Ethical Clothing: All About Eco-Textiles

As a conscious consumer, shopping for ethical clothing made with eco-textiles and sustainable fabrics can feel daunting. There’s so many options – and knowing which ones are best for both the planet and the people who produced it can be tough. In this blog, we’ll help you compare natural and synthetic fabrics, and learn about organic cotton, rPET, wood-pulp fabrics, wool, and more! Once you have all the facts, you can make an educated choice so that your fabric aligns with your values! 

What you’ll learn: 

  • The major categories of sustainable textiles, and what they’re made out of
  • Why certain textiles are better than others when it comes down to the impact on our planet
  • How to choose the right fibers and fabrics for your lifestyle

Ethical Clothing: All About Eco-Textiles

Ethical Clothing: All About Eco-Textiles | 5 Sustainable Fabrics and Fibers | Learn with the EarthHero Blog

Natural Fibers

Natural fibers, as you could guess, are made of plant or animal fibers that include cotton, hemp, linen, trees, and wool, silk, leather, feathers, and more. These fibers do not produce microplastics when washed and if they are not treated or blended with any synthetic fibers, they will decompose and biodegrade. However, these breathable natural fibers can have resource-intensive production processes, and may not lend their attributes to certain styles or functions of clothing. Additionally, natural fibers from animals often find pushback from those focused on the treatment and health of the animals – which is why faux alternatives to leather, silk, wool, and more have been created!

Ethical Clothing: All About Eco-Textiles | 5 Sustainable Fabrics and Fibers | Learn with the EarthHero Blog

Synthetic Fibers

Synthetic fibers are man-made and created from chemicals like petroleum, and include polyester, lycra, acrylic, nylon, fake leather, and more. These fibers go through a resource-intensive production process that often produces harmful byproducts which are often not disposed of properly and in turn harm our ecosystems. Synthetic fibers will not biodegrade or decompose and they release microplastics, tiny plastic particles that enter into our waterways when washed. Synthetic fibers are often used in clothing that needs to retain its shape and stretch, like activewear.

 Now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty! There is no ‘super fabric’ that checks all of the boxes of sustainability, but by learning about these 5 common eco-friendly textiles, you can make the best choice for your lifestyle! 

Organic Cotton (Natural)

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Cotton is often seen as an American staple – but sadly it has earned the nickname ‘dirtiest crop on earth’ for good reason! Traditional cotton uses 16% of the world’s insecticides and $2 billion of pesticides each year, not counting the massive amount of land and water needed to produce it. Traditional cotton production also utilizes many neurotoxic chemicals to bleach, process, and grow the cotton – and all of those pesticides? They’re not great for the health of the cotton farmers and workers, either, or our ecosystems. 

Unlike conventional cotton, organic cotton is handpicked while traditional cotton is picked with a machine. Hand-picked cotton doesn’t harm the cotton plant, so the fibers are longer and therefore softer. Traditional cotton farmers use GMO seeds to make their plants pest-resistant, but when the pests become stronger, stronger pesticides need to be used to fight them off. With organic cotton, the seeds are non-GMO and natural pesticides like ladybugs are used to fight off pests. Plus, organic cotton utilizes crop rotation to protect soil quality, while traditional cotton uses the same land plot – often stripping the soil of its nutrients, making it require more water in the long run due to poor soil health. 

Pros:

  • Organic cotton uses non-GMO seeds, no harmful pesticides, and protects the health of the workers, farmers, and the soil, air, and water quality of the ecosystem it’s grown on 
  • Wearing clothing made of organic cotton can mitigate skin sensitivities or allergies to chemicals found in traditional cotton garments, making it perfect for sensitive skin and children
  • Organic cotton is more regulated than traditional cotton with a few certifications, and benefits both the environment and the lives of those who work with cotton

Cons: 

  • Organic cotton uses more water and land resources than traditional cotton – due in part because organic cotton uses non-GMO seeds which means more organic cotton needs to be planted to produce the same amount. That makes the water impact of a cotton t-shirt go from 290 gallons (traditional) to 660.4 gallons (organic)!

