I'll have to borrow a page from Safia Minney on this one, who explained it concisely and thoughtfully in a People Tree blog post:
Fair Trade Fashion is a product – clothing or accessory that is made by a Fair Trade certified group that works to the World Fair Trade Organisations 10 Fair Trade principals – see them here. Primarily Fair Trade fashion is fashion created with a goal of empowering marginalised people while paying them a fair wage and ensuring fair working conditions.
Fair Trade Fashion is sometimes covered by a wider term ‘Ethical Fashion’. Fair Trade Fashion may also incorporate sustainable practice, including the use of organic cotton, achieving Soil Association organic certification, safe dyes and carbon neutral production methods.
Sustainable Fashion is a product that is often made to environmentally-friendly standards including eco fibres like certified organic cotton, upcycled and recycled fabrics, reclaimed and fabric off cuts. Some new fibres like bamboo, hemp and linen are also included, but depending on the methods of processing bamboo and hemp, these fabrics are not always considered environmentally-friendly. Some people will group Fair Trade Fashion under sustainable fashion as the production is considered ‘sustainable’ to communities of farmers and artisans in providing livelihoods and investing in eco-projects.
Ethical Fashion is a broader term that can encompass Fair Trade and sustainable fashion but is not always explicit. Ethical fashion has no distinct set of rules, practices or governing body. Ethical Fashion emerged out of the broad school of ethical, responsible consumption in the early 90’s, and is based on a ‘do no harm’ principle. It includes Fair Trade concerns, but also encompasses organic and recycling issues, as well as paying attention to animal husbandry practices and the overall activities of a company. Ethical fashion includes pioneering brands working on everything from upcycling (reclaiming fabrics from second-hand or end of roll) to Fair Trade hand-knitted hats and a range of 100% organic t-shirts. For example sustainable fabrics sourced abroad but cut sewn and trimmed in the UK would be considered ethical. Or for example clothing produced in larger factory units which have been issued with social compliance certificates such as Fairwear certification, FLO-CERT, GOTS certification, SA8000 and other solid audit controls in place could be considered ethical as labour standards are being upheld in these factories. Fair Trade Fashion is always/ by default ethical fashion, ethical fashion, is not by default Fair Trade or adhering to the Fair Trade principles.
There is too little investment in Fair Trade and ethical fashion for there yet to be definitive studies of their environmental and social impact, but these would be very valuable for consumers to help them shop. What is clear is that, if you’re buying new clothing, you will be making a positive difference in buying a product that checks the box in as many best practices as possible. Consumer values are different too – a vegetarian may decide that buying leather shoes is less bad than plastic that doesn’t degrade in 500 years, for example. Ethical consideration and choices are therefore not always straightforward. They are about the values that consumer holds most important to them.
We avoid using synthetic material wherever possible. Leather degrades in 25-40 years, whereas polyurethane (PU) and polyester -- fancy words for plastic -- up to 400 years. On top of that, these materials are petroleum-based, meaning their production uses fossil fuels. They are a known polluter of the oceanic food chain, which ultimately kills more animals than the small-time tanneries MadeFAIR partners use. We abhor the ill-treatment of animals during their lifespans and we don't stock items made from factories that mass produce leather and dump harmful chemicals into drinking water of local communities.
Having said that, it's important to us to provide durable shoes and accessories that will be a closet staple -- nay, essential -- for years to come. Therefore, we stock leather. We also have vegan "cork leather" bags which ar naturally waterproof and stain resistant, made from material literally shaved from the cork tree. It's biodegradable and completely ethical -- in every sense of the word.
Lots of places! First, Cambodia is our home away from home, so we've built relationships with several social enterprises around the country.
Also, we're a member of the Ethical Fashion Forum which connects us with like-minded labels who value human and environmental capital while appreciating a fabulous pair of shoes.
We're not a 501(c)3 organization, nor do we have shareholders and investors. We're an independently owned business that often works with charities and social enterprises by purchasing their products.
Due to the high volume of pitches we receive, we can't guarantee we'll respond to every company. However, we love discovering new businesses and seeing the latest design-driven ethical pieces, so we'd love to hear from you. Email hello[at]madefair[dot]co with your linesheet and we'll talk.