Fair trade. We see it on our coffee, our bananas, and now our clothing. But what exactly is fair trade and why is it so important?

Let’s first think about the primary thing behind our clothing label: people. An estimated 100 pairs of hands touch our clothes before we see them. Yet, last year a groundbreaking report exposed that 48% of clothing brands don’t know who their factories are and a whopping 75% don’t even know where their fabrics come from.

Oversights like these generally happen when a company is in search of cheap labor and materials – a forerunner for sweatshop labor, human trafficking, and toxic manufacturing processes.

In contrast, a company that practices fair trade is thoughtful, transparent and accountable for their actions.

Photo: EST WST Collective

Photo: EST WST Collective

Fair trade brands are recognized by their close, ongoing relationships with suppliers, producers and makers. A fair trade brand makes the point to know and visit their factories and artisan communities. Fair trade brands are known to use things like WhatsApp to communicate efficiently and bridge language barriers if necessary.

Fair trade is a powerful vehicle for change that fights poverty and economic crisis.

When we purchase fair trade fashion, we find out who made our clothes and help families and communities thrive on fine craftsmanship: something that we in turn benefit from through high-quality, long-lasting pieces.

Fear not, Fair Trade isn’t just a hemp sack.

Fair Trade fashion is becoming more and more stylish thanks to growing consumer demand. We send market signals every time we purchase an item of clothing. As consumers, fair trade gives us a way to connect with people from around the world and improve the lives of others. Want to shop fair trade fashion, but don’t know where to start?

Here are five brands that make being philanthropically fashionable easy:

Fair Trade

Photo: Ways of Change

Ways of Change empowers refugee artisans on the Thailand/Burma border through entrepreneurial training and a collection of hammered brass jewelry highlighting generational skills.

Photo: Animaná

Photo: Animaná

Animaná works with producers and artisans from Patagonia all across Andes to create beautiful sweaters, scarves and home goods in luxurious natural fibers.

Photo: Saiint

Photo: Saiint

Matter Prints works with artisan co-ops and fair factories all around India to develop apparel with heritage-based fabrics and techniques.

Fair Trade4

Photo: Garmentory

Osborn creates small-batch, handmade shoes in partnership with cobblers and artisan weaving cooperatives in Guatemala.

Fair Trade_2

Photo: EST WST Collective

EST WST Collective partners with weavers in rural Nepal and India to develop scarves, purses, totes, rucksacks and laptop bags with respect to the heritage of their makers.

Photo: Rock+Pillar

Photo: Rock+Pillar

Bonus Brand! Rock+Pillar works closely with and supports artisans in Peru who practice traditional cobbling, leather working and textile weaving.

Andrea Plell
Andrea Plell is a freelance writer, fashion consultant and artivist passionate about engaging a paradigm shift in the fashion industry. Bay Area-based, Andrea supports thoughtful designers who are making a difference in the world through Ecologique Fashion.