While you may think of worker exploitation as only happening behind the scenes of cheap, fast-fashion no-brand labels, the truth is a lot of the fashion industry abide by less-than-ideal ethical codes in the name of producing clothes at cheaper prices, greater margins, and on mass.
Thankfully, there is a growing number of organisations who are dedicated to exposing fashion brands who don’t uphold a high ethical stance, and these organisations are successfully making positive changes in the fashion industry around the world.
What is fair trade clothing?
Fairtrade International describes fair trade as “a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalised producers and workers – especially in developing countries.”
Additionally, the World Fair Trade Organization says that “Fair Trade is more than meeting labour standards and following codes of practice. Fair Trade Organisations specifically seek to work in partnership with marginalised and disadvantaged groups to try and help them overcome the serious barriers they face in sustaining livelihoods and finding markets.”
The questions you should be asking yourself every time you shop
According to Good On You - a company who researches and assesses companies to uncover the ones that are sustainable and fair - when shopping a clothing brand, we should be asking these key questions to determine how ethical their clothing is:
1. Who made my clothes?
2. Are they (the employees) safe?
3. Are they empowered?
4. Can they afford to live?
5. Are they free?
Unfortunately uncovering the truth to these questions can be difficult, because many companies are not transparent about who manufacturers their clothes.
How do you know if an item is fair trade?
One organisation keeping tabs on fair trade clothing in Australia is Baptist World Aid Australia, who every year release an updated Ethical Fashion Guide that grades more than 400 brands on the strength of their systems. The report aims to reduce the risk of slavery, child labour, exploitation, and environmental degradation in supply chains.
Good On You, Ethical Clothing Australia, Fashion Revolution and Eco Warrior Princess are also dedicated to scrutinising the fashion industry to deliver their own list of fashion brands that meet specific ethical and fair trade requirements. While each of these organisations and websites have different criteria, they all believe in similar general standards that include reducing poverty by encouraging economic self-sufficiency; transparency in business management and commercial relations; concern for the social, economic and environmental well-being of marginalised producers; fair pay for the producers; safe and healthy working conditions; zero children exploitation; providing assistance in developing the skills of producers; and reducing environmental impact.
Want to shop fair and ethical fashion? Here are some of the top fair trade clothing brands you can buy in Australia.
There’s a lot to love about the organic cotton that Lazybones use for their laidback, fun-loving clothing (and bedding). It's cool and soft for you to wear; it's sourced from The Chetna Project in India, which works with small farmers to improve their livelihoods via sustainable farming practices and fair wages; and it’s safer for the environment (and workers) due to no pesticides, insecticides, herbicides and GMO being used during the farming process.
5. Mighty Good Undies
Yep, even your underwear is an opportunity to support fair trade practices. More than just chic undies any minimalist will love, the Australian brand is super transparent about where they source their fairtrade organic cotton fabric, and the working conditions of the people they employ to make their ethical undies. Unsurprisingly, for the third year in a row, Mighty Good Undies has achieved an A+ rating in the 2019 Ethical Fashion Guide.
4. Folktribe Clothing
If you like to spend your hard-earned money on clothes that won't date at the season’s end, Folktribe’s commitment to long-lasting fashion will strike a chord with you. So too will their commitment to leaving behind a small footprint through eco-friendly and ethical practices such as going plastic free, creating minimal waste and implementing fair trade practices. Their garments are fairly sewn in Bali and Chiang Mai, Thailand, as well as locally in Sydney, and that’s just the beginning on the many initiatives this Australian fashion label has passionately employed.
Ticking off a lot of boxes for the eco-fashion conscious, Kowtow uses only organic, renewable, biodegradable and regenerated fibres to make their capsule-inspired clothes. They are also committed to fair trade production, including using cotton that is certified by Fairtrade Labelling Organisations International (FLO). Their commendable efforts earned them an A+ grade in the 2019 Ethical Fashion Guide.
Etiko was the first brand in the southern hemisphere to become Fairtrade Certified. The clothing brand’s name, Etiko, is literally derived from the Greek word for ‘ethical’, which is your first clue that these guys are doing good things for the world and your wardrobe. Selling men’s and women’s basics like t-shirts and hoodies, as well as sneakers and backpacks, plus kids shoes and shirts, Etiko have been supporting the human and labour rights of their manufacturing workforces in India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan for over 10 years.
1. Outland Denim
Recently scoring A+ in the 2019 Ethical Fashion Guide, Outland Denim was founded on virtuous aspirations to provide victims of human trafficking in Asia with a sustainable career source. Then came the idea for denim, of which it turns out, Outland Denim’s founder James Bartle has a knack for (Meghan Markle owns a pair or two). Sourcing the most ethically and environmentally sound raw materials, Outland Denim have even gone that one step further, creating their own training and production facility in Cambodia (where their jeans are made). As the brand likes to proudly say, “We know each of our seamstresses by name”.