Ethical Fashion // What The Labels Mean

Entering the world of ethical and fair-trade fashion can be quite the jungle. There are many different labels and just because the company claim that it is ethically made does it actually mean that the cotton was also grown fairly or do they 'just' mean that the clothing itself, the sewing process, was ethical? What do the labels actually mean when it comes to the process of making the clothing item all the way back to growing the material, to making the fabric and lastly putting the item together?

What is ethical fashion?
First off; what is the definition of ethical when it comes to clothing and the fashion world?
  • The workers earn a fair living wage: the workers need to be given a fair living wage, enough for them to be able to provide for themselves and their families, which is rarely the case in third world countries.
  • The workers work in a safe environment
  • The workers work decent hours
  • No forced labor
  • No child labor
  • No harassment, discrimination and other unsafe working conditions

Just because something says 'ethically made' or something similar does not mean that the whole product is. When an item claims to be ethically made it does not necessarily mean that the whole process was ethical. It typically (not always) mean that the item was sewn ethically - in a safe environment for the workers earning a fair living wage - but the fabric and the materials can still be unethically sourced.

Transparency is key
A company's transparency, meaning disclosing the information on their clothing's process and their workers situation, leads to accountability; we are able to hold them accountable for their actions and their ethics which will lead to change. And this does not mean a small paragraph claiming that their products are ethically made and sourced without any actual facts. This is not enough. We need actual information on where, how, what, when and who:
  • Who makes their clothing?
  • Where do they work and under what conditions?
  • How are the workers treated?
  • When do they work and for how long?

In order for us to change the way the industry works right now companies must be transparent with their suppliers and the process of how their clothing is made. Transparency is a huge key in leading to change.

It can be a huge red flag if they will not answer your questions about the process of their clothing, if they don't know, if they say it is not information they are willing to tell ("we are not able to disclose that kind of information") or that the information is hard to find and when you do there is nothing useful written really. The company can also be 'for a good cause' making you believe they are okay, when in fact their clothing is still made in sweatshops.

Often the companies that does not disclose where their garments are made, how much they earn and for how long they work mean that they don't want you to know. Without actual facts they can also use sneaky tactics to greenwashing you into thinking they are ethical when they are not or claim to be sustainable but no actual information on their site:

Why would you want to hide the fact that your workers are treated right and the garments are ethically made?

What the different labels and certificates mean:

GOTS: stands for global organic textile standards and means that the textile must contain 95% or more organic fibers to become GOTS certified while the label 'made with organic' must contain at least 70% certified organic fibers and that all chemical inputs must meet certain environmental and toxicological criteria. This certification also insured no forced or child labor, safe and hygienic working condition, living wages and no excessive working hours.

Fairtrade (original): means that the products was fairly produced and fairly traded. Fairtrade products are also kept separate from non-certified products from farm to shelf. When you buy items with the Fairtrade label you support farmers and workers improving their lives and communities.

There are different Fairtrade labels:

Fairtrade cotton: means that the item was made with fairly produced and fairly traded raw cotton with a traceable process through all stages. The process is separated from non-certified Fairtrade cotton and a blended item can only carry this label if 100% of the cotton in the blend is Fairtrade certified.

Fairtrade textile production: which ensures an ethical production of a textile or a clothing item. An item can be labelled with both the Fairtrade cotton and Fairtrade textile production certification.

SA8000: is a label that protects the workers based on international human rights norms. The label measures the performance of the companies in eight key areas: child labor, forced labor, health and safety, free association and collective bargaining, disciplinary practices, discrimination, working hours and compensation.

Fair Wear Foundation: if you see this label the company producing items of clothing is committed to verifying and improving their supply chain conditions and environment. No forced or child labor, no discrimination, fair payment (living wage), reasonable hours of work, and safe working conditions + the workers also have a legal contract which is a very uncommon thing in the garment industry.

World Fair Trade Organization: ensures fair trade practices, fair payment, safe working conditions, no child or forced labor, gender equality, no discrimination and freedom of association. Not only are the supply chains checked for the standards but the organization also supports the battle against poverty and inequality.

WRAP: also known as worldwide responsible accredited production (wow that's a mouthful) with 12 principles including no child or forced labor, safe and healthy working conditions, no harassment or abuse, fair hours, no discrimination, freedom of association and more. Basically ensuring safe, humane and lawful and ethical manufacturing practices.

OEKO-TEX: is a textile label ensuring an environmentally friendly process testing the textile materials from harmful and toxic substances at all levels of the textile chain. The label can also, if it is the second certification STeP, ensure safe and responsible working conditions. There are two certifications to the label:

  • The first certification system is the STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® which verifies that the final textile product has been tested for more than 300 harmful substances.
  • The second is STeP by OEKO-TEX®, a certification system for sustainable textile production, which analyzes and evaluates existing production conditions with regard to the use of environmentally friendly technologies and products as well as safe and socially responsible workplaces.

Read more about the label here. 

These are some of the labels you can encounter when you go on the hunt for ethical clothing. Thank you for reading! I hope this post helps you out a little bit in the huge jungle of the clothing world and help you to navigate the ethical part of it.