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If you’re going to shop organic cotton, look for a certification like the Global Organic Textile Standard Certification (GOTS) – the world’s leading processing standard for organic textiles. The USDA has organic labeling too, requiring that all products labelled organic be produced with 100% organic crops, but their regulation ends there. The GOTS Certification has stringent environmental and social criteria as well so you can be confident that both your fibers and supply chains are ethical. 

Recycled Polyester (Synthetic)

Do you own a swimsuit? Leggings? Anything with just a little bit of stretch in it? It’s probably polyester, one of the most popular fabrics for clothing because it is stretchy, easy to care for, and wrinkles less. But, virgin polyester is made from crude oil and is resource-intensive to produce. Despite the massive amount of resources needed to create this fiber, it is cost-efficient to use in products, which most companies love. If this fabric is useful to consumers and chosen by companies, yet harmful to the environment, what can we do about it? Enter recycled polyester, aka rPET.

Natural vs Synthetic Fibers | Ethical Clothing | EarthHero Blog

In 2017 the nonprofit Textile Exchange challenged more than 50 retail giants to increase their use of rPET to by ¼ by 2020. Their October 2018 statement reported that many of these giants had met and exceeded the goal two years before the deadline, and had even encouraged more companies to join the challenge! They predict that 20% of all polyester will be recycled by 2030, which is huge news. PET plastic is one of the most abundant types of plastic used today: think peanut butter jars, water bottle, mouthwash containers, etc. Recycled polyester is created by taking these items, cleaning, shredding, and melting them into a fiber that can be woven into new fabric. Learn more about the process here! 

Pros:

  • PET plastic is easy to recycle and is found in many common products, meaning we have plenty of raw materials to transform into rPET – while decreasing the amount of plastic waste entering our landfills! 
  • A bottle made from 100% recycled material uses 75% less energy to produce than a virgin PET bottle, and protects ecosystems that are exploited during oil and gas production to make virgin PET 

Cons: 

  • Recycled polyester is still plastic and doesn’t escape the downsides that come with plastics, including microplastics. This means rPET is best suited for non-washable products like bags and rugs!
  • Producing rPET uses less energy and resources than virgin PET, but it still releases some harmful compounds into the environment when melted down into pellets that need to be monitored closely

Our final verdict? If you need to buy items made from polyester, choose recycled polyester when you can! 

Wood Pulp Based Fabrics: Viscose/Rayon, Modal, and Tencel (Natural but Man-Made)

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Wood pulp? Isn’t that what paper is made of? When wood pulp from Birch, Oak, and Eucalyptus trees is added to a chemical soup to soften it, then broken into small pieces, filtered, and spun into thread, it can be turned into a fabric! Because the basic ingredient in these fibers is wood, it would seem that this is a natural fiber. However, because chemicals are required no matter what to create this fiber, it is also a partially man-made fiber. Viscose/Rayon, Modal, and Tencel are all made from these same basic production steps, but have differences. 

Pros: 

  • Fibers made from wood pulp are biodegradable, and are treated with chemicals that are non-toxic and can be recycled back into the manufacturing process 
  • Wood pulp fibers are less time-consuming to cultivate when compared to other man-made fibers, ringing in at about two hours from start to finish!
  • They can be naturally wrinkle-resistant, are safe for sensitive skin, and drape-able and flexible 

Cons:

  • These fibers tend to be more expensive than traditional man-made materials or traditional cotton
  • Because these fibers rely on trees, a dwindling natural resource, the forests that source the raw materials must be managed responsibly and sustainable harvest their wood
  • These fibers do not all function the same, and therefore cannot be interchanged. Eileen Fisher has a wonderful description of their struggles with Viscose and Tencel, and keys the consumer in on what they are doing and why. 

Hemp and Linen (Natural)

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Hemp is a highly debated topic these days! Is it legal? Is it safe? Yes and yes! Industrial hemp is different than marijuana and is THC-free, safe, and is non-psychoactive. Check out our blog post dedicated to hemp here to learn more! Hemp is often referred to as a ‘miracle crop’ because it doesn’t require pesticides to grow, produces more product in less time with less land, and can grow in a variety of soil types and climates. Additionally, parts of the crop not used for the fiber creation can be used to make other products, like concrete! 

Hemp’s cousin, linen, has many of the same attributes. Linen is made from the flax plant, and like hemp, it is hardy and grows without the need for intense pesticides and uses less water than traditional cotton. To sweeten the deal, linen fabric production uses significantly less energy than the production processes of traditional cotton or synthetic materials. 

