March 25, 2009

Fair Trade Series + Ethical Fashion (Part I)

We have a new site where you can read all articles from This is Ghana in a much more organised fashion. Read Fair Trade Series + Ethical Fashion (Part I) there.

I'm starting a series of articles on the topic of fair trade that will run over the next few weeks.

Some of the issues that will be discussed include:
what is fair trade, anyway?
why bother?
issues in fair trade
purchasing power
lobbying power
resources - sites and books
labeling confusion
fair trade tourism
fair trade cotton
fair trade craft
fair trade food
Ghana and fair trade
-to name a few

To kick it off, I dug up an article on fair trade fashion that was published in New Consumer, a fantastic site on all things relating to ethical purchasing, a few years ago (around 2005/06, I believe).


As big name designers join the cause to make fashion fairer, Ros Davidson questions whether it’s just a trend.

‘Big name’ catwalk crusaders are giving a new meaning to the old adage, you are what you wear. This spring Ali Hewson launched her stylish and ethical EDUN collection. The art nouveau-inspired but edgy fashions, created in small factories in impoverished countries such as Lesotho, are now flying off the racks in shops in Britain, Ireland, Spain and the United States from Selfridges to Saks.

Some of the profits are reinvested in local communities in the developing world, for example for fixing a well at a school or providing day care, and the collection will eventually use Fairtrade certified cotton, says Hewson.

British designer Katharine Hamnett, hardly new to progressive causes, will unveil her ethical men’s in February 2006. Her women’s collection, also under the Katharine E Hamnett label – the ‘E’ stands for ethical and environmental – will follow soon after. The t-shirts, sweatshirts, knitwear and tailored suits will be “as environmental and ethical as we can get it,” she says. The textiles are as organic as possible, and 15 per cent of net profits will be re-invested in local communities.

Ali Hewson, when reached at her home near Dublin, says: “I don’t want to make clothes that are made from someone else’s despair.” The time is right, she says, with increasing awareness of worldwide poverty and that communities in the developing world prefer trade to aid: “Shopping is becoming politics.” Hewson’s husband, rocker and activist Bono, said at the New York launch: “This is the equivalent of mothers looking at the back of a can to see exactly what she is going to feed the kids.”

Katharine Hamnett, at her busy Islington base, talks rapid-fire and scathingly about exploitation in the fashion industry: “Most people in the fashion industry do not give a f***” – and about how she will never again work in conventional fashion. “It’s been incredibly hard and uphill but it’s better than aid. It’s on the ground.”

Out of disgust with mainstream fashion, she had severed as many contracts with conventional suppliers as possible in 2004. And finally, after years of unexpectedly hard slog, she will show her ethical men’s collection, for the first time, in late July at the Berlin Premium. Much of the foundation for ethical clothing was built, painstakingly over decades, by smaller companies. People Tree, Bishopston Trading Co, Gossypium and Chandni Chowk, among others, pride themselves on sustainable, transparent relationships with artisans and collectives in the developing world.

“In terms of raising the profile of ethical issues in fashion, these collections will be invaluable,” said Safia Minney, founder of People Tree, based in Tokyo and London and which has branched out into Selfridges and Italy and counts actress Sienna Miller as a customer.

Fiona Thomson of Traidcraft, one of Britain’s oldest fair trading companies, agrees: “This will increase stability and output for cotton growers in India. We cannot buy everything they supply.”

Rosalind Price of Chandni Chowk, which designs and produces garments and soft furnishings of hand-made, natural Indian textiles, also welcomes their arrival: “There are certain people who only buy fashion labels, and they’ll probably never come to us anyway. It’s exposure to a different market.” Or as Hewson says, “The more the merrier. We can be in this business and not damage others. The fashions are quite different, and the customer is very discerning.” Indeed the newcomers say there’s a gap in the market for ethical clothes that are less – to use the memorable words of the outspoken Hamnett – worthy, hirsute and eco.

Hewson and Hamnett can boost standards throughout the industry, because of their size, says Judith Condor-Vidal, economist and fair trade activist and who markets traditionally dyed Bangladeshi silk in the UK. “We welcome them!” More specifically, EDUN and Katharine Hamnett could help establish the Ethical Trading Initiative more widely in the fashion industry, says Helen Osgerby, spokesperson for People Tree. The initiative is a code of conduct for working conditions; members range from Monsoon, Levi Strauss and Marks and Spencer to Oxfam, CAFOD and the Fairtrade Foundation.

Read Part II of the article at:

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