The Impact of Fair Trade Fashion

Nisha August 23, 2016

What do you look for when shopping for new clothes? How do cost, style, or brand influence your decisions? What about where and how the garment was made? More and more consumers are looking at the label and asking, “Who made my clothes?

Wear Fair

A lot of clothing on the market today is what’s to referred to as ‘fast fashion.’ In an interview, Andrew Morgan, director of the documentary film The True Cost, explained fast fashion as follows:

“Fast fashion is a term that parallels ‘fast food’ and implies that it probably is not very good for us. Fast fashion was initiated when brands began to copy design looks from runway shows. They put them through production and manufacturing at lightening speeds in order to have them in stores within weeks, and sometimes days, after they were seen on the runways….Clothing has now become a commodity that we see as disposable, and that is really brand new in the history of fashion. It is a very modern concept to be able to buy things that are so cheap that it means nothing if they fall apart after a few wears. That volume increase and shift in mindset have turned up the dial on some already very problematic issues, making it now nothing short of a state of crisis or emergency in a lot of areas.”

Events like Rana Plaza – the garment factory that collapsed in Bangladesh in 2013 – have drawn increased attention to the conditions of workers making this ‘fast fashion’ clothing. And films like The True Cost have helped shed more light on these issues.

The Power of Conscious Consumers

What can we do as individual consumers? It is important to remember that one of the most powerful ways we can vote for what we want is with our dollars. Start by asking questions and learning where and how your clothing is made. Resources like Fashion Revolution and The True Cost provide insights into the fashion industry, and can help each of us make more informed choices about our everyday purchases and how they impact others and the environment, not only locally but globally.

Want to start choosing Fair Trade fashion, but not sure where to look? There are many brands that are opting out of ‘fast fashion’ and choosing to provide Fair Trade and ethical options. Check out this list of just a few of the companies that are making positive impacts on workers’ lives:

For more information about the criteria these companies are abiding by, take a look at Fair Trade Federation Principles and Fair Trade USA’s apparel program.

Fair Trade Fashion at School

Gilmour Academy students in Fair Trade uniforms from One Seed Heritage.

Another area where we’re seeing more Fair Trade apparel options is school uniforms, both domestically and internationally. In Sydney, Hazelbrook Public School is the first school in Australia to purchase uniforms from Change Threads, whose garments comprise organic and Fairtrade certified cotton, and polyester made from recycled plastic bottles.

Here in the U.S., there are a couple of Fair Trade Schools that have made the switch to Fair Trade school uniforms. Both Gilmour Academy and Magnificat High School order their uniforms from One Seed Heritage.

Take Action!

Want to showcase your new Fashion ShowFair Trade wardrobe?A great way to build awareness about Fair Trade fashion within your community, school, college, or congregation is to hold a Fair Trade fashion show.

Check out this event guide for more information on how to host one in your community.

Next time you head to the internet or store to buy fashion items, pause to consider who made your clothes.


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Nisha, Fair Trade Communities Fellow - Southern CA

Always active on the social justice front, from a young age, working with marginalized groups in various capacities and working toward the empowerment and individual and collective happiness of people through her involvement in her lay-Buddhist organization, SGI-USA, Nisha has always worked to create value in daily life and find meaning in the life she lives and the work she does. Through her spiritual journey she has come to realize that we cannot build our own happiness and prosperity on the unhappiness and oppression of others. As a result she started questioning the source of things asking “Where does what I am buying come from?” This question led to her journey as an active conscious consumer. Having volunteered at Ten Thousand Villages Austin, becoming an advocate for Fair Trade, ethical practices and conscious consumerism, through engaging with the Fair Trade Federation and Fair Trade Towns in Austin, TX, Nisha then worked for a third party certification body and also Matr Boomie, a wholesale, fair trade fashion accessories and home décor company. Her personal values coupled with her professional experiences so far now propel her toward the Fair Trade USA fellowship.