Pros: 

  • Hemp is x3 stronger than cotton, and linen can absorb 20% of its weight in moisture, making them both hardworking and durable materials for eco-textile clothing
  • Hemp and linen can grow in a variety of soil and climate types and are high-yield crops, meaning that they produce more product with less land. In fact, hemp can produce 250% more than traditional cotton in the same amount of land! 
  • Unlike the production of other materials, the parts that are discarded while making hemp and linen textiles have many other uses: flax milk, flax seeds, hemp oil, hemp paper, etc!
  • Both linen and hemp are biodegradable, and don’t release microplastics

Cons:

  • Hemp and linen tend to wrinkle more quickly because they are not treated with the same chemicals that our ‘wrinkle-free’ and ‘non-iron’ shirts are. 
  • The standards for producing linen differs greatly depending on where it is grown. Linen from Europe, like the kind we carry, and Japan tend to have more rigorous environmental legislation, making the process more environmentally friendly. However, when linen is not produced this way, there is a risk of chemicals being released into the environment.

Wool  (Natural)

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What comes to mind when you think about wool? Your dad’s wool socks, or maybe mom’s chunky wool sweater? Wool is a natural fiber, so it has extreme breathability, but can also keep you extremely warm by capturing escaping body heat. Wool fiber for eco-textiles can come from different animals, but we’ll be focusing on sheep wool. Because this fiber is sourced from an animal, some people are hesitant to utilize items made of this fiber because of animal welfare and cruelty-free concerns, and rightfully so! People following a vegan lifestyle may be for or against wool depending on its sourcing, as regulations regarding the treatment of the sheep differ depending on where the wool is sourced. 

Pros:

  • Wool is a natural fiber and renewable resource, meaning it will biodegrade, is highly moisture-wicking, and won’t release microplastics when washed!
  • When wool is produced responsibly, the sheep aerate the soil and maintain soil nutrition while grazing, which is awesome for our ecosystems
  • Items made out of wool are extremely durable, insulating, and can retain up to 30% of their weight in moisture without feeling damp! Plus, wool items can be washed less often than their counterparts because they do not retain smells like a synthetic fiber would.

Cons:

  • Pesticides can be used in traditional wool production if not regulated by the country the wool is produced in. This is why it is important to search for organic or otherwise certified wool whenever possible! Luckily, we have sustainability logos on all of our products so you can confidently shop your values! 
  • Wool items may need to be specially laundered to protect their properties and keep their proper shape. These processes can be more resource-intensive than typical laundering, but luckily you do not need to wash wool garments as often. 
  • Certain countries perform shearing practices in a way that is often painful and bad for the sheep, such as mulesing, the practice of cutting off pieces of the sheep’s skin – ouch!- to prevent an infection that is manageable in other ways. This is why some people concerned with animal rights tend to avoid wool products.

Eco Textiles Wood | 5 Sustainable Fibers and Fabrics | EarthHero Blog

Wool products from EarthHero are all cruelty-free and non-mulesing guaranteed so you can feel good about using wool in your life! Choosing wool that is sourced from countries (like New Zealand!) who enforce laws to protect sheep is one of the best ways to enjoy this eco-textile worry-free. Another opportunity to ensure that your wool is sustainable and cruelty-free is to find certified organic wool, which takes the health and wellbeing of the sheep, environment, and production processes into account, or certified cruelty-free wool like the kind used in Conner Hats! Buying local wool products is another way to use a sustainable wool product because small-scale producers like family farmers tend to have less ethical issues than large-scale producers.  

Thanks for exploring our crash course of sustainable fibers and fabrics! Each eco-fabric has its own pros and cons – and it’s up to you to vote with your dollar for what you believe in depending on your lifestyle + values!

 

7 Ways to Use a Silicone Stasher Bag

Tired of your life being controlled by plastic baggies, cling wrap, and mismatched tupperware lids? There’s hope! The Stasher Bag is an endlessly reusable silicone storage bag with thousands of different uses. But how can a Stasher Bag fit into your life, and is it really safer than using plastic? Read on the blog to find out!

What you’ll learn:

What is silicone? 

