Why You Should Care About Sustainable Fashion
 by Emily McCoy, Fairtrade
The fashion industry is notorious for exploiting it’s garment workers and cotton farmers. Only a tiny percentage of the money we pay for clothes ends up in the hands of those who made them. Farmers are often left invisible, neglected and poor at the end of a long and complex supply chain.

Why should you care about sustainable fashion? Take it from someone who knows best what sustainable sourcing can do. Phulme is a cotton farmer working for a Fairtrade certified co-operative.

Phulme lives in the remote Bolangir district in the Odisha state of eastern India where her community, the Pratima Organic Growers Group, farm sustainable cotton. Her co-operative is made up of 2,088 individual members spread across 72 villages. Until now, they received little contact from the outside world and lived in relative poverty.

The Pratima co-op have been Fairtrade certified since 2010. They are a democratic society and every three years choose a chairperson to speak on behalf of, and lead, the group. That person is Phulme Majhi, and she talks to us about being a woman who leads the Pratima Group, and explains some of the challenges, both environmental and social, that they face.

Sustainable Fashion Empowers Women

‘I was elected as the chairperson of our co-op. There was a voting process between a male farmer and myself, and I won! I was very apprehensive in the beginning, being a women, I wondered how I would manage to deal with the men on the board. I was very afraid and scared. But I am not afraid anymore.’

‘Now we can walk shoulder to shoulder with men. We [women] have access to finance and the confidence to handle our own finances, whereas in the past we relied on men. We get training and we can meet visitors – this gives us more confidence in ourselves. We are able to fulfill our needs ourselves, and not be dependent on men.’

Fairtrade provides co-ops like Pratima with training and support to give farmers the opportunity to improve their lives. Phulme was also involved in a women’s group with other women in her village.

‘We were educated about the benefits of a women’s group and asked to set-up our own. I spoke to the other women and explained the benefit we would get from this group. This group taught us to realise our own strength, and that we can go outside of our homes and village, that we can go to the bank and attend meetings.’

‘Before I was restricted to my house and I did not do anything. I used to do domestic work like cooking and looking after the children, and helping at the farm – that was all.’

Fairtrade helps farmers and workers learn about women’s empowerment, making sure people have basic human rights like education and equal rights. With money from their Fairtrade Premium, Pratima also gives cash scholarships to 600-700 school students each year. Phulme speaks enthusiastically about how the women’s group she is part of gave her the confidence to become the chairperson for the whole society.

Sustainable Fashion Empowers Farmers

In Odisha, cotton farmers face drastic environmental challenges. It is a hilly area, where only cotton can grow on the steep slopes and poor soils. They grow a little rice and some pulses as staple crops in flatter places, but rely on cotton for their basic needs. Sometimes there is no opportunity for any crop during the second part of the year and people may have to leave their homes and look elsewhere for work.

‘There used to be no rainfall. We have a problem with rainfall. We have received facilities to help this – Fairtrade has helped to build a water storage unit to preserve rainwater.’

‘We have also learnt about agricultural practices like composting, which we were not doing ten years ago. We now know about better farming practices, we used to till the land manually and now we have access to tractors. In summers we still face a lot of problems with lack of water. During the rainy season it is OK, but afterwards we are facing a lot of problems.’

Learning and Growing

Cotton harvesting takes place over two months, from December to January. Each farm sees two to three pickings and the produce is stored temporarily until the final picking is complete.

The co-op representatives take samples from each farmer for quality checking and then farmers take the cotton to the resource centre, where the collected cotton is taken to the gin for processing. The gin is a machine that separates cotton fibers from their seeds. The resource centre has a weighing machine where the farmers weigh the cotton themselves and then it is again weighed at the gin in front of a farmer representative. Payment is made directly to the farmer’s bank account – something Phulme is proud to be able to manage for herself.

During processing, meticulous care is taken to ensure the integrity and traceability of the Fairtrade cotton.

‘Fairtrade gives us training in how to tackle our problems. We have also had the opportunity to meet with other groups and businesses. Through this exposure, and being associated with Fairtrade, we have the confidence to speak to people and other officials. Previously we would just depend on what we were told, but now we can decide for ourselves.’

‘We are a very small village, no-one used to come to meet us, and now lots of people come to see us. We all really like it when someone comes to visit!’

Support cotton farmers like Phulme by buying clothes and homeware made with Fairtrade cotton.

Where to buy Fairtrade cotton

Women Garment Workers in Bangladesh Face Gender-Based Retaliation

In the months-long assault on Bangladesh garment workers protesting poverty wages that began in December  women have borne the brunt of the retaliation. And it is increasingly evident that gender-based harassment and violence is the weapon of choice to target worker rights activists in Bangladesh.

More than 11,000 union leaders and garment workershave been fired from their jobs in the wake of demonstrations for a fair minimum wage. Blacklists bearing workers’ names and faces hang outside factory gates. Labor activists are pursued in the streets and harassed at their homes. Dozens of workers were arrested, and some remained in jail on trumped up charges for more than a month.

