Or it will be, if the Fair Trade USA organization has anything to say about it. With Patagonia and Oliberte (an Ethiopian shoe brand) recently signed on as new partners, the nonprofit is now seeing several years worth of work coming to fruition.
Fair Trade USA tries to ensure competitive wages coupled with a gentle environmental impact from companies operating in developing countries. So far, their efforts are most recognizable to consumers on food brand labels, applied to things like coffee and chocolate. Ideally, however, Fair Trade will extend its stamp of approval across a range of goods, with clothing companies at the top of its to-do list.
The standards it sets, however, are stringent. Fair Trade workers receive premiums (paid by the brand seeking Fair Trade’s endorsement), which are collectively controlled by the workers and doled out as they see fit. Fair Trade enacts worker and management training, oversees necessary factory improvements (which they mandate), and audits factories once per year. It’s the kind of oversight that would have made a huge difference in the recent Bangladesh garment factory tragedy, and it’s also a lot of work.
The other trouble, of course, is that brands aren’t necessarily interested in going through the effort to become Fair Trade certified, unless they feel the stamp of approval will ring a bell with their consumer audience. For a company like Patagonia, heavily focused on style for the outdoors, a label marking them environmentally friendly makes sense. For more high-end fashion companies, it’s still not seen as relevant or necessary.
But as “eco-friendly” and “sustainable” keep pushing into style’s mainstream, and away from their crunchy roots, and as consumers increasingly look to buy ethical clothing along with organic groceries, Fair Trade’s efforts stand a strong chance at growing within the fashion industry. It’s evident even in the group’s recent, new-found visibility on a few clothing labels. It might just take an ongoing paradigm shift for it to happen broadly.