We recently sat down to chat with Safia Minney, the founder of the pioneering ethical fashion brand People Tree, which was the first Fairtrade certified fashion brand.

You might recognise her from The True Cost documentary, or from her recently released Slave to Fashion book. Safia and People Tree are world leaders in the ethical fashion industry, and we're incredibly thankful and proud to be able to share the exclusive interview with you. 

From your perspective, where is the overall fashion industry at in terms of embracing a change towards ethical and sustainable production?

"I think there are a number of large high street retail fashion companies making genuine attempts to clean up their supply chains and to identify and address slavery, but there’s still huge issues throughout the sector. Most fashion companies are not prepared to seriously consider living wages or unionised work places, or workers committees. Another serious issue is garment factory safety – although Bangladesh has the Accord on Fire and Building Safety now following the Rana Plaza Collapse, it’s still not implemented well. The overarching issue is that fast fashion is utterly unsustainable, and we need to wind that back, talk about how much the planet can afford to produce and dispose of, and ultimately rethink the model. Making with synthetics that don’t biodegrade and paying people properly is completely counter-intuitive to what we need to be doing to sustain people and the planet. Fairtrade models think about how to add as much value as possible, impact as many people as possible, and sell affordably to meet demand in the first world. Existing fast fashion brands have a great chance to leapfrog the supposed commercial disadvantage that sustainable and Fairtrade companies face. Fast fashion brands can go in and work direct in countries to set best practice to move the industry forward. There is light at the end of the tunnel, but we’re clearly not moving fast enough. We need huge collaboration at incredible speed."


What support do you wish you (and the ethical fashion cause) had from legislation, from consumers, or from the media?

"Well firstly, consumers have already built a really dynamic Fairtrade movement, that’s why we have Fairtrade coffee and chocolate and cotton. Consumers and civil society have done a remarkable job – you can see this reflected in the Millennial Development Goals and the Sustainable Development Goals. The Fairtrade movement has proven that business can be done differently. Consumers are needed to galvanise further change, we need consumers to go out there and buy the best Fairtrade products.

Beyond this, it’s pretty clear that we need international law to support both human rights within business. In the Slave to Fashion book I talk about the utterly criminal way governments and corporations around the world are failing to implement international standards, environmental laws and principles like minimum wage. This creates an uneven playing field, and means that ethical brands can’t compete as they should be able to because they’re competing against such an unjust system. We need a legislative framework that is truly implemented; we need laws with claws."


What advice would you give to consumers who are trying to transition away from the fast fashion culture? Do you have any practical tips?

"My first tip is to buy second hand and vintage, and to remake and recycle when you can. If you have to buy new, buy ethical. Use it as an opportunity to support the ethical brands – they already offer great value for money, and they deserve your support. For those of us who are already on the journey, we need to be seeking out, supporting and promoting best practice. We need to be the people pushing the bar higher across the board."

We hope you were inspired by this interview, we certainly were! We believe it's important to remember that you don't have to be perfect to make a difference - don't let the scale of the issues in this industry dwarf the importance of your actions. Even the smallest steps do make a difference!

 


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