Women face additional forms of intimidation. One worker told the Solidarity Center that in the midst of the January crackdown, men likely hired by the company tore off women’s scarves, a culturally humiliating and degrading action. At one large factory housing a day care center, police charged the building and released tear gas. “There were 13 to 14 children in the room, and they were all injured,” a worker told us, adding that all the women who had children in the center were fired. Women workers were also threatened with rape.

These forms of harassment and violence are particularly insidious as they use fear and shame to reassert unequal power dynamics based on gender. The impact is compounded by the fact that many garment workers stand at the intersection of multiple forms of discrimination—socioeconomic class and their status as migrants to the city—that further sideline their agency and voice.

The protestscame as a surprise to no one. Even with recent adjustments to the minimum wage scale, garment worker wages in Bangladesh remain among the lowest in the region, while the cost of living in urban areas continues to soar. The sector has long been touted as an avenue of economic empowerment for women, but in reality, women workers are segmented into the industry’s lowest-paid positions. They are also regularly confronted with gender-based violence on the job–especially when they try to form unions.

Women workers fuel Bangladesh’s $30 billion-plus garment industry, and they also drive its labor movement. After massive global outcry and trade pressure forced open space for freedom of association following the preventable Tazreen Fashions fire and collapse of Rana Plaza, which killed more than 1,200 garment workers, dynamic women leaders have been instrumental in organizing more than 500 factory unions. Collectively, they are demanding better wages and working conditions. And that scares their powerful and politically connected bosses.

Collective bargaining begins to level the gross power imbalances between workers and employers, and when women workers are at the bargaining table, it also challenges gender inequalities in the workplace. It shakes the foundation of the global apparel industry’s business model, which exploits gender norms that devalue women to justify paying poverty wages and cutting corners on occupational safety and health. For garment manufacturers, the only thing more threatening to their modus operandi than workers with a voice, is women workers with a voice.

Just as Bangladesh has made progress on women’s health and education indicators, the country must also uphold the rights of all workers, particularly women, to assemble peacefully, form or join unions, and negotiate for basic needs, like the ability to earn a living with dignity in a factory free of gender-based violence.

It is also time for the massively profitable apparel brands—which have long benefitted from gender disparities to drive down costs—to get serious about endemic violence against women and anti-unionism in their supply chains. These corporations often base marketing campaigns on images of strong and diverse women. They can’t have it both ways. Brands need to be as diligent in monitoring and mitigating gender-based violence in the workplace as they are with other aspects of their business, and they need to commit resources, make changes in policy and practice and directly negotiate with workers to do so. Good-hearted ”social responsibility” programs with no enforcement mechanism and no binding agreements are not going to cut it. Gender-based violence is about power, and it’s not going to end until workers can freely organize and bargain collectively to take that power back.

Images by the Solidarity Center
How much is a living wage? “Lucy & Yak” on figuring out an equitable wage for workers

We are Lucy and Yak, www.lucyandyak.com an ethical business working towards being sustainable. We are mostly known for our organic dungarees and coats made from recycled plastic. Caring for our staff is the most important thing to us. Lucy and Chris, the cofounders, are always popping to and from India where we have our factory and have a very close friendship with the tailors. If you have any questions, you can email Lucy at  lucy@lucyandyak.com. We have attached some pictures from India, too!

Our ethical, dungaree loving, comfort driven clothing brand, Lucy & Yak started out in a van in the wilderness of New Zealand with only two poor travellers, a pair of sewing needles and some old clothes.

How did Lucy & Yak begin?

Lucy and Chris were two stray travellers who were in need of some money to continue exploring the world (as well as stay alive), so they started to collect leftover clothes from hostels and make something people could take away with them and use over and over again.

It all started with tobacco pouches. People started to buy them (sometimes only selling 2 a day) and months later, Lucy and Chris would get people telling them how they had bonded with other travellers over the pouches. Already, the two were building a community.

The pair continued to travel around the world and their love of recycled, reused clothing carried on with them. They returned to the UK after 2 years of travel, still in need of money, but not wanting to work for anyone else, they decided to buy a van (A.K.A. Yak). They lived in Yak for 12 months travelling around the UK. They would collect clothes from charity shops and use the van and Depop to sell them on.

As they sat together one night in Yak, the dungaree conversation began. Where are the comfortable dungarees at? And what happened to the baggy trousers of the 90s? They got creative and drew their ideal design of dungarees – these are now what we know as the Originals! 

 And that was it. They went travelling again, knowing in the back of their mind they wanted to create some dungarees, but mainly just to spend more time doing what they love. They went to India to explore, but knew if they met the right tailor, they would have a go at creating some dungarees. 

Who makes our dungarees?

Lucy and Chris wanted to make dungarees and that was all they knew at this point. But to do it any other way, than to treat people fairly, was just not an option. There was no great business plan to create an ethical or sustainable brand, they just wanted to buy a few pieces, sell enough to earn them £100 per week and also enjoy spending time with the person who was making them. 