Silicone is a plastic-like substance that can be shaped, molded, and formed into nearly anything! Silicone is created by melting silica, the raw material used to make silicone resins also found in quartz and beach sand, at a very high temperature and mixing it with carbon. It then is bonded together into a polymer to form the final silicone resin that you’ve come to know and love. It can be seen in silicone cooking utensils, ice cube trays, baking mats, and much, much more! Read all about silicone here.

Is it safe?

Silicone rubber does not react with food or beverages or produce any harmful fumes. Silicones are also more stable, meaning they have less potential to leach into your body during use. It is important to make sure that all silicone products you are using are high quality, either ‘food-grade’ or ‘medical-grade’! These high quality silicones do not utilize fillers or chemical byproducts that can leach into foods during use.

7 Ways to Use a Stasher Bag | Stasher Bags | EarthHero Blog

Silicone versus Plastic 

So, is silicone really better than plastic?

  • Silicone is more temperature resistant than plastic.
  • When plastic is recycled it is typically downcycled- recycled into something less useful and more likely to be thrown away. Silicone, however, is 100% recyclable (at select locations and with terracycle) and does not lose integrity with each use. It also does not produce hazardous materials when burned.
  • Silicone is oven, dishwasher, and freezer safe and will not degrade with use.

The Stasher Bag (and 7 ways to use them!)

So, why do we love the Stasher Bag? For all the reasons listed above and more. Stasher provides a compact, reusable alternative to plastic bags and storage containers. They are especially useful because they are easy to clean (dishwasher and hand wash safe) and they can be transferred from freezer to oven to fridge with no fear of breaking or shattering. Check out below our top 7 favorite ways to use our Stashers!

7 Ways to Use a Stasher Bag | Stasher Bags | EarthHero Blog

1. Food Storage + Meal Prepping

We’ll start simple. Stasher is mostly known for their ability to be awesome at holding and storing food, mostly due to the fact that they’re leak-proof, durable, freezer safe, and won’t impart other flavors or colors into your meal. As we mentioned above, they’re made out of BPA-free, non-toxic silicone that is completely safe for use around food – making them our go-to for food storage and meal prepping. Whether that means stashing leftovers in the fridge, or freezing your meals ahead of time for the whole week, Stashers help reduce both food waste and plastic waste that can come from leftovers or meal prepping.

With 3 unique sizes, there’s always an option that will work for your next meal! Plus, freezing your food and leftovers can help you reduce food waste while making mealtimes easier, making this a win-win for you and the planet.

7 Ways to Use a Stasher Bag | Stasher Bags | EarthHero Blog

2. Sous-Vide Machine + Steaming

If you’re not familiar (we weren’t…) sous-vide is a method of cooking in which food is plastic in a pouch or jar and cooked in a water bath for a longer cooking time at a highly regulated temperature. It’s awesome for veggies, fish, meats, sauces like hollandaise, and so much more!

But… most people use single-use plastic Ziploc bags with their sous-vide machines… making it not so awesome for the planet. Because silicone has such a high heat capacity, all Stasher Bags are sous-vide compatible, making it easier than ever to try this culinary technique. Test it out with this Salmon Dinner Recipe from Stasher!

7 Ways to Use a Stasher Bag | Stasher Bags | EarthHero Blog

3. The Instant Pot

The Instant Pot is the new culinary craze taking over the web, and we’re all here for it. It promises easy recipes, flavorful meals, and an easy experience for inexperience chefs. Want to upgrade your Instant Pot? Use it with a Stand-Up Stasher Bag!

This new Stasher fits perfectly in the Instant Pot, making it even easier to stew soups without having to deep clean the actual pot afterwards. The leak-proof design of Stasher let’s you store the soups easily afterwards, and even bring it to a pot-luck with ease.

7 Ways to Use a Stasher Bag | Stasher Bags | EarthHero Blog

4. Marinating

Good food starts with good seasoning, and marinations are one of the easiest ways to do that! Simply put: marinating means letting food sit and absorb a sauce before cooking it. Usually, we rely on single-use plastic bags for this – but these are prone to leaks and spills that make a huge mess in the kitchen.

By using durable, long-lasting silicone bags that won’t impart flavor into food, you can safely and easily marinate your steak, chicken, fish, or veggies for maximum flavor!

