What is Fair Trade: FAQ Edition

When I tell people about ABBY ALLEY, I often use terms like fair trade and ethical fashion. But I’ve realized that a lot of people have questions about what those terms really mean. I am going to do my best to address four of the most frequently asked questions I am asked and hopefully clarify what is and isn’t fair trade. Of course this won’t be exhaustive, but hopefully it will be clarifying! :)

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What is Fair Trade?

Fair trade is an approach to business based on partnership, transparency, and respect with a desire to create greater equity in the international trading system.

Fair trade supports artisans and farmers in developing countries who are socially and economically marginalized. Typically, these producers do not have access to a viable marketplace or a sustainable means to sell their goods.

What percentage of my purchase goes back to the artisans?

Fair trade is not charity. There is no set percentage or amount that is given back to the producers. Instead, the artisans are paid in full, a fair wage, up-front. In this way, the artisans are seen as business partners rather than the recipients of charity. We believe whole-heartedly that the products we sell are valuable to the marketplace and valuable commodities for our customers. In the end, charities often fail or are impactful for the short-term as it is hard to fundraise year after year. However, the principles of fair trade provide economic empowerment to entrepreneurs, which has significant generative value for families and whole communities.

Can ‘Made in the USA’ products be considered fair trade?

Although there are certainly products that are more ethically made than others within the USA, fair trade only refers to those products that are made in the Global South. Fair trade is a tool for poverty alleviation in the Global South. Products made in the USA, Canada, and other countries with high levels of economic development—for example, products made by local artists in the USA — are not considered fair trade products under the FTF Code of Practice. (Read more here.)

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What is the difference between fair trade, ethically fashion, and sustainable fashion?

These terms are thrown around a lot these days and sometimes it’s not always clear what the difference is, or if there is any difference at all. Fair trade, as I defined above, follows nine principles, all outlined here in detail. They have to do with creating opportunity, artisans being paid fairly, artisans being treated with dignity, anti-discrimination policies enforced, cultural heritage being valued, environmental stewardship, collaboration and transparency, and building capacity.

Fair trade is ethical fashion, but not all ethical fashion is fair trade. Ethical fashion is a broader term that does include caring about who made the product, but also may include products that are made here in the USA or products that consider animal rights. Similarly, a lot of fair trade products are considered sustainable fashion because of how the products are made, but not all sustainable fashion is fair trade. Sustainable fashion refers mostly to products being made with eco-friendly materials or in a zero-waste factory.

I hope that helps bring greater clarity to what Fair Trade means!

Abby Alley