Lucy was in Rishikesh just hanging about, doing a bit of yoga when she bumped into a couple of friends that they had met in New Zealand all those years before. They told her of a town in Rajasthan that is home to a lot of amazing tailors. So she called Chris and the two of them headed to Pushkar. This was where they met Ismail. 

Before meeting Ismail, they had samples made by a few other tailors, who had shops on the main market, but none of them would take them to see the factory where the clothing was made. Until they bumped into Muneer, Ismail’s brother, who took them out to his village to meet Ismail.

Ismail already had a small tailoring business with his two friends, Raju and DP and they shared the same values from the very start. In his own words, “No one is boss here, we are all the boss”. They just knew straight away, that these were their guys! It was like fate!

They got to work on making only a few pairs (30 to be exact) with no intention of becoming business owners – they just wanted to carry on travelling! Lucy modelled them, Chris took the pics and they shipped them over to Lucy’s Mum in Yorkshire. They popped them on Depop and they sold out in under one hour. One hour! 

And so they made a website with more dungarees, working with their new pal Ismail. The official start of Lucy & Yak had begun!

How much are they paid?

But then came the hard decision – working out how to make sure everyone was paid a fair wage! After extensive research on what the cost of living in India is, they found out that the State of Rajasthan’s minimum wage for garment workers was: 6058 rupees for skilled workers and 7358 for highly skilled workers.

Ismail and their tailors already had the potential to earn 14000 rupees a month, if they had regular work. But it was rare that they got constant work, it came and went with seasons. They had little security. Ismail is a great guy, he is the one that went looking for work, he was also the master sample maker. So all of the money they made from each garment was split 50/50.

With Ismail’s 50%, he also took care of the running costs of the factory. So Lucy & Chris knew all they had to do to ensure that every one was paid well, was to make sure they paid a pair price for their garments. The first negotiation was so funny. Ismail still laughs to this day, as they negotiated the price up rather than down. He thought they just didn’t know how to haggle. 

They did more research to understand what the the living wage was and for one adult to look after a family of 4 it would be the equivalent of £219 which is 4 times the minimum wage. 

And so Lucy and Chris decided to make sure the tailors earn between 21000 rupees and 29000 rupees per month, depending on their skill level. This is the equivalent of £233 and £320. 

We experienced a lot of quality issues in the beginning and still get some now, so instead of not paying for faulty garments, Lucy & Chris decided to implement a bonus scheme for the guys in India. If there are no tailoring faults, they each get 500 rupees extra a week. So that’s 2000 rupees extra a month! And honestly, it’s very rare that none of them get it. It just makes us so much happier to know that our workers aren’t struggling for money and can enjoy their lives, and that the quality of their work is constantly improving. 

But where do they work?

Now it was about the environment the guys were working in. The team grew so fast, that they were all working in different places around Ismail’s village: Tilora in India. Some people were even working from their homes to help out!

There was nowhere big enough in Tilora for them to rent to get everyone under one roof. So the three of them made the decision to build their very own Lucy & Yak factory. It is completely owned by Ismail and his brother Peeru, but Lucy & Chris helped to fund the build. 

Lucy and Chris popped back and forth between Tilora and Yorkshire to help Ismail and his brothers build the factory and finally, it was complete. Everyone was under one, air conditioned, solar panelled, renewably ran factory. This even meant that Ismail could hire more people!

Ismail also employed his first female tailors about 8 months ago, so we have a great team, of men and women. Ismail’s team has grown to 65 people, and as it continues to get bigger, we will face new challenges but we will always know that we have the best guy looking after our production. He cares about people, he really made this easy for us.

What now?

We have the team here in the UK and the team there in India and we continue to do what we love! We are always coming up with new designs, we always make sure our staff are treated fairly and try our best to look after the environment as much as we can along the way – we even make clothes from recycled bottles now.

We are working on a small made in Britain collection, to run alongside our India collection. And we also have some exciting news about how we can create a circular fashion model for Lucy & Yak in the future. 

As we grow as a company, we are still learning. But the upmost importance to us, is making sure everyone who works for us is being paid fairly and that the environment they work in, is the best it can be.

To find out more, head to www.lucyandyak.com

 

How Fair Trade Creates Greater Transparency in Fashion

#WhoMadeMyClothes? Glad you asked.

It’s been five years since the Rana Plaza factory collapsed in Bangladesh, killing 1,138 people and injuring thousands more. But people around the world are still suffering as a result of how fashion is made, sourced, and purchased. It’s more important than ever that we as conscious consumers slow down to find out who’s behind our clothes and how our spending habits are affecting them.

This Fashion Revolution Week, (April 23-29), people are asking #WhoMadeMyClothes to better understand the lives behind their favorite labels. Brands and shoppers that have opted for Fair Trade Certified clothes will be able to share the kinds of stories the world wants to hear. If you wear Fair Trade, you have a hand in the making of these stories too. Read on to learn how Fair Trade helps create the kind of transparency the fashion world desperately needs.

We believe the more awareness we can bring to the stories behind our clothes, the more impact we can have across the fashion industry to raise standards for workers and for the environment. Your curiosity, your voice, and your shopping habits are more powerful than you know.

