What Is Fair Trade? A Bead & Reel Collaboration

One of the challenges in creating a more mindful fashion industry is that a lot of common terms, ideas, and words don’t always have a clear or unified definition from person to person and brand to brand. This ends up being confusing for everyone involved from companies to consumers so I decided to bring together voices and styles from members in the Bead & Reel Network to take a deeper look into some of the more complex issues in fashion.

I invited Network content creators and brands to participate, and this week we’ve joined together with Mata Traders, one of the pioneering fair trade fashion brands known for their vintage-inspired styles, fair trade principles, eco-friendly processes, and traditional technique.

I asked: How do you define fair trade?

I have always strived to live by a simple set of moral codes that includes treating others the way I would like to be treated. When I first found out how horrific the working conditions were in the fast fashion industry, I was beside myself. I could not wrap my head around why this was happening and why nobody was talking about it. The fair trade concept is something that should be held up in every factory in every country around the World. I define it simply as: Treating every farmer, garment worker and helping hand the exact way that we would like to be treated. This includes safe working conditions, fair pay, proper considerations, respect, and human kindness. Working in a poor country does not give anyone the right to exploit you, abuse you, or force you to slave away in unsafe working conditions. Fairtrade is fair to all workers.

The most important aspect of fair trade, by proper definition, would be fair wages. When the wages are cut to keep up with the demand of the large companies, the safety, health, and decency seem to be thrown out the window. When the working conditions are left to crumble, as we have seen time and time again, the health and lives of the workers are at stake. When respect and decent human kindness are pushed to the side to keep up with demands, horrible acts of exploitation, human trafficking, sexual assault, and even death occur. The fair wages seem to play an extremely crucial role in the health and happiness of any worker involved.

Pictured: Mata Traders Farmers Market Dress Faces


To me, fair trade means respecting people, paying livable wages to employees, being conscious of the planet, and caring about the greater good. Fair trade has the ability to bridge the disconnect between the consumers and the goods they're purchasing through stories shared by people working in the garment industry. On Mata Trader's website they share pictures and stories from the ladies who craft their clothes so consumers can learn the positive impact fair trade has. The idea of connecting a person's story to the goods we're purchasing is powerful and can shift our consumer habits.

Fair trade is important to me because I believe people matter. As consumers it is important for us to be aware of the people behind our products and how Western world consumer habits can impact developing communities. We have the power to vote with our purchases and by purchasing fair trade we're voting to support brands that value people, the planet, and the greater good.

Fair trade is also a key aspect in empowering women. While the fashion industry tends to be geared toward women as consumers, traditional fast fashion business models fail to consider women within the supply chain. Unfortunately there are a lot of women exploited through out the process of making clothes. This can be through unfair wages, modern day slavery, mistreatment of garment workers and other forms of disrespect towards women. When we purchase fair trade we empower women garment factory works which allows them to take steps in supporting their families through fair wages received.

Featured: Mata Traders Sydney Dress Bikes


Fair trade is doing business in a way that puts people and planet first: respecting artisan culture and heritage craft, meeting or exceeding employees' financial needs, and having a holistic view of what it means for a person to thrive in their uniquely situated community and within the environmental landscape.

Although I am pragmatic in the sense that I believe progress is often better than perfection (because perfection can be hard to define in the first place), the holistic criteria of fair trade ­ meaning the joint pieces of cultural respect, fair labor, and sustainability ­ really must work together if we are to build an economic model that is good for everyone.

Featured: Mata Traders Farmers Market Dress Faces


Oh that's a tough one, um I would say when a product is made with integrity and sold at a fair wage to support the person(s) that created it and made the goods then that is part of it. When clothing is underpriced to benefit the larger corporation instead of the factory worker then it's certainly unfair. Using someone else to gain a large profit when the person at the bottom of the line barely is surviving on the cut that they are given then that's just wrong and unethical.

I think it comes down to being an honest person who only takes what they need and what is enough is when fair trade is fair.

Featured: Mata Traders Sydney Dress Bikes


define fair trade as treating and paying artisans a fair wage and a safe place to work. It's a huge plus to me that Mata Traders, in addition to doing just that also incorporates eco­friendly processes, which benefits workers health and the health of their community and traditional techniques, getting to share about these culturally significant styles makes each piece far more interesting and unique.

While I appreciate and am grateful for all these aspects of fair trade, I'd say a fair wage is the most important aspect of fair trade for me, with a safe work environment coming in second. People first, always.

Featured: Mata Traders Farmers Market Dress Faces


I define fair trade as being certified by the world fair trade associate. For me, fair trade starts at how the producers are treated. Workers being paid a living wage and the environment is respected are my keys to fair trade and the principles I find most important.

Featured: Mata Traders Sydney Dress Bikes


Bead & Reel

I define “Fair Trade” to mean garment makers are paid fair, living wages. What qualifies as “fair” and “living wages” definitely varies by location and factors like cost of living, but in essence I consider something fair trade when it enables a person who is working full time to have a good quality of life for themselves and their families (that seems simple enough, right?).

There are several different certifying agencies including Fair Trade USA, Fair Trade Federation, and World Fair Trade Organization which oversee and hold accountable certified companies. However a company doesn’t have to be certified to operate with fair trade standards (in fact, many aren’t. Certification can be both cost and time intensive and not all organizations have the resources or desire to pursue it).

Fair trade as an idea extends beyond just wages, usually encompassing 10 principles including transparency, poverty reduction, avoiding child labor, and gender equity, too.

80% of garment workers are around the world are women so when we talk about paying fair wages in fashion we’re essentially talking about paying fair wages to women - often mothers - which is especially important to me right now as an expectant mother (seen here 8 months pregnant!).

So I think fair trade really boils down to this: a way of creating healthy families by provided safe environments and fair salaries to everyone involved.

Featured: Mata Traders Bellini Dress Fuchsia/Blue


I define fair trade as practices that are good not only for the environment, but good for humankind. No one should have to suffer for fashion, and the slow fashion movement ensures that we build and support brands that empower women around the globe.

I love the aspect of transparency and accountability that is required beneath fair trade principles. I think all businesses, brands and creators should be transparent with their practices so that their consumers can hold them accountable; companies have a social responsibility not only to consumers but to their employees, and transparency empowers consumers to know where and how their clothing was created. No one should have to suffer for fashion.

Featured: Mata Traders Sydney Dress Bikes



All writers were gifted an item by Mata Traders and all opinions are their own. Affiliate links are used in this story.