Looking good, being good
Is anything I’m wearing ethical? I’ve got on some Junya Watanabe jeans, which say they were made in Japan. The label has fallen off my cotton zip-up top, but my Hanes cotton T-shirt says it was made in Haiti, while my Hanes pants are “100% USA” (presumably meaning it is American cotton) but were “assembled in the Dominican Republic”. I know nothing more about their origin, or the conditions in which the raw materials were farmed or the clothing manufactured. I thought as little about the ethics of these garments when I bought them as when I put them on this morning. We may think about the morality of consumerism once we are dressed – buying only Fair Trade coffee or organic vegetables, abiding by boycotts of companies such buy canada goose jacket cheap as Nestlé or Procter & Gamble – but most of us do so while wearing clothes about which we have no ethical knowledge. In short, we are hypocrites: objecting on some issues, but colluding on others.
Today is World Fair Trade Day. But when you go out shopping on the high street this afternoon for a summer top or a new pair of trainers, you will not find a single brand with the Fair Trade stamp. Clothes are a murky business. In food, it’s relatively straightforward to ensure an ethical supply chain from producer to consumer, where the developing world farmers and workers receive a fair price for their goods. But clothing is all over the place – there’s the shockingly low price paid to the cotton farmers for their crops, and the ecological impact of the pesticides used in the growth of those crops. There are the sweatshop conditions canada goose coat 1000 calorie bariatric diet in the factories where garments are manufactured, the lack of rights for the poorly paid workers, the immense profits made by the brand names that eventually sell the products and bury their manufacturing procedures under the veneer of lifestyle marketing. Trying to reform the system is like pushing at an air bubble trapped under Cellophane – you think you’ve solved it, but the problem just shows itself elsewhere.
Of course, there are some companies that already deal in Fair Trade clothing, such as the mail-order label People Tree, which operates on a small scale with its suppliers to maintain traditional skills cheap, give fair wages, then satisfy a particular market. But the end result tends to have a very “eco-friendly” look – more worthy than wearable.
Let’s be realistic. However much we canada goose coat $5000 no credit check signature loans have been shocked by modern manufacturing procedures (and enough of us read about them in Naomi Klein’s No Logo), a generation hasn’t stopped shopping at, or working for, Nike and Gap. When we buy canada goose jacket cheap head for the high street, a bargain is our main aim, regardless of whether our saving is at the expense of those paid a pittance to make the garment. To pretend that it is an achievable dream to do away with buy canada goose parka uk the fashion industry is not the answer.
Indeed, fashion itself is not to blame. When the cotton is 100% organic and the wages and conditions have been fair across the manufacturing process, I still want fantastic clothes created by the sharpest minds. The only way forward is for the fair trade charities to do the donkey-work for the industry, demonstrating that it is possible to source “ethical materials” for a mass market and manufacture under decent conditions, without costs escalating prohibitively.
The Fairtrade Foundation, the charitable organisation that awards the Fair Trade mark, is now setting out to achieve just that. “It’s a very complex supply chain,” says the foundation’s executive director, Harriet Lamb, “and it would be impossible to implement fair trade at every stage best mens canada goose jacket immediately. We will start where the ‘high valued added’ takes place, the bits where the most value is added in terms of work. That’s where the farmer grows the cotton, and when workers manufacture the garment.” These are the two big knots in the chain: to reach the minimum standard, farmers authentic canada goose outlet and manufacturers need to be given a fair return, while pesticide use on farms and working conditions within factories need to be brought into line.
The Fairtrade Foundation does not produce goods, but provides and promotes the Fair Trade licence, already well known in the banana, coffee and tea market. By sorting out the supply chain, it hopes to be able to license some cotton products to go on sale by 2005, but it is going for a cautious start. “We’re not looking to license some highly complicated full outfit of clothing,” Lamb says. “We’ll start with simple products such as bed linen and underclothes, then move into the more fashionable end of the industry. We want to be mainstream. We want to appeal to people.”
This fashion basics idea is a sensible one. I buy most of my clothes from the French label APC, which through its website sells beautifully cut and relatively inexpensive essentials (jeans, military jackets, simple sweaters). If a Fair Trade equivalent could be created, something that could develop the cachet of, say, a Duffer of St George or Carhartt, then the ethical desires could be married with our demand for style. This is all hypothetical, since no such range currently exists, but it would probably work best in the mid-price range – for people who are prepared to pay about £100 for a top or a pair of trousers: profit margins allow more leeway for the extra cost of the Fair Trade process and, in any case, these customers might willingly pay a little over the odds for the feel-good factor. After all, Fair Trade food is slightly more costly than most produce. However, it’s a fantasy to think the high street will be able to sell sophisticated fashion pieces for £10, as it does at the moment, while conforming to Fair Trade standards.