Let’s tell a better story by choosing Fair Trade.

Fair Trade promotes accountability.

Fair Trade certification isn’t just about checking boxes; it’s an ongoing, rigorous process. Every single year, the garment factories we work with are audited against Fair Trade standards, which include requirements for everything from harassment-free workplaces to safe working conditions, protection of fundamental human rights, paid sick and maternity leave, sustainable production and trade, and fair management of funds to improve farms, factories, businesses, and lives. They’re audited against those standards every year in order to maintain Fair Trade certification.

 

Fair Trade makes workers’ voices heard.

A few seamstresses who were working at Rana Plaza when it collapsed are reported to have tried to talk to a manager about their concerns with the building’s structural integrity shortly before it crumbled. Those concerns were brushed off.

Fair Trade standards create dialogue between workers and management, and rigorous standards for fair grievance procedures and worker empowerment give workers a voice in the workplace and the community.

“I really appreciate all the standards in place that make this a great workplace,” says Alka Nim, 28, who works as a tailor in Pratibha Syntex in India. “Things like air conditioning, water coolers, fixed hours, and transportation are not a given at other garment factories. Caste, status, and sexual harassment are not a problem here either.” Alka has been at the factory for nine years and has worked her way up to membership on the factory’s Fair Trade Committee, where she is proud “to help the workers have a voice and to find ways to improve benefits.” In 2014, she passed a proposal to purchase rain coats to help keep commuting workers dry during the rainy season. Her proposal was accepted by the rest of the Fair Trade committee, and because of Alka, workers are no longer coming to work wet and having to work in wet clothes. Fair Trade empowers workers like Alka to make choices for the good of themselves and their community, regardless of gender, status, position in society, or position on the globe.

 

Fair Trade connects purchase to impact.

Fair Trade works with a wide range of producers, each with their own unique set of challenges, like lack of access to drinking water and transportation to and from work. Working in a Fair Trade Certified facility doesn’t completely shelter workers from challenges—though it does eliminate many of the root causes of difficulties workers face such as discrimination, exposure to toxic chemicals, and child or slave labor. It does, however, equip workers to come together, discuss problems, and have the means to invest in solutions.

Each time a piece of Fair Trade Certified clothing is sold, workers earn additional money called Community Development Funds. Workers then vote as a community how to invest the funds in important community projects, such as clean water and medical care. This unique piece of the Fair Trade model is designed to close the gap between you and the people behind your products.

Keep asking yourself and your favorite how those purchases are impacting real lives.

Read more about Fair Trade USA

36 major brands pledge to achieve sustainable cotton by 2025
Previously published on fairtrade.org.uk

23 more of the world’s most renowned clothing and textile companies, including Burberry, Adidas, Kathmandu and Timberland have pledged to use 100% sustainable cotton by 2025.

This initiative recognises several existing standards as delivering sustainable cotton: Organic, Fairtrade, Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), Cotton Made in Africa and recycled cotton certified to an independently verifiable standard such as the Global Recycled Standard (GRS) or the Recycled Claim Standard (RCS). In addition, CottonConnect’s REEL programme and code provides a starting point for businesses aiming for greater sustainability in their cotton supply chain.

36 major brands and retailers have now signed up to the 100% by 2025 pledge, including four of Forbes magazine’s list of the world’s ten largest global apparel brands , and three of the top 10 UK clothing retailers.   This announcement was made at the annual Textile Exchange Sustainability Conference, where more than 400 textile and apparel leaders have come together to discuss the most important sustainability issues facing the industry.

photo by @jess_lehmann_

This pledge – called the sustainable cotton communiqué – demonstrates that there is a demand for more sustainable cotton, and the commitment made by companies will help to drive sustainable practices across the sector. In turn, this will help alleviate the environmental and social costs that are too often associated with cotton production, including the over-use of pesticides, the release of greenhouse gases, the depletion of local water sources and rising costs of production.

The brands that have committed to the 100% by 2025 pledge are: ASOS,  EILEEN FISHER, Greenfibres, H&M, IKEA, Kering, Levi’s, Lindex, M&S, Nike, Sainsbury’s, F&F at Tesco,  Woolworths, Adidas, A-Z, BikBOk, Burberry, Burton Snowboards, Carlings, Coyuchi, Cubus, Days like This, Dressmann, Hanky Panky, House of Fraser, Indigenous Designs, KappAhl, Kathmandu, Mantis World, Otto Group, prAna, SkunkFunk,  Timberland, Urban, Volt and Wow.

Impact

There have been substantial gains made over the past few years in scaling the production of more sustainable forms of cotton, which is now higher than ever at over 3 million tonnes in 2016. However, companies are actively sourcing less than a fifth of this available sustainable cotton.   In order for sustainable cotton to become standard business practice, the amount of sustainable cotton grown and bought must increase significantly. This pledge sends a signal to millions of producers that there is a real demand for a more sustainable approach to cotton production that reduces the environmental and social costs.

