We fight for fair fashion - KOKOworld as the first Polish fashion brand with the Fairtrade certificate

We are done! When will we, as a society, finally learn that there is no more room for take-and-give? We already know too much to justify wrong decisions by lack of information. Let's get to work and start acting.
Simply speaking - we either buy fair clothes or we buy nothing at all!

We are proud to announce that from this year, as the first fashion brand in Poland, we have the Fairtrade certificate. In the text below we explain why the certificate is the milestone when it comes to fighting for environmental protection and human rights in the fashion industry.

  • Scenario 1: How much water do you usually drink during a day? One liter? Two liters? Imagine that you have drinking water supplies for 1360 days, i.e. three years and almost nine months. Now imagine that exactly the same amount of water is what it takes to make just one T-shirt. So, how many of them you’ve got in your wardrobe, did you say?
  • Scenario 2: Think about your childhood. What were you interested in? Who were friends you spent the most time with? Do you remember your first job? Your neighbor's dog loved going for walks with you and you were so happy to trade your small savings for afternoons in the cinema. And now imagine that you are ten years old and you spend almost all your "free" time on ... working on a cotton plantation. You don't go to school, you don't have your favorite activities nor friends, you don't have a chance to take care of your future.
  • Scenario 3: How about a small bet? 2,5 euro per day - is it enough to "survive"? What will you buy? What will you have to give up? Will it be a coffee in the downtown or a juice that just popped into your bag? And now think that all it takes is slight weather change and the harvest crops are scarce, and we are not betting anymore – you had worked for moths and you do not get even a few cents for it.

Three stories, three scenarios and millions of people who live that scenarios every single day. Why is it so? Is it because of social injustice rooted in... well, that is the question – in what? Lack of information? We have access to it! Colonialism? It was overthrown over half a century ago! Or is it perhaps constant drive to have new things? Let's have a look at our own decisions and choices that define how social (in) justice works.

© Suzanne Lee, Pratibha Cotton Farm

Fair Trade – what is it?

Fair Trade represents the idea of fostering the development of the Global South countries by trade that is based on special rules (much more favorable for farmers and workers than those prevailing on the international market). This is possible thanks to three values:

1. fair price for products,

2. fair wages and decent social conditions for employees,

3. transparency, honesty and respect in business relations.

The appropriate certificates are used to distinguish products rooted in these values. One of them is the Fairtrade certificate. It is the labeling system created by Fairtrade International, awarded to products that have successfully passed the audit of an independent organization controlling product producing standards. These standards are verified within the Fair Trade Organization certification systems.

© Sean Hawkey, SODEFITEX

in facts

  • Supply chain

Each product with the Fairtrade label (regardless of whether it is food, clothing or accessory) brings significant changes to people creating it on every stage of its production: farmers, drivers, seamstresses.

  • The Fairtrade Minimum Price and the Fairtrade Premium, i.e. economic standards

Fairtrade makes sealing trade deals on a fair basis easier. Farmers organized in a cooperative have a minimum price for their crops guaranteed. What does it mean? If the price of the raw material (cotton, coffee, fruit, etc.) suddenly drops below the Fairtrade rate, farmers are paid a fixed minimum price anyway, and when the market price is higher than the minimum price, then farmers are paid the market price1. Why are stable prices so important? Nothing new: a sense of security (including economic security) is one of the most comfortable states a human beings can find themselves in. It is essential for healthy growth. On top of it, fixed and stable prices make it possible to cover the costs of sustainable production and protect producers from price fluctuations on the market. Farmers who get together in cooperatives have also a stronger position in negotiations with raw materials buyers – together they are stronger and can achieve much favorable cooperation conditions. An important element of the economic side of Fair Trade is also Fairtrade Premium – allocated for the implementation of projects that contribute to social development (supporting education and health care in the local community – such bonuses were paid to farmers, for example, during the COVID-19 epidemic), improvement of production efficiency (purchasing new machines) or protection of the ecosystem (tree planting). It is important to mention that the decision on what the premium will be spent to is made democratically by farmers.

  • Standing for human and employee rights, i.e. social standards

Forced labour and child labour2 are strictly prohibited under Fairtrade standards. Fairtrade also fights with discrimination – the stark reality is that in many countries women still do not receive directly the money they earn – wages go to men who are related to them. In Fair Trade certified cooperatives, women's voice is just as important as voice of their male colleagues, they are paid the same wages and take leadership positions. Another important area regulated by the certificate is safety of working conditions in cotton processing plants and sewing rooms3. Compliance with health and safety rules and employee rights is monitored at every stage of the supply chain.

