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What Is The Difference Between Fair Trade & Organic Clothing?
Many of us try to shop as ethically as we can these days, but with so many different terms relating to ethical consumerism floating around, it can be confusing to know where to start. You have probably noticed the terms "fair trade" and "organic" used to describe clothing and accessories in recent years, but what exactly do they mean and what is the difference? We've put together an introduction to what these terms mean in relation to clothing.
What does Fair Trade mean?
The Fair Trade movement aims to ensure the world's poorest workers and farmers are fairly compensated for their work and produce. All too often, workers - often in developing countries - are exploited and forced to work for inadequate pay in potentially dangerous conditions. If you see an item labeled as Fair Trade, be sure to check it's accredited by a recognized organization or body that has strict checks in place. There are many national and international bodies that regulate Fair Trade practices, and a quick check online will confirm that an organization is legitimate if you're unsure. Many retailers also have their own in-house Fair Trade plans and should be able to provide information about the standards they have in place to protect workers and farmers.
Choosing Fair Trade items means you can be confident that the workers and farmers involved in the production of your item were fairly paid and treated. If your favorite retailer or clothes label doesn't mention Fair Trade on its website or clothing labels, it's always worth reaching out to them to ask about their policy regarding fair treatment and pay and see if they have any plans in the pipeline. After all, consumer pressure can make a huge difference over time!
It's worth noting that many Fair Trade organizations will also favor organic practices and will educate and aid the farmers they work with to move toward more environmentally friendly practices. This brings us neatly onto organic clothing.
What does organic mean?
You've surely noticed various items, often those made from cotton, labeled as organic, but what does this mean in terms of clothing? You're probably aware of what organic labeling means when it comes to food - that no harmful pesticides or other chemicals were used in its production. It is largely the same when it comes to clothing. If an item is labelled as organic, you can expect that it was produced in a way that aims to minimize its impact on the environment. The chemicals used in the production of clothing can often harm the delicate balance of the ecosystem, whether they're sprayed directly onto the plants used to produce the fabric and subsequently seep into the soil, or they are discharged into rivers or oceans during the manufacturing process. Hue Division t-shirts, such as this Mercer St Grey Organic Cotton T-Shirt, are made from 100% organic cotton and environmentally-friendly dyes.
It's not just cotton that can be labeled as organic, although this is the most common fabric used in organic clothing. You might also come across other natural materials that have been produced organically, like flax, wool and hemp. Any material accredited as organic will have been grown organically using methods that don't harm the environment. Organic practices can protect soil, naturally enriching it over time, and help minimize the contribution of the fashion industry to climate change. Some items of clothing, such as this Aqua Women's Organic Cotton Hoodie is made from a blend of organic and recycled cotton.
Can an item be both organic and Fair Trade?
Yes, of course! Many ethical companies will only use Fair Trade practices and will aim to be as close to 100% organic as possible. Just remember to check for certification if an item is labelled as Fair Trade and/or organic. While larger retailers are probably using the terms legitimately, others might attempt to jump on the eco-friendly bandwagon and label their garments without having received the proper accreditation from a reputable body.
What can I do?
You can start by being more conscious about what you're buying. It might not be possible to only buy Fair Trade and organic clothing all the time, but every item you buy that is labeled as such is a step in the right direction and one less item that has been produced in potentially dangerous and unethical conditions. You can also contact your favorite stores and labels to ask what they are doing to provide more ethical choices to consumers. Social media is a great way to do this as you'll often get a prompt reply. You can also try emailing or calling on the phone if you prefer.