The companies that have pledged their support are at various stages on their journey to using sustainable cotton, with some already securing all of their cotton from sustainable sources. However, all are clear that collaboration across the sector is needed to bring about transformative change.

Quotes from selected companies and NGO representatives:

“The industry is awakening to the necessity of sustainably grown cotton. It is great to see additional brands joining this initiative to accelerate the momentum of cotton production in a way that will positively impact smallholder farmers, water quality and soil health.”

La Rhea Pepper, Managing Director, Textile Exchange

“As a pioneer in organic cotton bedding, Coyuchi cares immensely about what our sheets, towels and apparel are made of and its greater impact on the environment and the hands that touch it from earth to factory to home. Coyuchi is excited to join the pledge and the growing momentum by likeminded brands committed to a more sustainable future.”

Eileen Mockus, CEO, Coyuchi

“Burton has a responsibility to protect the people and playground that sustain our sport and lifestyle. We recognize that there are social and environmental costs associated with producing our products. We are continuously striving toward sustainability in our production practices, including the materials we source. Burton is proud to join other industry leaders in this pledge, which is aligned with our commitment to sourcing 100% sustainable cotton by 2020.”

Donna Carpenter, CEO and Co-owner, Burton Snowboards

“It’s been a long journey to reach 100% organic cotton. Kudos to all the prAna employees & global supply chain partners who put in countless hours. We couldn’t be more ecstatic about this sustainability milestone!”

Russ Hopcus, President, prAna

“House of Fraser supports the Sustainable Cotton Communiqué as part of our shift to sourcing sustainable cotton in our house branded fashion and homeware products. We welcome the opportunity to collaborate to scale the uptake of sustainable materials in fashion, and applaud HRH The Prince of Wales for his leadership.”

Maria Hollins, Executive Director of Buying and Design, House of Fraser

“At Timberland, we strive to be Earthkeepers in everything we do and we recognize sustainable cotton sourcing as a major part of that goal. Studies have shown the positive social benefits to farming communities as well as the potential for these practices to sequester carbon into the soil. This is exciting work as we move beyond just minimizing environmental impacts to strategically creating real environmental and social benefits within the supply chain.”

Zachary Angelini, Environmental Stewardship Manager, Timberland

 

Read the original article here.
This is what a fair trade factory looks like

Every purchase matters. When you buy fair trade, you can positively impact the lives of the people who make your clothes, improve communities, and protect the environment.

Follow the journey of garments through a fair trade factory in India, from thread and fabric to finishing and packing, and meet the people who make them…

Thread being woven into fabric

Operating the knitting department

Lakindar Ray, 26, from Samastipur, Bihar, an operator in the knitting department, has worked since 2008 at Rajlakshmi Cotton Mills in Howrah. Ray has two children. “I hope that Fair Trade consumers will continue to support us and our family. The first year I received my Fair Trade premium was a major change in life. My wife asked for some household goods and we bought a clothing cupboard. Next year, I hope to buy a TV. Whatever we buy with the premiums we receive, it’s like a memory of the year that has gone past. This is something I received from the factory, something to be proud of. I appreciate the transparency of the Fair Trade premium arrangement at our factory – everyone gets the same amount, people can join the committee and help make decisions for the worker body. Friends from other factories are envious that we have this benefit.”

Fabric being cut into garments

Preparing the fabric for sewing

Assembling t-shirts

Mohammad Zunaid Alam, 30, from Malda, West Bengal, from the sewing section, has worked for 8 years at Rajlakshmi Cotton Mills in Howrah. Alam has two daughters, 4 and 1.5 year old. “Since the Fair Trade program started here, the factory has improved overall and we have received different types of orders from abroad. I like that by working to make a good product, we are also able to help our families and each other. The past four years of premiums have really helped my family – one year, I was able to fix my roof; I’ve invested in savings which will double in 5 years. As my two daughters grow, they will need funds for furthering their education and to get married. I want to thank Fair Trade consumers for helping us improve our lives.”

Ironing

Cristy Martinez, 36, irons fabric at Nature USA, the first Fair Trade Certified factory in the U.S. She is excited to learn more about how the Community Development Premiums can benefit the workers, and even her family back home.

Sample making

Tharun Sardar, 36, from Howrah, West Bengal, has worked as a screen printer for 6 years at Rajalakshmi Cotton Mills in Howrah. Has 3 children. “Fair Trade not only provides us with valuable premiums but also helps broaden our market, allowing us to work with different clients. Over the past few years, I’ve improved my life by using the premiums that come back each year to invest in savings accounts.

“When I talk to other workers, friends from other factories, they’re always very curious about the Fair Trade program we have and ask how they can join specifically because of the Fair Trade premium program. I have helped two friends join my printing department and they are similarly happy to have the chance to invest in their own work and futures.”

