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MarketWatch: Fair Trade Fashion Gaining Momentum After Bangladesh Incidents
06/20/2013 - 11:38 AM

Starbucks Corp. SBUX -1.37% and Whole Foods Market Inc. WFM -2.12%have helped to bring Fair Trade certified coffee into mainstream consciousness, and extended the category to other products including spices, tea, produce and wine.

Fair Trade certified apparel may be next.

In the wake of the April factory collapse and other accidents in Bangladesh’s garment industry, apparel sellers    including Gap Inc. GPS -2.11% and Wal-Mart  WMT -5.07%have felt the heat. Fair Trade USA, a non-profit certification group, said it has recently received “a lot more interest” from big apparel companies.

“The types of companies we see expressing the interest have a more mainstream presence and more marketing influence,” said Heather Franzese,  a director at the group who launched Fair Trade USA’s apparel program.

She wouldn’t give the names of companies because they are still in discussions, but said they include some publicly traded companies. Commitments are expected to be formalized within the next two months By fall 2014, consumers should begin to see some of the products on store shelves, she said in an interview.

Certifying apparel is more complicated because it takes 12-18 months from product design to when they land on store shelves, compared to coffee that typically involves picking from the field and roasting, she said. Fair Trade USA in late 2010 developed a two-year pilot program, setting up 300 compliance standards, that aims to benefit both cotton farmers and factory workers and ensure their safety.  Participation involved 18 small mission-driven brands including active clothing brand Prana, sold at retailers including Inc.’s AMZN -1.42% Zappos and REI and Eastern Mountain Sports.

“The aim was to prove the Fair Trade model is successful,” she said, adding Prana has seen a sales boost from its Fair Trade clothing. “What we set out with the pilot is to show a pathway for large brands to follow. It seems like that’s coming true.”

In another sign Fair Trade textiles are getting traction with the public, Bed, Bath & Beyond Inc. BBBY -1.02% will soon sell an Under the Canopy robe Fair Trade certified, Franzese said, adding such certified products generate about $1.2 billion in  retail sales.

By Andria Cheng