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Ethical, Fair Trade, Organic - what's it mean?

Ethical, Fair Trade, Organic - what's it mean?

There are a lot of buzz words pertaining to sustainability, and it's difficult to know what they mean. Especially because... some don't mean anything. 

Some are just general words like "green," "eco," and "natural." 

These words are typically deployed for marketing. You have to do research behind the company and figure out if they're telling the truth. 

Ethical, Organic, Fair Trade - What's it all mean? From

For instance, there's a package of all-natural diapers that are made of organic cotton. 

Except, if you read the fine print you notice that only a small portion of the diapers are made from organic cotton and it's not even the part against your babies skin! 

Also, there's no Organic certification. So, after doing some research, do you trust this marketing? Or think it's just a ploy used to dupe eco parents? 

Honestly, trying to figure out what is sustainable and what's not can get really confusing. I'm going to try and break down some of the most common terms to help you navigate these tricky situations.  

Ethical Fashion:

While there's no certification for ethical fashion, the general consensus is that it uplifts the people and communities responsible for making the product and minimizes the impact on the environment. 

That definition is a little vague so the Ethical Fashion Forum created a 10 point criteria to help you figure out if a brand is acting in an ethical fashion. 

1. Countering fast, cheap fashion and damaging patterns of fashion consumption
2. Defending fair wages, working conditions and workers’ rights
3. Supporting sustainable livelihoods
4. Addressing toxic pesticide and chemical use
5. Using and / or developing eco- friendly fabrics and components
6. Minimizing water use
7. Recycling and addressing energy efficiency and waste
8. Developing or promoting sustainability standards for fashion
9. Resources, training and/ or awareness raising initiatives
10. Animal rights

(And, in case you were wondering, Pela checks all 10 boxes! ;) 

Ethical, Organic, Fair Trade - What's it all mean? From

Fair Trade: 

Fair trade can be found on a number of items from clothing (typically cotton) to chocolate! It means that the farmers were paid a fair price for their crop. Fair Trade means the farmers also adhere to a set of international standards for the environment. Whether that's reforestation, water conservation, or environmental education. 

There is a Fair Trade certification process so look for the logo! If you're buying a product that's manufactured, processed, or farmed somewhere like the US, EU or Canada, there's no need for a Fair Trade certification. 

There's already strict environmental and labor laws that must be adhered to. 


The simple definition is that when a product has the USDA Organic certification it has to adhere to a certain set of rules. Everything about the crop should be 95% or more organic. Which means it's free of synthetic fertilizers, dyes, and pesticides.  

Like most things in sustainability, it isn't that organic is good or bad... it's just different. 

Here's a great video for and in depth look at the term organic and what it means. 

 Trusting your gut and talking to people! 

In the end, it really boils down to critical thinking and talking to people. Very few things in sustainability are black and white. It's companies or farmers trying to make a positive impact on the planet vs. those who aren't. 

A few ways to tell the difference is to speak to someone. 

When you're talking to someone they should be able to speak about their programs, what they use, how they grow, etc. etc. in highly specific terms. If you just get a whole bunch of vague answers, you might want to look elsewhere.