Finishing

Rehana Middey, 34, from Howrah, West Bengal, works in finishing at the Rajlakshmi Cotton Mills in Howrah. She has 2 boys; both have graduated from 10th grade and are working in factories. “By working at this factory, I’m able to support my family and meet daily needs. Every year when we receive our Fair Trade premiums, I’m able to put them into savings – which may become important later in life. I remember the first year when the factory joined Fair Trade, I was able to buy a bicycle for my son to ride to school – I was so proud! If the customers buy our products, we can benefit and improve our lives while also providing good clothing for people all over the world.”

Packing

Why We Wear Fair Trade

What we wear matters. When we wear it matters too.

This Fashion Revolution Week, on the anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory tragedy, We Wear Fair Trade to take a stand for the people who make our clothes. We also wear Fair Trade to celebrate the movers and shakers of the fashion industry–the thought leaders, CEOs, designers and athletes–who are working hard to do things differently.

In the words of famed surfer and Patagonia ambassador Dave Rastovich, “Our clothes have always had stories–they just weren’t always ones we were proud to tell.” Fair Trade is beginning to change that.

Telling a New Story

When the factory in Bangladesh collapsed on April 24th, 2013, over 1,100 garment workers lost their lives. They were making clothes that many of us wear everyday. This story of unsafe conditions, along with countless others of low pay, harmful chemicals, and exploitation, shouldn’t be the ones we have to tell.

The good news is that there are a growing number of people (makers, sellers, buyers and wearers of clothes) that are taking part in new, albeit way less easy, narrative.

We want to honor just a few of those individuals and brands, and have asked them to take a stand in their favorite Fair Trade Certified ™ apparel. Captured by well-known photographer and subject of the film 180 South, Jeff Johnson, these portraits capture the proud, the rebellious, the entrepreneurial, innovative, trailblazing leaders that are shaping this new world through Fair Trade.

We Wear Fair Trade

Wearing Fair Trade for Patagonia

“One important benefit of Fair Trade falls not to the workers, the factory or Patagonia as a brand, but to the consumer who buys a Fair Trade Certified garment: every purchase is a vote, with the pocketbook, for good values, an all too rare opportunity in our global economy.” – Rose Marcario

Patagonia is truly out to change the industry. After launching with 10 Fair Trade styles in 2014, they now have 286 different Certified products. That’s 30% of their entire line. They were also the first brand to offer Fair Trade Certified™ swimwear. 100% of their bikinis and boardshorts are now made in Fair Trade facilities.

Patagonia’s Fair Trade products support workers in Certified factories from Hirdaramani in Sri Lanka to Nature USA in Los Angeles, California.

Wearing Fair Trade for prAna

prAna was the first brand to launch Fair Trade Certified™ apparel, when the program began as a pilot in 2010. Beginning at one Fair Trade factory in India to make the Sol Tee, prAna now impacts the lives of thousands of workers around the world through their Fair Trade purchases.

Wearing Fair Trade for Outerknown

“We created Outerknown to smash the formula. To lift the lid on the traditional supply chain and prove you can actually produce great looking clothing in a sustainable way.” – Kelly Slater

Outerknown was founded by 11 time World Surf League Champion Kelly Slater and acclaimed designer John Moore to make clothing that respects the environment and the people in their global manufacturing community. They launched their first Fair Trade line in early 2017- a collection of responsibly sourced, casual menswear from Hong Ho, a Fair Trade factory in Mexico. Workers there are just about to receive their first Fair Trade Premium Funds to improve their communities.

Wearing Fair Trade for Obey

Obey’s first Fair Trade products came out in 2015. They have since grown their offering to X styles, produced at Fair Trade factories in India, where workers enjoy safe, healthy working conditions and earn Premium Funds with every sale.

Wearing Fair Trade for Athleta

“Supporting women in their ability to come together to reach their full potential is core to our brand,” said Nancy Green, president, Athleta. “Partnering with Fair Trade USA is an important and natural step in directly enabling the women who create Athleta clothes to positively affect their communities and families.”

In January 2017, Athleta introduced its first Fair Trade Certified™ assortment with more than 40 styles in their spring collection, and will offer nearly 100 by the end of 2017.  The debut styles are produced at MAS, a newly Certified facility in Sri Lanka, where, the predominantly female workforce will collectively invest the financial premiums they earn into the needs of their communities.

Who Made My Clothes

By wearing Fair Trade, today and every day, we make a bold, collective commitment to the people who make our clothes. When you see a garment with the Fair Trade Certified™ seal, you know that it was made according to rigorous social and environmental standards, and that workers earned additional money with every sale.

Lakindar Ray, 26, from Samastipur, Bihar, an operator in the knitting department at Rajlakshmi Cotton Mills in Howrah.

 

The Long Road Ahead

Thank you to these individuals and companies who have recognized that responsibility and profitability can, and must, go hand in hand. Together we’re taking on the long road ahead, step by step, carefully crafting the new normal.

Look for Fair Trade styles from these and other brands here on our website.

Fairtrade gets the gold standard

Angela Tatiana Vasquez Rojas has grown up in the small mining community of Santa Filomena since she was four years old. Her father worked in the Sotrami mines from dawn to dusk in order to earn enough to provide for his family and put bread on the table.

