Sustainable fashion and ethical beauty may seem like unlikely heroes in the war against Covid-19.
But the transformative power of Fairtrade highlights the hidden potential of cotton and cosmetic ingredients to drive trade equity, fairer wages, environmental protection and economic resilience across the world.
Before the world went into Covid-19 hibernation, just 60% of the fashion industry was taking action on sustainability. The other 40% was ‘business as usual’ – despite $400 billion of fast fashion finding its way to landfill each year.
As shops shut and people stay inside, we’ve never had a better opportunity to rethink our obsession with unsustainable fashion and to recalibrate runways around the world.
Here are five ways you can become a conscious consumer:
1. Choose clothes with a story
Ethical clothes tell powerful stories about positive change to lives around the world. The Pragathi Organic Cotton Cooperative in India, for instance, uses its Fairtrade Premium to improve the health of farming families by gifting smokeless cooking stoves to each household. More than 4.3 million people die from acute respiratory infection each year, but by purchasing Fairtrade cotton, consumers are supporting a practical health solution that also cuts air pollution and slows climate change.
2. Open your mind to organic
Not all chemicals are bad, but the over-reliance on synthetic pesticides and fertiliser is often symptomatic of the broader neglect of both the environment and worker health and safety. In the Telangana state of India, Fairtrade certified cotton farmers are leapfrogging unsustainable cotton agribusinesses by producing organic cotton fibre that doesn't drain excessive resources from our natural ecosystems.
3. Join the ethical evolution of cosmetics
Cosmetics are also undergoing an ethical evolution. Fairtrade Australia and New Zealand recently launched a new label, Fairtrade Sourced Ingredients (FSI), for composite products such as beauty lotions, body scrubs and cosmetics. FSI certification gives consumers the confidence that their cosmetics are ethical, while also increasing market access for producers of Fairtrade certified coconut oil, avocado oil and shea butter.
4. Source products that balance food and fibre
Cotton production can often compete with food crops for water, soil nutrients and arable land. But modern agricultural science is helping some flexible Fairtrade farmers to diversify their cotton incomes and strengthen food security within their communities by rotating legume crops such as chickpeas, mung beans and soy into their farming systems. In this way, sustainable cotton farming can be a gateway crop to increased production of healthy food.
5. Unlock women’s empowerment in developing countries
Of the 75 million people working in cotton value chains, 80% are young women aged between 18-24 years old. This statistic reveals the potential of sustainable fashion to have a direct, measurable and meaningful impact on the lives of millions of the women who create the fashion, not just those who wear it.
Take Kotnaka Lakshmi, a Fairtrade certified cotton farmer from India. A mother to two young children, Lakshmi has broken free from the patriarchal norms in rural India to become one of four women elected onto the Board of the Pragathi Farming Cooperative. Leadership roles in the production of cash crops such as cotton have been traditionally reserved for men, but Laskshmi’s story highlights how Fairtrade can support women's empowerment and provide female farmers and workers with the chance to guide their own communities to success.
The way forward
The Covid-19 crisis can be a catalyst for change. Supply chains have been disrupted. Shops are shut. Consumers are being careful with every cent. When retail does reopen, it will be a very different landscape. What that landscape looks like is now up to us. What do you choose?
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