Why Fair Trade Clothing Is Essential
Pact Apparel offers a range of soft basics, from socks to tees in GOTS-certified organic cottons. The company has now also earned Fair Trade certification for many of its products, and is working to get certification for even more of its factories.
Few American brands own factories, but rather have contracts with facilities overseas to produce the styles they design. In much of the world, wages for garment workers have stagnated or even gone down, while the cost of living goes up around them. Fair Trade certification has helped Pact better support the makers of their clothes. “It’s an opportunity for us as a brand to pay the right price for the product,” said Jeff Denby, founder of Pact. Fair Trade also guarantees that factory employees have full-time work, rather than seasonal jobs.
Currently, all of the products being produced for Pact in India are certified by Fair Trade U.S.A., and the company is working with their sock factory in Turkey to also earn its certification.
Denby has a background in mass-production, and previously worked at a firm that designed “everything from forks to furniture” for large retailers. He was appalled by the factory conditions he encountered while working in Asia, and concluded there must be a better way. “We don’t have to kill people to make mass-produced products.”
Pact focuses on making well-fitting basics, while turning away from fast-fashion trends. “Underwear, socks, teeshirts, camisoles—these are the products people wear every single day and replenish in their wardrobes multiple times a year,” said Denby. “To me, that was a huge opportunity for impact.”
Pact deliberately doesn’t create many styles, and don’t change its styles from season-to-season, although it may offer different colors and patterns over time. Denby said that this means the factories don’t have to re-tool from year to year, which improves efficiency. After our conversation, it struck me that this is also a benefit to the customer: if you wear out your favorite Pact tee, you’ll be happy to know the same style will be available.
Like other successful eco-minded clothing makers, the company has established good long-term relationships with their factory owners, rather than seeking the lowest-cost producer each season. This helps them work more closely with manufacturers to reduce their environmental impacts and improve working conditions. “It changes the conversation that you’re able to have when the factory knows you’re going to be with them for the long-term and that you’re investing in them,” said Denby.
Denby said the apparel industry often seems like a “black box” to the end buyer. When most people imagine apparel manufacturing, they picture the step where clothing is cut from fabric and sewn into garments. “They don’t think about the fact that they’re wearing an agricultural product,” he said.
However, awareness about food is helping to change how people think about their products. This similarity between food production and garment production is made particularly visible by Pact Apparel’s success at selling their line at Whole Foods.
“Consumers are now understanding that food doesn’t come from the grocery store,” said Denby. “The apparel industry is following that lead, and consumers are just starting to understand that clothing doesn’t come from a department store.”