Fair Trade, Fairly Traded, and Union Apparel- what to choose?

Ethix Merch has strong opinions about the various ethical apparel labels. For Fair Trade T-Shirts and Clothing, we believe “fair-washing” is a threat to the gains made by the anti-sweatshop movement in recent years.

That said, we hope to inform you about the pluses and minuses of the apparel below, as well as the organic and local items we offer. Keep in mind all our embellishments are union, with eco options.

Here is our guide to help you navigate the options:

 

Union Made ApparelFairly Traded ApparelFair Trade Apparel
BrandUnionmade, Unionline, Unionwear, Lifewear, WindjammerAlta Gracia (formerly of Knight’s Apparel)Hae Now
MediaSEIU blog: Shopping you can feel good aboutNYT: Factory Defies Sweatshop LabelWRC Reports Here
BrandUnionmade, Unionline, Unionwear, Lifewear, WindjammerAlta Gracia (formerly of Knight’s Apparel)Hae Now
AffiliationUnions present in factories: UFCW, Unite Here!, etc.Endorsed by the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) and United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS)Certified by Transfair (Fair Trade USA)
StandardsUnion bargaining, U.S. Labor LawsLiving Wage paid by Knight’sOrganic / Fair Trade Cotton
ResourcesInternational Labor Rights ForumWorker Rights ConsortiumFair Trade Resource Network
FabricCotton grown with pesticides, no labor standard claimsCotton grown with pesticides, no labor standard claimsOrganic, Fair Trade Certified cotton
DistanceManufactured LocallyManufactured near the U.S, in the D.R.Manufactured in India
Who is supported?Mostly Women, Immigrants and other marginalized communities in the U.S.The marginalized community of Villa Alta Gracia, Dominican RepublicThe marginalized community near Raj Textile Corporation, India

 

Interested in reading more? Check out further info about fair trade T-shirts and clothes from Alta Gracia and Hae Now apparel.

the badStyles and availability can be limited, since Union Made clothing is a small marketAlta Gracia brand is available exclusively through Ethix Merch (limited styles/colors in inventory) and college bookstoresTransfair (Fair Trade USA), the certifier for U.S. Fair Trade apparel, has come under intense criticism from many NGOs, including the WRC and the ILRF, for lax standards regarding unions and living wages
the uglyUnion Made apparel struggles with incorporating environmental standards, so few organic options are available (none for T-shirts)It appears there are no plans for ethical fabrics- the cotton blends are not organic or union made, though they are U.S. grownA WRC investigation in 2011 determined there are serious health and safety hazards and sub-poverty wages at the factory manufacturing Hae Now clothing- read the company’s response here
the goodWith an over-100-year standard, unions let us know that locally made products aren’t exploiting our neighbors. For cut-and-sew, a union label means issues are resolved through grassroots organizingThis Knight’s Apparel project is a complement to the WRC and USAS strategy of getting universities to endorse the Designated Supplier’s Proposal (DSP)At the moment “the good” for the Fair Trade USA Apparel Pilot is difficult to determine. Arguably, by lowering standards the pilot is doing more harm than good to the long fight for sweatshop-free apparel