What's the Deal with Target's "Fair Trade" Denim?

What does this mean? (Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links)

What does this mean? (Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links)

What the heck is going on with Target’s “fair trade” denim?

A few weeks ago, I started hearing the whispers from ethical influencers and bloggers: “Did you know that Target sells fair trade denim now?”

I immediately went to Google to try to find press releases or other information about the launch…and couldn’t find anything, at all, save a Reddit thread with people discussing it with about the same amount of clarity as I had.

Then I checked out the Target website, searching “fair trade jeans,” “fair trade denim,” and pretty much every other keyword I could think of. Search results brought me to select pieces from the Universal Thread line, an in-house brand Target has been selling since last year, but nothing in the product titles indicated that the items were fair trade.

Once you actually go into a listing, the Fair Trade Certified label greets you in the product description, but if you look more closely, you’ll see that the label itself says “Fair Trade Certified Factory.” This matches the language sewn into the waistband of the jeans. On the physical product and accompanying hang tags, the official logo does not appear.

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Is “Fair Trade Certified Factory” the same as “fair trade certified”?

To try to understand if the factory designation is meaningful, I headed over to the Fair Trade Certified website to search their product database. As it turns out, Target is listed in the Clothing category, but the link just leads back to Target’s home page. Sooo…

I went to Target to do some sleuthing. I did a little try-on and also checked the labels for some clues.

Searching for Clues

When I looked at the country of origin, it provided further evidence for an assumption I went in with: Made in Vietnam.

While country of origin can’t tell us everything - especially when that country has a projected $50 billion dollar garment industry - it does narrow things down just a little bit. You know which major, fair trade denim factory operates in Vietnam?

Saitex.

Magical Saitex, constantly making a buzz for its energy saving, water reducing, recently fair trade certified, industry leading practices.

J. Crew/Madewell paid for Saitex to become fair trade certified earlier this year, after Everlane made the factory’s eco-friendliness a part of their official marketing campaign. But, according to Whitney Bauck at Fashionista, Saitex has produced for brands like Eileen Fisher and American Eagle for years.

Everlane wasn’t the first to use them, just the first to name them in their marketing. Then J. Crew Inc. took it one step further.

Answers?

So, if my guess is correct, Target is producing at Saitex. If they were already producing there, this “new” fair trade line is actually just a relabeling of identical product to reflect changes made at the factory they utilize. It may also be the case that, while they’re producing at a fair trade certified factory, they haven’t paid for additional brand certification, so they’re using very specific language to clarify their orientation to the certification organization.

This would partially explain why Target didn’t reach out to the press to formally announce the change.

Even if Target’s line is totally above-board in terms of following all fair trade standards, there are a couple of red flags:

  1. Items from the fair trade-designated line are primarily made of unsustainable rayon and polyester.

  2. Universal Thread denim costs about $35, raising questions about factory wages and profit margins.

Still, fair trade denim at Target is a BIG DEAL!


Of course, I could be totally wrong, but in the absence of information, this was a pretty fun game! I’ll be reaching out to both Fair Trade Certified and Target to see if they can set things straight. In the meantime, if you have any information, let me know!