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Patagonia Expands Fair Trade Apparel Offering

Outdoor active lifestyle brand Patagonia has its sights set on a sustainable future.

Often considered a leader in the movement for ethical production, Patagonia said it expects to have some 300 Fair Trade styles, made in 13 different factories, in its offering by Fall 2017.

That’s a huge step forward in the brand’s relationship with Fair Trade USA. The two first teamed up in 2013, announcing Patagonia’s plans to offer 10 pieces of Fair Trade certified women’s yoga apparel—made in a single factory—in its Fall 2014 collection, which has since grown to 192 men’s, women’s and kids’ styles made in six factories today.

As of May 2016, more than 7,000 workers have earned an additional $430,000 through Patagonia’s participating in the Fair Trade program. Here’s how: The brand pays a premium for every Fair Trade certified item that carries its label and that extra money goes directly to the workers at the factories, who decide how to spend it. The program also promotes worker health and safety, social and environmental compliance, and encourages dialog between workers and management.

According to the brand, employees at Nature USA in Los Angeles voted to take their share of the money, which equaled up to six days’ pay, as a cash bonus to pay for such things as healthcare and college tuition for their children. Meanwhile, at Hirdaramani in Sri Lanka, workers chose to use theirs to open a daycare center that provides factory workers with free child care, implement a health and sanitation program and pay for sanitary napkins and undergarments to improve individual hygiene. In addition, workers at MAS Leisureline, also in Sri Lanka, chose store vouchers (amounting to two weeks’ pay) to buy food, medicine, toiletries and other personal items.

Furthermore, while most Fair Trade apparel factories are in Asia, Patagonia has been the first to bring the program to manufacturing facilities in Mexico, Central America and, with last year’s addition of Nature USA, the U.S.

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“The benefits of the program have exceeded our expectations,” Thuy Nguyen, Patagonia’s manager of social and environmental responsibility, who works on the Fair Trade program, said. “In addition to the premiums raising wages, our factories have reported improved worker morale and engagement. Since workers actively participate in the program, they understand and appreciate what Fair Trade can do. Few social programs have such a sweeping impact.”

Patagonia is one of more than 1,000 companies representing 30 product categories that sell Fair Trade certified products. Brands selling accredited apparel include Loomstate, Oliberte and PrAna, to name just three. Since the program started in 1998, farmers and factory workers have reportedly earned more than $350 million in premiums.