The Impact of Fair Trade Tees

Elizabeth Barton

To some, a t-shirt is a t-shirt. But not to us. At Cotopaxi, a t-shirt needs to meet unprecedented standards of awesome. For starters, it should fit well and feel nice, but it should also have some kind of positive impact—something about it that aligns with Cotopaxi’s overarching desire to Do Good.

We believe we’ve struck Do Good gold with our latest line of tees. And we’re not just talking about their fun words and graphics. These t-shirts feature a super-soft blend of organic cotton and recycled polyester, making them exceptionally sustainable. They’re also manufactured in a Fair Trade Certified™ factory, which means that the people who make them are well-treated. Partnering with Fair Trade USA to source this line of tees is one of the coolest developments in our supply chain to date.   

What is Fair Trade?

You might recognize the Fair Trade Certified seal from the packaging of your favorite dark chocolate bar, or from the bag of your preferred coffee. What you may not realize, though, is that Fair Trade certification isn’t limited to the kind of stuff you buy at the grocery store. It can apply to everything from sofas to skinny jeans, just like it applies to our new tees. But what does it mean to be Fair Trade Certified? 

The basis of the Fair Trade program is its set of rigorous social, economic, and environmental standards. To become a Fair Trade Certified factory, a manufacturing facility must first meet and then continually maintain these standards. This ensures that the people behind Fair Trade Certified goods work in safe conditions. It also ensures the environment is not harmed by the production process.

Jegadeeswari V is a tailor at Bestich Knits. About the Fair Trade program, she says “I believe Fair Trade comes out of the brand’s need to do something good for the worker and [to] recognize our contribution.”
Beyond its best-in-practice standards, the true heart of the Fair Trade program is its emphasis on worker empowerment. Here’s how the process works: when you purchase one of our Fair Trade Certified t-shirts, Cotopaxi sends money directly back to the people who made that tee. Factory workers then vote on how to use this money to address important needs in their community. The key here is worker choice.

FTSU Field Manager
Jaganathan Raghupathy, FTUSA Field Manager, talks about Fair Trade to a general assembly of workers at Bestitch Knits on December 13, 2017.

Currently, workers at Bestitch Knits in India—the Fair Trade Certified factory where our new t-shirts are made—use these additional funds to finance a free breakfast program, education grants, and—among other things—periodic, onsite medical clinics.

Breakfast program
Steamed green bean sprouts are prepared as part of a free meal program started by the Fair Trade committee.
Breakfast program 2
For many workers at Bestitch Knits who travel far to get to work, this free meal serves as breakfast.
Education grant
Latha Maheswari, a tailor at Bestitch Knits, and her teenage son, R. Gautam. The Bestitch Knits Fair Trade committee sponsored education grant helped R. Gautam complete his high school education. He hopes now to earn a degree in commerce.

Choosing Fair Trade Certified goods like our tees helps us better support those who make our products. What’s more, the Fair Trade model also empowers you as an ethical and informed consumer to support a better way of doing business.