Fair Trade Textiles

For the Fair Trade Fortnight I’ve chosen to write about fair trade textiles as it still seems to be the Cinderella of the fair trade movement.  I did a quick (if not comprehensive!) survey of my friends, they all conscientiously buy fair trade sugar, bananas and tea, but none of them buy fair trade clothes.   Fair trade tea and coffee has become ubiquitous, not a bad thing of course, we can pick it up easily at any supermarket as well as the more traditional fair trade outlets.  Now that Cadbury has made the switch to Fair Trade I imagine most of the chocolate consumed in this country is fair trade also.  Fair trade really has come a long way and it has a lot to celebrate this fortnight.  But where do you get hold of fair trade textiles and clothes?  This is not a classic Cinders tale of rags to riches, but of organic cotton to fair trade. 

Fair trade textiles and clothing are not  obvious on the high street .  You may occasionally come across organic cotton products, priced to put people off,  but that’s about it.  Inorganic cotton production is a dirty, resource-hungry business and does very little for the poorest people in the world who farm it.  But there are textile designers and manufacturers out there doing stirling work to change this around.

Among the pioneers of ethical fair trade fashion are People Tree.  They opened in the UK in 2001, although were already busy elsewhere in the world.  In 2009 they were awarded The Observer Ethical Awards for Fashion and in the same year, founder and CEO, Safia Minney was awarded a much deserved MBE.  People Tree is an active member of many Fair Trade, social justice and environmental networks. Accreditation by these bodies, like WFTO, the Fairtrade Foundation and the Soil Association gives customers the guarantee that they are doing what we say they are doing when it comes to Fair Trade and the environment.  People Tree really is worth a visit.

Abi and Thomas Petit, founders of Gossypium,  pioneered ethical textiles in the UK as far back as the late nineties.  They have a deep commitment to the Agrocel organic farming project in Kutch – Western India.  The small scale family farms here benefit from their close ties with Gossypium in a partnership that reduces the risk of market shocks for both as they work outside the commodities market and directly with each other.  The hands on approach ensures transparency at all levels of production, nobody can be accused of not knowing how the organic cotton is produced or  be unaware of the conditions for those producing it.  You can see Abi here talking about the history of cotton production and exploitation and their unique approach to marketing fair trade textiles.


One of the things I like most about Gossypium is that while they do undoubtedly make beautiful clothes that are made to last, what really marks them out amongst other fair trade textile producers is their willingness to encourage people to make their own clothes.  We have lost many of our traditional skills that would make us more self-reliant and less dependent on mindless consummerism.   I  love their tea towel kits aimed at getting kids sewing as well as kit dresses for adults to make.  Oh, and if you lose any buttons they’ll happily and swiftly send you spares, unusually in the world of fashion they want their products to last.

Of course, I have made a resolution not to buy any new clothes this year with the exception of underwear.  If your underwear drawer is beginning to take on that grey over-washed look don’t forget to check out the lovely, organic and ethical underwear available here from People Tree.

Now I don’t know if making my own new clothes counts, what do you think?

Update:  See also Organic Baby Clothes for a lovely range of baby clothes from People Tree.


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10 comments to Fair Trade Textiles

  • The rag trade is generally as dirty as it gets, especially with the Pr*mark effect meaning that people expect to change their whole wardrobes every season for peanuts and throw away last seasons clothes without a thought. That whole way of thinking makes me shudder – if I see a top in a shop window no matter how cute it is, if it’s under a fiver I always wonder what the hell was the person who made that paid? Where did the fabric come from? Where will it end up?

    I once had a great conversation with a designer who upcycled old clothes into beautiful new ones – she said she rarely ever bought clothes new for herself and her philosophy was “buy beautiful”, whether a 10p jumble sale cardigan or a designer piece. That way you love all your clothes and as you don’t want to throw them away you look after them. Ultimately it saves you more money than shopping at places like Pr*mark.

    Making or mending clothes also seems to be a dying skill but there is nothing better than knitting your own beautiful wooly hat, making a cool denim skirt from some worn out old jeans or if you really have the skills, relining a beautiful old jacket with vintage fabric. We just don’t need all those new clothes.

  • babita

    i said what is the meaning of fair trade textiles i don’t want to know about coffee or sugar .ok and do reply by tommorow

  • goo

    Hi Babita. Fairtrade textiles, just like any other fairtrade products, have to meet internationally agreed fairtrade standards to bear the fairtrade mark. The fairtrade mark is a system for alleviating poverty among disadvantaged producers and for promoting sustainable development.
    To find out more about fairtrade certification and the standards visit Fairtrade Foundation Standards. I hope this helps.

  • I’ve just added this post in Diig, glad i found it.

  • goo

    Thanks Nicola, I’m glad you found it too!

  • yo jamei

    So helpful for my homework xxxx

  • goo

    Glad to be of assistance Yo Jamei!

  • The Price of Cotton
    Women, sun-burned, heads wrapped up in white cloth
    Men,sweat dripping down their black sun-burned backs
    Their lips parched, their fingers bleeding from
    The sticky weeds, bollweevils crawling all over them
    Spiders biting, bees stinging, flies swarming
    No rest til the sun goes down.
    Overseers, atop their big brown horses,
    Whips cracking the backs of anyone caught slacking.
    When will it end, the men and women scream loudly
    In their heads, their mouths silent, for dare they not speak.

    Hot,suffocating, sweat stenched window-less rooms
    Locked away in some american back-alley or some third-world country
    Women crammed side by side, sewing machines whirring
    Non-stop, day break to sunset, without rest.
    Fingers bleeding, tubercolosis lingering in the air,
    Bowl of rice and two american dollars for the day’s work.

    Manhatten, Park Avenue, Bloomingdales, Banana Republic
    All proudly carrying the label one hundred percent cotton
    All natural fibers, made from all natural blood and sweat
    Who cares as long as it looks good and drip dries?

  • goo

    Thanks for a really thought provoking contribution Ramona.

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