Although Angela has many fond memories of growing up in Santa Filomena, it was also a difficult and challenging upbringing. Working in the mines was one of the few jobs in the area and because of her father’s extensive hours he had very little time to spend with her growing up.

Angela spoke to us about the impact working as a miner had on her father.

“Being the daughter of a miner is a bit complicated because you do not get to spend much time with your father” she explains. “Mining wears them down a lot, they get sick and despite the fact that they extract gold they are not rich people as many believe. When they get sick sometimes there is not enough money for treatments. Sometimes there are accidents at work which one cannot survive, and you do not know if they will come out alive or dead.”

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The fear for her father’s welfare is one Angela is very familiar with. Thanks to stricter regulations and help from Fairtrade, health and safety and working conditions in the mines have improved significantly over the years.

The organisation Sotrami came to the Atacama Desert mines near Santa Filomena in the 1980s. At that point the village was the home of many people who had been displaced by violence. The group started to work towards eliminating child labour and improving the conditions miners work in to reach international labour standards. The support of ethical jewellers such as Cred Jewellery have helped enable this change by providing demand for fairly sourced gold. Gradually over the years standards improved in the area, but it wasn’t until 2011 that the Fairtrade Minimum Price for Gold and Fairtrade Premium for Gold came into play, meaning that all workers now receive fair wages for their gold and money can be channelled back into the community.

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The Fairtrade Premium has completely changed the way that miners and residents of Santa Filomena live. The desert’s high temperatures meant a supply of clean and safe water was unreliable. Water was delivered in a weekly ration of barrels which sometimes arrived unpurified, causing mass sickness. Since their partnership with Fairtrade, the area has improved dramatically. With the Fairtrade Premium fund, the community has experienced a huge change in infrastructure; a new road was built which means water can now arrive by the lorry load, there is now electricity, internet and cable channels, and children have much better access to education and health services.

Angela’s generation is one that has started to reap the benefits of improved conditions, both in the local community and down the mines. She recalls her childhood fondly, acknowledging the hardships but also the positivity and dedication to change her father installed in her. Over the years, many people have worked in incredibly dangerous conditions in order to provide for their families. As things continue to improve, it is important to remember the history of the mines, the resilience of those who worked in them and how improvement affects not only the local community, but is also a reflection on the world as a whole and the growing movement towards ethical and sustainable practices.

“My father, despite the little time he has, has always taught me that one has to move forward and that despite the adversities one must never give up” says Angela. “I can say I had the kind of childhood and adolescence that few can enjoy. Being the daughter of a miner, despite the difficult times, means I grew up knowing that a hero does not always have super powers, but in exchange of that, heroes give their lives for their families.”

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Angela is currently working in a village shop in Santa Filomena studying for her University entrance exam. Competition for grants from low income families in the area is fierce, so despite being a top student it is unlikely Angela will have the opportunity to attend university. Cred is dedicated to supporting mining communities and improving prospects for young people. Cred funded Angela’s trip to the UK to give her the chance to experience life in another country and to spread the message of how the Fairtrade Premium benefits so many. This in turn will help raise awareness, so more people will choose Fairtrade which in turn will help university to be more than just a pipe dream for young people like Angela.

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New Fairtrade Textile Standard and Programme

New Fairtrade Textile Standard and Programme aims to protect workers in the textile industry.

Almost three years after the deadly collapse of the Rana Plaza textile factory in Bangladesh, little has changed for the workers themselves. The tragedy, which killed more than 1100 and injured 2500, sparked demands for better protection – but many garment workers still have to endure dangerous conditions and low pay.

Fairtrade’s new Textile Standard and Programme is designed to tackle these challenging working conditions by extending the Fairtrade approach to the entire textile supply chain. “By committing to Fairtrade, companies can now help improve the social and economic wellbeing of workers across the entire production chain,” says Martin Hill, Interim CEO at Fairtrade International.

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The new standard is based on Fairtrade’s existing Hired Labour Standard and focuses on working conditions, living wages and workers’ rights, and is open to other sustainable fibres as well as cotton. It’s the first standard to require living wages to be paid within a set time period – six years – and brand owners will also be contractually responsible for fair and long-term purchasing practices – essential for implementing wage increases. Overall, the standard aims to empower factory workers and enable them to negotiate labour conditions independently.

The new standard is the first step towards implementing a comprehensive Fairtrade Textile Programme to change textile supply chains and related business practices. The programme will be similar in concept to the producer services provided to farmers and workers, but will be specific to textile factories. Following an initial assessment, factories will be supported to meet the standard’s requirements.

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“It is important for factory owners and workers to understand the standard’s content as well as the purpose of Fairtrade. That’s the main challenge when implementing the standard and running local training sessions,” says Siva Parti, Environmental and Health & Safety expert at Sustainable Textile Solutions. The programme also offers support in various areas including health and safety, worker empowerment, living wages, and improvements in efficiency and productivity.

