Wear Your Green on Your Sleeve -- Fair Trade Certified Clothing

Jan 27, 2011
This Tompkins Point polo is 100 percent Fair Trade certified. Sexy—and he cares! (Photo courtesy of Tompkins Point Apparel)

As a concerned resident of planet Earth, you've seen the black-and-white Fair Trade USA logo on your coffee, tea, or chocolate bar. But until a few months ago, American's couldn't find a Fair Trade Certified icon on any of their polos, tees or underwear.

Are We Saying That Fair Trade Clothing Didn't Exist Until Now?

Not exactly. You could have patronized stores like Global Goods Partners, Global Exchange, or Global Girlfriend and bought a garment that was hand-sewn by a craftswoman in some remote region of the world. Those outlets themselves are Fair Trade; they chose to work with organizations that pay artisans a living wage, provide healthy working conditions, and offer access to programs that reduce poverty.

These retailers uphold the tenets of Fair Trade on their own. They weren't necessarily certified by a third-party, such as the Fair Trade Federation or Fair Trade USA.

What Changed?

A leading third-party certifier, Fair Trade USA, has broadened its food-only focus to certify clothing providers that follow Fair Trade practices through every step of the manufacturing process:

  • The cotton must be grown by farmers who adhere to environmental standards, avoiding GMOs and toxic pesticides.
  • The garment workers must have a voice in their workplace and receive a bonus for each piece sewn. The bonus is either put into a worker-run community fund or handed out to individual laborers.
  • The factories must meet guidelines established by the International Labour Organization.

As of early 2011, only two clothing companies, Tompkins Point Apparel and HaeNow, have received Fair Trade USA certification. Fair Trade USA promises that more certified suppliers are on the way, bringing Fair Trade hoodies, T-shirts, dresses, women's lingerie and men's undies to market.

Scientific Certification Systems has launched a similar program—the Certified Fair Labor designation—that certifies environmental stewardship and fair treatment of workers through every stage of clothing manufacturing. So far, one company, Maggie's Organics, has been designated as a Certified Fair Labor provider through the SCS program.

Why we dig it:

With all the focus on organic and sustainable food, it's time to remember that every single purchase decision affects the environment and real people and communities in far-flung places. Certification also rewards the suppliers, manufacturers and retailers who are working to provide clothes that do good (and not just look good).

Quick Study: Fair Trade

Related Stories: Conflict-Free Bling: Natalie Portman's Eco Engagement Ring | Ruff&Cut Diamonds: Jewels That Give Buyers a Glittering Conscience | Up-Cycled: Old Blow-Up Sex Dolls Make Cool Track Suits

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