Slow, Steady Progress

In response to the deplorable working conditions highlighted above, Fairtrade Foundation launched Fairtrade Cotton to increase visibility for the working conditions of farmers at the heart of the fashion supply chain. The organization quickly partnered with manufacturer Continental Clothing Co. to deliver a line of 100% fair trade organic cotton t-shirts and hooded sweatshirts. The clothing line sources cotton from a Pratima Agro Fairtrade co-op in Orissa, India, and a portion of the proceeds from sales is directly invested in community projects. Fairtrade is also leveraging its humanitarian influence to impact the textile industry: the organization recently launched its “Fairtrade Textile Standard and Programme” to guide interested companies in implementing ethical supply chain standards.

Complementing the efforts of humanitarian organizations such as Fairtrade, denim companies across the price spectrum are inventing new ways to market sustainable and ethically-sourced goods. One notable example is Kuyichi, the company responsible for marketing the first pair of organic denim back in 2001. Taking their efforts a step further, the company works directly with their cotton farmers and even encourages them to become company shareholders. A far cry from the fashion industry status quo, indeed.

The denim industry still has a long way to go, and certain realities of the supply chain -- such as the heightened costs of fair trade materials and labor -- seem destined to limit progress for the near future. Yet the recent successes of humanitarian organizations and denim companies certainly point a way forward, representing a huge victory for cotton farmers and responsible shoppers alike.

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