7 Ways to Use a Stasher Bag | Stasher Bags | EarthHero Blog

5. Microwave + Oven

The microwave has redefined the way we cook… but recent studies have shown that microwaving plastics can leach dangerous chemicals into our food – with a variety of negative health impacts beginning to be studied long-term.

Unlike plastic, silicone is 100% microwave safe for you and your whole family, and won’t leach chemicals or flavors when reheated in the microwave. Whether you’re defrosting a Stasher Bag full of leftovers, or simply reheating a yummy soup you stashed in the fridge, these bags make mealtime a whole lot easier.

Stasher is also oven-safe up to 450 degrees F – perfect for both your full-size oven, or a counter-top toaster oven, and can be tossed in the dishwasher afterwards for easy to clean up meals.

7 Ways to Use a Stasher Bag | Stasher Bags | EarthHero Blog

6. Traveling + Toiletries

Yes, Stasher is great for cooking – but they’re also great for traveling! Because they’re 100% leak-proof, highly-durable, and see-through, they’re the perfect solution for traveling with toiletries through the airport, especially with a carryon bag through TSA.

The pocket-size is amazing for keeping credit cards, cash, and headphones dry during adventures or camping, while the other sizes are awesome for larger assortments of products. Spills are bound to happen – but with Stasher you don’t have to worry about the rest of your bag getting messy!

7 Ways to Use a Stasher Bag | Stasher Bags | EarthHero Blog

7. BONUS: Literally Everything Else…

While these are some of our favorite ways to use silicone bags, there are probably millions of other ways you can use them if you get creative. The tare weights on these bags are easy to find, so they make great storage containers for shopping the bulk bins at the grocery store. If you’ve just gone to the beach or pool, you can use your stand-up Stasher to hold your wet bathing suit so it doesn’t get your bag wet. They also are great for protecting electronics on-the-go, holding first aid essentials, or even pet-food when traveling. Get a little creative, and the opportunities are endless!

Ready to start using Stasher Bags in your life? Click here to shop ALL of our assorted Stasher sizes, colors, and types here!

Fair Trade vs Made in America

Our world has become more interconnected than ever. With companies and countries alike shipping their goods halfway across the globe each day (sometimes ethically, sometimes not..) people have begun looking into the ‘how’ and ‘where’ their products traveled. But, this process of globalization has also inspired a counterculture movement that celebrates locally made, handmade, and small-batch goods over those shipped from far away places. But, which is truly more sustainable for our planet – fair trade, or Made in America – and why? Read on as we break down the pros and cons of each! 

What you’ll learn:

  • The 4 major types of fair trade certifications and what that means for the product or company certified
  • The pros and cons of locally made, or American made goods
  • How to make ethical and informed decisions when choosing between products that are fair trade or locally made

Fair Trade vs Made in America: Which is more eco-friendly? 

Trading and bartering goods between communities has been a staple of human connection since the beginning of time. But with the rise of technology and transportation, the distance goods travel has stretched from village to village, to country to country. Today, you can get a package shipped from China to your house in less than a week (that’s over 7,000 miles!) This shift has cultivated a culture of “living local” where products and services within your city, state, or country are valued above those from other countries – most notably the push towards “Made in America” products. As this international expansion was occurring, global networks began crafting the concept of “fair trade” goods, ensuring that relationships with makers and suppliers of the product were based on respect, transparency, fair wages, and overall greater equity in international trade. Both Made in America and fair trade have upsides and downsides, and at EarthHero we’re all about asking mother earth how she feels. So in this blog post, we’re exploring which is really better for the planet? The surprising answer is… both. 

Fair Trade Certified

When it comes to fair trade products, there are a few major players on the scene, all with similar but different regulations and guidelines for certification. We’ll break them down below: 

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  • World Fair Trade Organization (WTFO): this organization certifies an entire business, including supply chain, production, and distribution, to create Fair Trade Enterprises. These WTFO Certified enterprizes impact over 1 million lives, and 74% of those are women. These enterprises support and trade with each other, speak up collectively (power in numbers!), and collaborate together for greater impact. Spread across 76 countries, and thousands of products internationally, WTFO Fair Trade Enterprises are verified based on 10 main principles, and is one of the most rigorous verifications in the field. 