FLOCERT, the independent certification body for Fairtrade, will audit the textile companies. Workers in the textile industry participate in these audits through elected representatives who inform the workforce of the results. FLOCERT only uses auditors who are particularly familiar with the complex procedures in the textile production. “Our auditors are experts in their fields. They work together with the factory workers and management to come up with solutions to improve the workers’ situation,” says FLOCERT’S CEO Rüdiger Meyer.

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The main components of fair and sustainable trading relations in the standard includes:

For workers

For the Environment

Assurance behind the standard

The Fairtrade Textile Standard includes an innovative approach to assurance in order to address the most commonly identified weaknesses in the social compliance audit model for the textile industry. These include:

Fairtrade is currently negotiating with interested companies and hopes to announce commitments soon. The standard is applicable from June 2016. “We’re inviting all textile companies to work together with their staff and with Fairtrade to create a fairer production process for textiles,” says Martin Hill. Once their entire supply chain has been certified in line with the Fairtrade Textile Standard, products will carry the Fairtrade Textile Production Mark. Product packaging will also indicate the brand’s progress towards achieving living wages in the product supply chain.

Further information on the Fairtrade Textile Standard can be found here: http://www.fairtrade.net/textile-standard

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Is Fair Trade Enough?

There is a before and after Rana Plaza. We have all heard stories about sweatshops and yet we in the developed world are so far removed from them, it is hard for us to grasp the impact of working in these facilities. The news about the collapse of a building across the world where almost 1,200 people died is treated as news just like an earthquake or a tsunami. But unlike natural disasters, these catastrophes are man made. They happen because of greed, desperation, a lack of moral compass and a willingness to ignore others and their well-being.

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Although Zara was not involved in this atrocity, they are synonymous with fast fashion. Armancio Ortega, inspired by newfound freedoms of democracy in 1974, created an affordable apparel label for the frugal Spaniard of the region of Galicia. When Ortega created Zara, the poor region of Galicia thrived with his success. The production was local and employed co-ops and other local sewing companies. Over time, his strategy to offer very affordable fashion using the latest trends on an almost zero in-store inventory model paid off, but forced him to move production to under-developed countries. These business decisions made sense when only looking at the bottom line, however moving production abroad helped create a vacuum of oversight and accountability with their subcontractors.

Now, a couple decades later, the fast fashion industry is facing a backlash. Rana Plaza was hardly the first time that fast-fashion brands such as The Gap or Zara made headlines for their sweatshops, but it feels as though the world is finally ready for a change. For the first time, there could be real financial consequences for fast-fashion companies. People are now craving something different: quality, accountability and connection. People care more about the story behind the products they buy and are more educated about them than ever before.

However, we cannot wait for the big players of the fashion industry to change on their own. We are responsible for creating the change we want to see in mass-market fashion labels. This is why campaigns like “Who Made My Clothes?” are so important. If consumers are more aware of how and who makes their clothes, they will make more educated choices.

But change is coming, in a pure battle of David against Goliath. This is evidenced in the rise of the fashion social enterprises. Vavavida, Zady, Prana, Toms shoes, Warby Parker glasses, and a slew of others all stemmed from fashion entrepreneurs wanting to shake up the industry. These companies are seeking a true connection between what they make, how they are made and how customers experience their products.

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Fair Trade will help usher in a new standard of how we treat the people we do business with and change the relationship we have with the products we buy. Being ethical starts at the very base of this new business model. In the best of cases, Fair Trade can be (and should be) the lowest echelon on the ethical production ladder of how to create, sell and market ethical fashion.

But is fair trade enough?

Fair Trade is not the answer to every problem, but it can be part of the solution. Fair Trade is only the beginning and yet we are a long way from making fair trade a standard in every household in America. The awareness of Fair Trade and what it means is still very low. Apart from coffee and chocolate connoisseurs, fair trade is virtually unknown in the US market. We need to raise awareness so that things can start changing for the better.

Full Circle Economics©

This is why when we created Vavavida we wanted to start with Fair Trade as a first step in the right direction and then close the loop. We created what became our operating model of Full Circle Economics©. We source our products from disadvantaged artisan cooperatives from around the world that adhere to the Fair Trade principles, we sell the items at a fair price and —thanks to our non-profit partner Project Concern International— we then use part of the revenues earned from the sales of those goods to re-invest into the communities we source our products from. Since our products are almost entirely made for women and by women, we chose to close the loop by investing in female economic empowerment programs that exist as close as possible to the co-ops we buy from.

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From what we know at Vavavida of the effects of Fair Trade on the communities we partner with, it is evident that Fair Trade works. The main co-operative we source our products from has seen its wages rise by 800% ever since they started operating under the Fair Trade principles. The community has also seen a reduction of the impact their work has on the environment and because of Fair Trade, their kids remain in school much longer. But we need to do more. Women are the most affected by poverty but are also the likeliest to pull a community together out of poverty. Therefore, we need to invest in programs that focus on children’s education, female empowerment and women-led village savings program to help a community pull itself out of poverty and create a more sustainable local economy. Fashion done right can save the world.

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All content on our blog is editorially independent unless it has been written by a member of the Fashion Revolution team.