event with no fair trade jute bags in sight. These brands represent the future of ethical fashion and beauty, encapsulating everyday basics, beautiful classics, and activist slogan tees. With brands of such integrity, Purest.PR is just the kind of PR and marketing agency we need. One that will be just as thoughtful in their approach and careful in their messaging as the brands they wish to represent.

The event kicks off at 5pm on Tuesday 17th.
Follow Purest.PR @purest.pr

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In ode to the whiteboard; and why Sundeala is the eco-friendly option

What a genius! She’s not even 2 😉

I can’t be the only grown adult who still finds an odd satisfaction from writing on a whiteboard? There’s an innate feeling of power that comes with scribing words two inches tall on a wall for all to see. Perhaps it’s because we first see this practice at school that we look up to the pen-holder as an authority figure; a position that people then try to replicate in boardrooms everywhere. When I first started teaching, the whiteboard was the place I played out my new teacher identity. I may have not felt much older or wiser than the undergrads I was ‘teaching’ but I had control of the whiteboard pen, so I was in charge. The only thing I dislike about the whiteboard is there’s no spellchecker. And whenever I’m forced to write without a keyboard (I say forced, it can be fun), I realise I’ve forgotten how to spell. The combination of the above factors makes the humble whiteboard quite an intimidating thing don’t you think? I’m sure there are two types of people in the world; those who jump at the chance to wield a whiteboard pen and those who pass it over to someone else.

With this in mind, and because I couldn’t think of anything interesting to draw, when Sundeala sent me a shiny new whiteboard I decided to hand it over to my eight year old niece. My niece proceeded to not only draw, but also adopt her own teacher identity by schooling me in maths. So once again the whiteboard reminded me of life pre-smartphone when I had to add three digit numbers in my head. I was quite interested that my niece didn’t mind when her younger sister started wielding a pen, and rather than write on the clean, white board, scribbled all over her older sister’s work. I wondered if this was because my niece knew any marks she made on the board were temporary. They would get rubbed out anyway, so where was the harm? That’s the joy of a whiteboard – total freedom to do as you please.


Sundeala, whose slogan is ‘Display your conscience’, make environmentally sustainable boards from 100% recycled waste. The only company in the UK that currently manufacture in this way, they sell a wide range of notice boards, whiteboards, and writing walls for home and professional use. Unlike a lot of brands that sell themselves on their eco-credentials, Sundeala has been around for well over 100 years. They have a factory in Cam, Gloucestershire and use water from the Cam River in their eco-friendly production process. I’m pleased to say the whiteboard I have from them works like a dream; it’s smooth to write on and wipes clean with ease.

I can see how Sundeala’s boards are a great option for organisations looking to be green. Maybe a person brandishing a whiteboard pen will be the next person to come up with a ‘green’ invention to change the world.

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My values: Starting autoethnography

What would you think of yourself if you met yourself? That’s what I’ve been thinking about this week. I am taking a module called ‘Moving into Academic Leadership’ for my MA in Higher Education. It’s a highly reflective module that gives us space to explore our experiences, cultural perspectives, traits and values. The assignment for the module is an autoethnographic narrative. Ethnography is the in-depth study of a particular culture or phenomenon, usually over an extended period of time, and using what we call qualitative research methods of observation and interviews. Autoethnography then, is simply a study of oneself. The difference between autoethnography and autobiography is that a biography is more descriptive, whereas an ethnography tries to understand something (in this case myself) through a process of analysis. I’m really looking forward to this and think it comes at a great time for me as I move forward in my career to take on more responsibility and need to think about what kind of ‘leader’ I wish to be.

We’ve been doing a range of exercises over the last fortnight to begin to explore our own biography and cultural influences. One of those exercises was to pick five values that are most important to us as individuals. I thought I’d share mine:

My values

Kindness: small acts of kind really do make a difference to daily life. Big acts of kindness can change the world.
Mindfulness: yes it’s a buzz word but it’s also a trait I try to live by, and by this I mean both being mindful to a task and therefore trying to do it diligently as well as giving myself the head space to recharge mentally and meditate.
Integrity: I see this as trying to stay true to my word and appreciating when others do the same. It’s difficult. I’ve largely successfully boycotted Amazon for years (it’s not so hard) but then my boyfriend bought me a kindle for my birthday 😉
Courage: acts of courage are the only way society progresses and on an individual level I really value the opportunity to keep learning and gaining from new experiences, even if they are frightening.
Fairness/equality: Not only is inequality unfair and unkind but the evidence points to greater equality being better for everyone.

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Retail Exhibition from Design for Ageing Project

shopping-cart-2523838_640 copy

From June 2014 to November 2015 I was a Research Fellow on the ESRC-funded ‘Silver Shoppers’ project based at Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton. The project explored the grocery shopping practices of older consumers (65+) in the UK and China (you can read about my trip to China here). Next week, some of the key findings and design ideas are to be displayed in an exhibition as part of London Design Festival. The event runs from 22nd to 24th September at 22 Calvert Avenue London, and is free to enter.

As part of the project I conducted ethnographic research in three regions of the UK with 30 participants. Participants were asked to keep a diary for 6-weeks and complete weekly shopping inspection cards. In addition, myself and the team visited each participant 2-3 times for filmed observation (mobile ethnography) and interviews. Findings were presented to Sainsbury’s and are currently being written up for journal publications. The designs on display include innovative trolley concepts, smart shelves and interactive shopping assistants.

The project and exhibition is lead by Dr Yuanyuan Yin, Lecturer in Design Management. Check the webpage for more info.

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