  • Respecting and protecting the natural environment, i.e. environmental standards

The third area covered by Fairtrade certification is environmental protection. Fair Trade organizations advocate farmers on sustainable water managing, storing waste and caring for the soil fertility. Example? Fairtrade cotton is watered with rain4 – this reduces the water footprint in the region. The use of plant protection products and fertilizers is strictly controlled. In places extremely valuable for the local biodiversity, farmers are obliged to preserve (and contribute to increasing) it. Importantly – these are not standards applied in a thoughtless way. Farmers can also count on Fairtrade support while implementing solutions – they can participate in trainings on how to produce natural fertilizers5, fight pests or limit the negative impact of climate change on crops6.

There are currently around 45000 farmers in the Fairtrade system groving Fairtrade cotton, three-quarters of them live in India. Thanks to Fairtrade, living conditions of these farmers and their families have been improving. Fairtrade proves that the fashion industry can be ethical for everyone. In the current pandemic situation, showing solidarity with farmers and employees is more important than ever." - Fairtrade Poland.

© Didier Gentilhomme, Chetna Organic India

KOKOworld among Fairtrade certified companies

It was 2018 when KOKOworld started efforts towards the Fairtrade certificate. These two years of intensive application process appeared also to be milestones time for our brand. They have led us to a place from which we can confidently say that one of our biggest dreams is coming true. Why? Because we are sure that the products labeled with the Fairtrade logo (our products!) were created in the fairest and the most ecological way possible, moreover – these standards were applied at every stage of their production – from the cotton crops, through ginning, yarn and fabric production, to projects sewing and finishing them. Not only our clothes do no harm – but they also create an opportunity for development and improvement of living conditions. They show that change is possible and it depends on us!

What was crucial while applying for the cetificate?

Considering the fact that only few Polish companies are Fairtrade certified, we had to walk the path on our own – without hints and support from "industry friends"7. It came to our great surprise to discover that none of sewing workshops in Poland will be able to be awarded with the certificate. Therefore we faced the challenge to find a certified Fairtrade sewing workshop, which was far from being a piece of cake – there are over a dozen of them in the whole world! Luckily, we tied up business contact with the Reacher Apparels from India. Quoting, mock sewings and finally agreeing on business conditions – everything took us two years. On top of it, we had to answer a number of questions to Fairtrade International and set up a special account to report the products sale and to deduct the percentage from the Fairtrade products sale. It was also necessary to verify all our labels – both paper and cotton ones.

Why is the Fairtrade certificate so important (not just for me)?

Now that you know that a lot depends on you, have a look on the power of your choice to buy a Fairtrade product. Buying certified products...

• You contribute to end poverty – the Fairtrade Premium is mostly spent on innovating and improving production efficiency. This makes it easier for farmers to get out of a vicious circle of poverty.

• You can trust the producer – you know that the production process has been through independent audits – you can be sure that Fair Trade rules have been applied.

• You eat (and wear) no GMOs – certified food (but also cotton) cannot be genetically modified.

• You get a high quality product – Fairtrade standards require investing in training and modernizing soil farming methods which translates into improved product quality.

• (our favourite part) You sleep peacefully – you know that your choices are wise, sustainable, harmless and you participate in building the world that is more #fair.

Scenario 4: You are a young girl – a wife and mother of one year old son. You have just started your first job. Your earnings are guaranteed and the conditions in which you do assigned task leave your health at no risk. Your entire family is under medical care. On your way home, you are thinking about your child's school and are happy that he will be able to learn in peace. You can't wait the day when you and your husband will be advising him on after school activities – will it be English or maybe volleyball? All it takes it one decision that can change so much…

1 The minimum Fairtrade price for 1 kg of cotton in India is 0.44 euro (July 2020).
2 Child labour is still a serious issue on cotton platnations in countries such as India, Egypt, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
3 According to WHO 20000 people die each year due to accidental pesticides poisoning.
4 It takes up to 10,000 liters of water to produce 1 kg of raw cotton. It is estimated that cotton crops account for 1-6 of the world's fresh water consumption.
5 In developing countries, about 50% of all pesticides are used in cotton crops. This is harmful both to the environment and people exposed to these substances.
6 Fairtrade cotton currently comes from six countries: Senegal, Burkina Faso, Uganda, India, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.
7 The only brand in Poland that produces Fairtrade certified clothing is Fairpants: https://fairpants.com/o-nas/.