Celebrating Fair Trade for the Month of May 2011
Buying and supporting fair trade apparel is a core value for Jute and Jackfruit, and we aim to carry the highest quality, ethical and sustainable fashion available. Emphasizing quality over quantity, we want you, our customers, to love what you buy so that it’s worn again and again, and not thrown away after one season or use.
May is fair trade month, and we look forward to commemorating it every year by reaching out to all our fellow fair trade companies in other industries so that we can embrace the fair trade movement. This is a time for companies, individuals, organizations, schools, and churches to celebrate fair trade and to spark a dialogue among peers.
Therefore, we’re taking this opportunity to spark a dialogue with our readers, to reflect on what fair trade means to Jute and Jackfruit, and to ask you to think about what it means to you.
Defining Fair Trade:
Quality Products, Improving Lives, Protecting the Planet
TransFair, which is known in the USA as Fair Trade USA, is the official certifying body for Fair Trade products in the United States. According to Fair Trade USA, Fair Trade goods are just that: quality products that improve lives and protect the planet. They are Fair in all aspects (define what this means: Fair with respect to wages, work conditions, etc.). Products that bear the Transfair logo come from farmers and workers who are justly compensated. Fair Trade USA helps farmers in developing countries build sustainable businesses that positively influence their communities. The term Fair Trade signifies investments in non-U.S. communities that are working to get out of poverty. (Meanwhile, there are certainly many communities in the US that are also working hard to get out of poverty, but the terms we would use in that case would be a combination of fair wages, community empowerment, and/or micro-lending programs.)
Although Fair Trade USA is not-for-profit, they are quick to point out that they are not a charity. Instead, the organization teaches disadvantaged communities how to use the free market to support and improve their communities. With Fair Trade USA, the money you spend on day-to-day goods can and does improve the lives in an entire community.
Fair Trade in the United States began modestly in the 1940s when a few small North American and European organizations reached out to poverty stricken communities to help them sell their handicrafts to well-off markets. Later, according to Fair Trade USA, “a fictional Dutch character, Max Havelaar, was developed as an advocate for exploited coffee pickers”.
Today, Fair Trade is a global movement. Fair Trade USA and the Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO), which is based in Europe, have extended their reach beyond crafts and coffee. Consumers can invest in developing countries by relieving exploitation and promoting environmental sustainability through their purchases of certified Fair Trade-labeled tea, cocoa, fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, sugar, honey, wine, flowers, grains and rubber products.
Transfair began certifying U.S. products in the coffee industry, and that quickly spread to tea and cocoa. As on the movement has grown, the Transfair has begun certifying a whole host of food and beverage products.
Fair Trade Apparel
In the last 2 years, Transfair began a pilot program to certify apparel. So if you have not seen fair trade labels on clothing yet (including the black and white symbol above), this is why!
Jute and Jackfruit could not be more excited about this new initiative of certifying apparel, which is a much needed advancement in the clothing industry. One of our designers, Indigenous Designs, has been applying fair trade principles to their work for the last 15 years and is one of the first companies in the USA to sell fair trade-certified apparel.
Indigenous Designs is a member of Green America, Organic Trade Association, B Corporation, and Green Steps. Jute and Jackfruit is proud to carry their casual, chic lines, which are great for active lifestyles, travel, and layering for work and weekend wear. I personally LOVE their sweaters, which are hand loomed or knit from high-quality alpaca, merino wool, and organic cotton.
Since most apparel companies are not fair trade certified (and those that manufacture in developed countries are not eligible for the designation), it is our job as an ethical fashion boutique to do our diligence on how products are made and make sure that workers are treated well, paid fairly, and have some level of job security.
One of the reasons why we carry designers who design, cut, and sew in the USA, is because a majority of the organic and ethical fashion movement is happening right here in the USA. It is difficult to find companies that are producing garments overseas in a fair trade manner and that are also using organic and sustainable fabrics.
We are proud to carry made in USA organic clothing, knowing that most of these garments are also small-batch, limited-edition, sewn by professional tailors in the USA, which also has the benefit of giving people here in the USA work opportunities in the apparel industry.
Indigenous Designs is one of the FEW companies that we have identified that use organic and sustainable materials and employ fair trade practices.
Fair Trade Fashion Accessories
Presently, many fashion accessories are not yet eligible for Fair Trade certification by Transfair. In the interim, the Fair Trade Federation (FTF) was formed to serve as a third-party auditing organization for companies or non-profits that want to be labeled fair trade. Several of Jute and Jackfruit’s designers are FTF members: Sevya, Escama Studio, Be Sweet are a few.
In addition to their FTF memberships, these companies also employ environmentally sustainable practices such as using organic and/or recycled materials. For example, Escama Studio, which makes recycled soda pull-tab handbags, gives a share of its profits back to the cooperative of women who crochet the handbags. (This profit sharing is in addition to the fair wages paid to the workers.) Be Sweet scarves and handbags are made from all natural fibers by a cooperative of women in Cape Town, South Africa. Finally, our Sevya Scarves (which make wonderful Mother’s Day gifts) are hand-loomed and dyed by a women’s cooperative in India, and all the proceeds go back to the Sevya Foundation.
Shop for Fair Trade and Ethical Products
We hope this overview gives you a better sense of what fair trade is and is not. We know it can be confusing, which is why we want to initiate this dialogue. There are so many terms being thrown around in the marketplace today that it is no wonder that consumers get confused.
In summary, we’d like to leave you with three thoughts– (1) if you are buying a food or beverage product, check to see if the Fair Trade logo (black and white) is on there. If it is not, then the product is NOT fair trade certified; (2) if you are buying a handicraft or other accessory, check to see if the company is a member of Fair Trade Federation. If not, see if there is any other evidence of empowering communities and fair trade; and (3) if you are buying apparel, do your diligence on the company and see if it is ethically sourced. If the company says nothing about this, or says only “Imported”, it’s not likely that the product was made using fair trade principles.
Let us know your thoughts and questions on this topic. We want to hear from you!