Getting the right sort of covetable clothing would require a first-rate design team, but there is no reason why something that is morally worthy should also be second best. Indeed, in food the opposite is true: the Fair Trade stamp is a mark of quality as well as of sound ethics – Green & Black’s Maya Gold chocolate, for example, is more famous for its taste than for its Fair Trade mark. Likewise in fashion – if it were proven to big brands that it is both economically viable and populist to sell Fair Trade clothing, they would jump to get involved. “There’s clearly money in the industry,” Lamb says, “and average price of canada goose jacket you can easily contrast that with how much is getting back to the farmer. What we hope with Fair Trade is that we make a positive alternative, but also show what the whole of the industry could move towards, so that all manufacturers could clean up their act.”
Indeed, Fair Trade clothing could become a massive success, in the way that The Body Shop was a cult store when it first emerged and went on to influence the whole of the beauty industry. The demographics are already in place: campaigners such as Chris Martin from Coldplay, who always has “MakeTradeFair.com” or some variation Biro-ed on his hand, have made it one of the most high-profile campaigns among the young. Teenagers may not be the biggest market for Fair Trade coffee and chocolate, but competitive modern clothing that not only acknowledges trends but maybe defines a look of its own could have enormous appeal.
This could all be highly idealistic – the battle of diplomacy needed to create a Fair Trade supply chain would be fraught. I talk to Katharine Hamnett, the polemical designer who included information about Fair Trade in the press pack at her most recent fashion show. She is desperate to make her labels conform to ethical standards and plans to launch an organic cotton mail-order service next year, but admits to her failures so far. “I’m trying my best to do it and get it made in a sustainable way, but I’ve got to survive,” she says.
Hamnett can reel off a dizzying list of the pitfalls she encounters. “I try to get my manufacturers to go along with organic clothing and they hate it so much, you have no idea. At one point, we best place buy canada goose jacket toronto were having an argument about the colouring of denim; I was telling them that they couldn’t use chlorine and they said, ‘If you persist, you can take your collection and get the hell out of here.’ ” She makes her clothing as fair as possible by getting it made in Italy, where she feels she is supporting traditional skills. There are cotton farmers in Uganda who want to grow organically, she says, but they don’t have the means to sell on their produce.
If you speak to Simon Ferrigno of the Pesticide Action Network, he will tell you how cotton production accounts for 25% of all insecticides in use, how pesticides that are banned in the west are sold freely to cotton farmers, how illiteracy among the farmers prevents them from taking proper safety precautions. For any sort of Fair Trade mark to be granted, a minimum 80% drop in pesticide use is needed and banned products must not be used at all. The best-case scenario would be 100% organic production – a hefty undertaking.
It sometimes seems, too, that certain parts of the industry would like to keep things as they are. Fashion likes to be cruel – it’s why words such as “vile” and “bitch” are fashion slang. At the last round of shows, houses such as Givenchy, Missoni and Yves Saint Laurent showed full fur pelts, dead creatures with heads or feet still attached – a wilful twist of defiance, as if they were saying, “We’re cruel, aren’t we fabulous?” Indeed, the fur debate has stalled because of the ambiguity surrounding our day-to-day clothing. You complain about someone’s fur coat, they counter that what they’re wearing is completely natural. They then add, do you know how much environmental harm is average price for a canada goose jacket being done by the clothes you’re wearing? Do you know the conditions in which they were made? It’s a classic you’re-as-bad-as-us retort. They accept their cruelty – then throw back in your face your apparent hypocrisy. It’s a trickster’s argument, but they have a point.
I wish fashion didn’t feel so squalid and indefensible at times, but we collude because we want the best in design. If you want to try to dress ethically today, have a look at the People Tree website and trawl the internet for other such companies. Otherwise, your only safe option is to buy second-hand (or, as we say these days, “vintage”) from charity shops. Hopefully, in a few years’ time, our fashion pages will feature a Fair Trade label that merits the appearance on its designs alone. But, as far as we’re aware, at the moment there’s nothing. Good luck to anyone attempting to make fashion Fair Trade. Trust us: you’ll find it very, very nasty along the way.
· For further information, visit www.fairtrade.org.uk; ptree.co.uk; pan-uk.org.; www.ethicalconsumer.org