 

  • Fairtrade International: this organization, originally called FLO but now labeled Fairtrade International, was born with the intention to unite smaller national fair trade standards under one roof. They created the FAIRTRADE Certification Mark, which has standards that apply to both producers and traders of fair trade products. Their rigorous standards are set in accordance with the ISEAL Code of Good Practice on Standard Setting, and allow the standards to be updated and changed to reflect a changing culture. 

 

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  • Fair Trade Federation: unlike the previous two organizations, which are international, the Fair Trade Federation is a trade association that promotes North American organizations with fair trade commitments to create equitable and sustainable partnerships with members of their supply chain. Over 200+ companies are involved, and they do have eligibility requirements based on their 9 principals, including a focus on long-term and direct relationships with small scale suppliers at the point of production, advanced payment to these suppliers, capacity building for supplier groups, and respect for cultural identity for farmers and artisans.  As a membership-based organization, companies apply and self-report from a more holistic viewpoint on their mission and dedication to fair trade for their entire company versus on a single product. The FTF considers their process more of a ‘verification’ versus certification of the supply chain since third-party audits are not included in the application. Members pay annual dues and are required to have an annual review for ongoing membership. 

 

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  • Fair Trade USA: so far, we have two certifications for the entire supply chain of a company, and one “verification” for the operations of a company. This leaves us with Fair Trade USA – a label seen a lot if you’re a consumer in America. This is an American-based, for-profit certification that certifies individual products, and not entire companies. That being said, they have strict guidelines about the social, environmental, and economic impacts of their certified products – and work with both producers, suppliers, workers, and farmers to ensure the product that is certified is truly ethical. 

Pros & Cons

These various fair trade certifications have been used on coffee, clothing, produce, seafood, cosmetics and beauty, and so much more – letting consumers know that products that receive the label are a truly sustainable good. While the 4 certifications we’ve outlined here have their own pros and cons, they have the same goal: making ethical shopping easier for the consumer. But the certification helps much more than the consumer!

To put it simply, fair trade is a diverse network of producers, companies, shoppers, advocates, and organizations that are putting people in the supply chain first. Their mission is based on the simple concept that the products we buy and enjoy are deeply connected to the livelihoods of others, and by choosing fair trade products, you ensure a better way of life for everyone involved. Fair trade products emphasize 4 main points: 

  • Income sustainability: employees involved in creating the product must earn enough to fulfill basic household needs, regardless of changes in the market prices. Producers, workers, and farmers must earn enough to be able to invest back into their lives, and their businesses. 
  • Empowerment: fair trade products empower both consumers, and workers, to make choices for the good of themselves and our global communities, regardless of status, position in society, or location thanks to fair trade products being available in stores globally. Additionally, these rigorous standards give farmers, fishermen, and workers a voice in the global workplace – empowering them to make ethical decisions for their companies! 
  • Environmental stewardship: fair trade has a huge focus on sustainability and ethical production, and these practices have long-term impacts on the livelihoods of producers, the communities they operate out of, and generations of people to come. Fair trade standards promote slower, less mass-produced, methods of production, which in turn, result in a more positive environmental impact all around. 
  • Individual and community well-being: when individuals are financially stable, they are able to invest back into their communities and/or their workforce. This could mean better healthcare, cleaner water, a stronger economy, and so much more! Plus: very happy people. Yay! 

But what about the transportation costs? This is the biggest issue we hear against fair trade products, in support of locally made ones. It is true that fair trade products often must travel longer distances to be sold in the USA, which comes with greater carbon emissions from transportation. But here’s the important part: most products cannot be entirely manufactured and produced in America, simply because we are limited to what we can grow or the resources we have. Bamboo requires a unique environment to grow in, and therefore, all bamboo must be outsourced to countries that have a climate it thrives in. Coffee is a great example of this as well, with almost all coffee being grown in the “coffee belt” that has the ideal conditions for amazing beans. We live in a globalized world, and it’s simply not feasible to only consume goods or produce that come from your country. The marketplace has to work for everyone – not just the top 1%. By supporting fair trade products by voting with your dollar, you tell companies everywhere that you value the lives of the people who made your product. 

