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Response to Vogue Ethical Fashion Feature – April 2012 Issue

Vogue is undoubtedly to be congratulated on devoting several pages to ethical fashion in their April issue as very few fashion magazines are prepared to devote six entire pages to ethical issues.  Likewise, Alexa Chung’s commitment to ethical fashion is not to be doubted.

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However, it is extremely unfortunate that there were several errors within the feature which I feel it is important to highlight as they will be misleading to anyone without a prior knowledge of ethical fashion.

The first glaring error I came upon was the amount of clothing sent to landfill a year.  2 tons?  As one person replied to my tweet about this error, I bet that’s just what their staff throw out!  According to a BBC featurein 2009 the actual figure was closer to 2 million tons of clothing being discarded every year  Only around 16% of used clothing is reused or recycled.

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Just think, if everyone recycled their clothing and took good quality garments to charity shops, more of you may find bargains like the £10 pair of silk Valentino trousers I picked  when I ran into the Cancer Research shop in Ashbourne looking for a lightweight pair of trousers for the Ecuadorian Amazon later this week!

Seriously though, we have to reduce cotton production as, in addition to the well-publicised health effects of the pesticides used, wider issues include the diminishing Aral Sea which is being drained for cotton irrigation and the overgrazing of grasslands for cashmere goats in China.  See the Traid website for further information.

The second error was in the definition of Fair Trade, a concept given very little space in the feature.   This is possibly due to the difficulty of carrying out Fair Trade within the fashion industry.  Pachacuti was the only Fair Trade company showing at  the Estethica exhibition in London Fashion Week this year.

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Although I am sure that the confusion of Fairtrade and Fair Trade is common, I would have expected a well-researched Vogue article to have some basic idea of the concept of Fair Trade two words, as opposed to Fairtrade one word.

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Fairtrade is only applicable to commodities, which in the fashion industry means cotton.  The Fairtrade label is a guarantee that the production of the raw material has met the standards established by FLO, the Fairtrade Labelling Organisation, guaranteeing a price which covers the cost of production and a premium to invest back into their business or community.  The Fairtrade mark only applies to the particular product on which the label is displayed.

The accepted definition of Fair Trade is as follows:
“Fair Trade is a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seek greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalised producers and workers – especially in the South. Fair Trade Organisations, backed by  consumers, are engaged actively  in supporting producers,  awareness  raising  and  in campaigning  for  changes  in  the  rules  and practice  of conventional international trade.”  

Many people believe that Fair Trade is just about a fair price, but Fair Trade goes much further than this as there are 9 principles other than the fair price. Fair Trade companies such as People Tree and Pachacuti follow the Charter of Fair Trade Principles.

1 Creating Opportunities for Economically Disadvantaged Producers
2 Transparency and Accountability
3  Fair Trading Practices & the protection and promotion of Cultural Identity
4 Fair Price
5  Ensuring no Child Labor and Forced Labor
6 Commitment to Non Discrimination, Gender Equity and Freedom of Association
7 Ensuring Good Working Conditions
8 Providing Capacity Building
9 Promoting Fair Trade
10 Respect for the Environment

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Pachacuti was the first company in the world to be Fair Trade Certified by the World Fair Trade Organisation, a guarantee of the highest social and environmental standards throughout the supply chain.

I think that part of my frustration stems from the fact that Fair Trade is not easy and we all work so hard to, for instance, provide training to producers or improve environmental standards, and yet Fair Trade is still only seen as being about a fair price.

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In order to obtain our Fair Trade certification, I spent at least 20 hours a week for 6 months working towards the certification, carrying out assessments of each producer group (analysing supply chains, eco-mapping premises, interviewing workers, mapping raw materials to ensure local supply chains) and creating an annual action plan for each group.  I am currently in Ecuador carrying out the next round of assessments for our upcoming audit.

In the case of the Vogue article, it only saw the fair price in terms of the cotton farmer and did not recognise that Fair Trade (two words) should give rise to a much broader definition of Fair Trade which applies to the entire fashion supply chain, including every aspect of the construction of the garment or accessory, not just the raw material.

At Pachacuti, our Fair Trade certification means we don’t just look down the supply chain but we also look at how the Fair Trade principles affect our work in the UK, which has led us to convert all of our electric and gas in our studio and shop to Ecotricity, for example, and we calculate the CO2 for all of our travel and freight each year.

Alexa Chung and Vogue are to be commended for the inclusion of the ethical special in the April issue and I hope that it will help to make readers think more about the production and disposal of their garments. It is just such a shame that the research wasn’t carried out a little more thoroughly!  Still, there is always next year’s ethical special…