Fair trade fashion – a genuine alternative?


Ethical shopping is becoming more popular among British consumers as awareness of environmental and labour issues spreads, but does opting for fair trade fashion mean sacrificing comfort or – even worse – style? That might be a common fear, but the reality is that the sector has made great strides to catch up with the mainstream in recent years.

Keen clothes shoppers tend to be tempted by bargains and there is an understandable concern that fair trade clothing ends up costing slightly more than similar items from a normal retailer.

However, the reality is that there is only a slight premium on ethically-sourced fashion, which ensures workers are treated fairly and the processes used are environmentally sound – this seems like a fair price to pay.

Another worry is that fair trade fashion can be worthy but slightly frumpy, lacking the finesse of the clothing produced by mainstream brands. This might have been the case some years ago, but the increasing marketability of the sector means it can attract talented designers and produce some cutting-edge trends.

Ethical consumers

The development of fair trade fashion has run concurrently with the growth of a similar market in coffee, chocolate and other items that were previously associated with poor working conditions and a lack of environmental awareness.

Scandals about sweatshops have been emerging since the 1990s, with anti-globalisation campaigners highlighting the terrible conditions in which people are forced to work in order to create cheap consumer goods such as clothing.

Household brands in the UK have became caught up in some of these issues, although the majority of them have distanced themselves from the worst excesses of the system – nevertheless, the reputational damage has undeniably influenced consumer behaviour.

Furthermore, concerns about the environment and animal cruelty have affected the way shoppers look at their clothes in recent years. As ever-more evidence is collated about the looming threat of global warming, people have started to count their airmiles and realise the importance of buying items that have good green credentials.

Ethical style

Thanks to this shift in the consumer mindset, a growing number of designers are getting on the ethical train. Hugo Boss’s former art director Bruno Pieters is one big name who has become interested in the fair trade end of the spectrum.

He launched Honest By, described as the world’s first 100 per cent transparent company, in 2012.

“Never feel ashamed about asking the store where their clothes come from – what goes into the process, what dyes are used, what the workers get paid, whether their material is organic. It is their job to know. And it is their job to tell people in the company what customers have been asking for,” Mr Pieters urged consumers.

And he isn’t the only designer to dabble in the world of ethical clothing, which has become considerably more glamorous recently.

UK-based Ada Zanditon has won awards for her line of eco-fashion designs which have featured on catwalks in London and Berlin, while Parisian brand Veja has earned plaudits for working responsibly with small-scale producers in Brazil.

Stella McCartney, as well as being a well-known animal rights campaigner, has increasingly moved towards ensuring all of the clothes produced by her fashion line are ethically-sourced.

For responsible consumers, there’s never been more options – and there’s certainly no need to sacrifice style for morality.



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