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Beyond chocolate and coffee

Fair trade products are slowly infiltrating your refrigerator, but can they find their way into your bathroom and closet? And, the bigger and more important question, do you have to sacrifice your chic-ness for sustainable style?

The answer is no, but before we get into detail, let’s determine why we are exploring the idea of making a change in our ways.

We are all familiar with the earth-friendly style stereotype – those dread-haired souls, doused in patchouli and wearing hemp (I went to school in rural, upstate New Hampshire so I know the species) -, but while all of us have an inner hippie to tap in to, we do not always want to look like one. In fact, many of us would like to look, well, cute. Herein lies the dilemma, how does one look cute and save the planet all at once?

fair trade style

For the purpose of this series, “fair trade” is a loose term that incorporates organic, Fair Trade Certified, and sustainable products. As your trusted stylists, we will explore those products that fit the standards of this loose definition as well as the high standards you hold for your own appearance.

From fair trade jeans to organic cotton, we will attempt to keep you updated on the intersection of fair and fashion. When does a commitment to fairtrade clash with the problem of air miles?; when do you shop Fair Trade Certified and when are there more sustainable alternatives a bit closer to home.

Why turn your closet and bathroom green

Why exactly do we care about using fair trade products on our skin, hair, and clothes? This is easy – our skin absorbs much of what we put on it. Conventional lotions, products and clothes contain ingredients often grown with pesticides that are harmful to your skin and also contaminate the soil and groundwater in which they are grown.

Let’s just take the cosmetics industry as an example: only 11% of the 10,500 ingredients the U.S. FDA has documented in products have been assessed for safety by the cosmetic industry’s review panel. The Environmental Working Group has evaluated 14,841 products and found that one third contained a chemical ingredient linked to cancer and 79% contained known or probable carcinogens, pesticides, reproductive toxins, plasticizers and/or degreasers.

It’s the new Sinclairian Jungle. Things are so bad that one advocacy group, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, has assembled a list of companies who “have pledged to not use chemicals that are known or strongly suspected of causing cancer, mutation or birth defects in their products”. Strong words, but many of the most prominent cosmetic companies haven’t signed, including, L’Oréal, Revlon and Estee Lauder. It doesn’t take an environmental scientist to beg the question, why would you put these products on your skin?

Beyond the health and environmental issues, there are the labor considerations when deciding what to buy. Fair trade certifications are no longer applied to just coffees and teas, we now have the option to dress and style ourselves fairly. While fair trade jeans may be the most visible of the genre, there are increasingly more items- from clothing to cosmetics- that allow us to shop for fashion that guarantees worker rights and fair wages.

Theory of Thirds

So, as a first step, why don’t you read the ingredients on the back of your moisturizer. Don’t be surprised if you can’t pronounce any of them. It is important to read the labels on all of your products. No exceptions – it is vital to read and understand the labels on your fair trade products as well. Some quick wisdom from the trenches, by law, labels that boast “organic”, must be comprised of at least 95% organic elements. Products that are marked “Made with organic Ingredients”, must be at least 70% comprised of organic elements.

A helpful measure to really understand what you are using on your skin and wearing on your body is to use the theory of thirds. The top third of a label is typically 90-95% of the formula. Hence, the top third should be all organic or at least comprised of those ingredients that you can pronounce. The middle third of the label consists of 5-8% of the product and the lower third, 1-3%. Organic ingredients that are listed within the middle or lower third of the label don’t really count.

The good news is that as faircompanies style editor, I have done, and will continue to do extensive research within the organic and fair trade beauty products market and have many chic and sustainable options to offer you. We are reading the labels and testing the products that you don’t have time to examine. With our ongoing fair trade style reports we’ll bring you fair trade products that will keep your skin and body looking great and allow your conscience to rest easy.

If you can’t wait for the next report…

The Environmental Working Group has created a website where you can enter your favorite products and find out how they rate and what might rate higher than what you are currently using.

Currently, there are 5 products (with company name) that receive the 5.0 rating of highest concern:

  • Ultra Sheen (Proctor & Gamble)
  • Klear Action (Thane International)
  • OPI (OPI Products)
  • Youth Dew (Estée Lauder)
  • Andre for Men (American International Industries)

The database contains a total of 14,835 products and 1,051 brands that can be searched by product, product type or simply the highest or lowest concern brands.