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And it is already making a huge difference. The WTFO Fair Trade Enterprises report impacting 965,000+ lives, with 74% of those individuals being women, and report that 54% of the management or leading roles in these companies belong to women as well. 51% of board positions in Fair Trade Enterprises are held by women, and 52% of CEOs involved in the program are women as well. Last year alone, the Fair Trade USA Certification empowered over 950,000+ farmers and workers across 45 countries to reach more sustainable terms with their trading partners. Plus, consumer awareness around the Fair Trade USA Certified seal has reached 63% – nearly double what it was in 2008, and over 1,250+ responsible businesses’ are Fair Trade USA Certified. And this is just the beginning! Fair trade products are becoming easily recognizable on the shelf, even with the variety of certifying logos, and entire communities are being revolutionized because of these new standards. 

And getting involved is easier than you think. Next time you’re at the grocery store, or shopping online, take a minute to look for a fair trade logo, or information about their ethical production or social responsibility. Truly ethical companies will be shouting it from the rooftops! 

Made in America 

Now, let’s look at the other side of the argument: locally made or “Made in America” products (note: EarthHero is based in the USA, and therefore we consider American-made to be local for us – but this varies) There has been a huge resurgence towards brands and companies that are local, with movements behind American-made vehicles, clothing, and locally grown produce. 

As of now, there is only one major third-party certification for these types of products called Made in USA Certified®. It focuses on stimulating the American economy and job force and allows companies to label their products as “Made in USA”, “Grown in USA”, “Product of USA” or “Service in USA” depending on the percentage of the product that is American made. It is managed by CERTIFIED INC., a non-governmental independent organization, follows the Federal Trade Commission guidelines that state for a product to be labeled this way “all or virtually all” parts of the product manufacturing, including processing and labor, must be of U.S. origin. 

Some benefits to shopping truly locally made, or Made in America products include:

  • American made products support over 17 million jobs across the nation and contributes over 12% to GDP – supporting a healthy American economy and low unemployment rate 
  • At a grassroots level, supporting American businesses (especially small businesses!) reinforces the strength of local communities, and provides jobs to future generations
  • Buying locally, or within your country, will help reduce harmful carbon emissions that result from global transportation, and often require less shipping packaging as well
  • America has relatively stricter labor laws and safer working conditions, which foreign companies without third-party certifications or memberships may not be able to guarantee 

Despite the fact that a major organization is managing the American certification process, many companies can make this claim on their products without the proper background information – and consumers often times won’t be able to know the difference. Additionally, other certification groups like Made in USA Brand are offering a less stringent “certification” which allows brands to “self-certify” these claims, which opens the doors to distrust and misinformation. Another major issue is that the main certification, Made in USA Certified®, only promises that the products were made in the country – and does not enforce strict guidelines for income sustainability, social responsibility, or employee empowerment like the various Fair Trade Certifications do. And while America has relatively strict workplace guidelines, they are still not as forward-thinking and inclusive as the labor guidelines assigned to fair trade companies, which could mean American workers are not feeling empowered or supported. 

How to Choose 

Okay: we definitely just threw a ton of information at you. And you’re probably wondering… what do I do now? How do I shop, and what do I support? And the answer isn’t black and white.

At EarthHero, we believe that both fair trade and Made in USA Certified products are great – and most certainly better than shopping for a product that doesn’t have either affiliation. When it comes to a particular item you want, think about the materials & manufacturing that would go into it… and then decide if it would be more beneficial to get made locally, or imported in an ethical way. Take for example a bar of soap, which contains ingredients that can be sourced nearly anywhere on earth. If you had to choose between a Made in America soap bar, or a fair trade soap bar, you could assume the locally made one will be more eco-friendly due to transportation emissions and bringing jobs to American businesses. But… if you’re shopping for a product that requires ingredients/materials that are almost always shipped from another country (think coffee, rubberwood, etc), fair trade is probably the way to go. 

By shopping for both certifications depending on what product you want, we support not just a healthy and sustainable America… but the whole world, too! In the age of globalization with the internet, modern transportation, and specialization of skills between countries, we have to work together to achieve the future we want – and that means looking beyond where we live. 

What do you prefer to do in your own life? Which is easier for you to find – locally made products, or fairly imported products? What do you think? Share it in the comments below, or share it with a friend to spark a new eco-conversation!