The appetite for ethical and fair trade fashion continues to rise - requiring informed fashion buyers to demonstrate an awareness of ethical sourcing and its implications for consumers, producers and the overall supply chain.
The UK's ethical fashion industry was worth c. £175m in early 2009, reported market researchers Mintel. Ethical fashion is growing at 71% a year, faster than most other ethical sectors according to research quoted by the British Fashion Council in May 2010.
As fashion consumers become more informed in their choices, ethical and fair trade products are increasingly available in mainstream retailers from supermarket chains to high-end boutiques. Fashion buyers are integrating more ethical criteria into their sourcing, as the fashion industry in turn incentivises organisations to work in a more sustainable way.
Ethical fashion vs. fair trade fashion
Both ethical and fair trade have their roots in ensuring acceptable labour rights throughout the supply chain. Trading standards include enforcing that no child labour is to be used and a living wage is paid to workers.
Fair trade fashion takes it a step further by actively contributing at grassroots level, by maintaining fair prices for producers and empowering community groups to overcome poverty as they are valued for their traditional skills.
The role of the fashion buyer
When retailers, wholesalers and import organisations have forged partnerships with factories and production units who commit to uphold the basic criteria associated with ethical trade, fashion buyers can improve upon and maintain these sustainable relationships by:
Continuing to educate suppliers and partners on acceptable guidelines and encourage improvement
Being aware that some challenging situations may arise as a result of cultural misunderstanding rather than deliberate action
Learning more about communications and customs in the countries in which they operate
Being upfront about volume and lead time to allow suppliers to stick to realistic timescales - avoiding forced overtime
Including traditional skills found in communities in garment manufacture as unique selling points
- For smaller businesses, partnering with smaller producers to overcome minimum order requirements for both parties
To find out about the retailers, wholesalers and import organisations committed to trading ethically, visit the Ethical Trading Initiative to learn more.
For fashion industry jobs, get in touch with the Michael Page Fashion team now.