Radical transparency in manufacturing may be the motto of sustainable fashion brand Everlane, but more and more home furnishings companies are following suit by making large investments in fair trade factories around the globe — including a $3 million investment announced this week by West Elm & Williams-Sonoma Inc. to bring their total Fair Trade factory partnerships to eleven, including Vietnam's first ever such manufacturing center.
Consumers are increasingly making purchasing decisions based on social and environmental impacts, and West Elm believes that the vendors it partners with can lead to positive change — announcing a commitment that 40 percent of all of its product lines will be Fair Trade Certified by 2020, according to a press release shared by the company yesterday.
In 2014, the company was the first international home furnishings retailer to partner with Fair Trade USA. This announcement brings the brands' total partnerships to eleven fair trade factories in India, Nepal, Pakistan, and now Vietnam — where West Elm's signature midcentury collection is manufactured — with a commitment to also bring the total number of fair trade factory partners to 20 by 2020.
"We are passionate about using great design to further the economic empowerment of our artists and makers both in the U.S. and abroad. Our goal is to continue to drive meaningful social, economic and ethical reform within the retail industry, while creating a lasting, positive impact in the lives of the people behind our products," said Alex Bellos, President of West Elm. "Our Fair Trade efforts have grown from impacting fewer than 200 workers in 2014 to making a meaningful contribution to the lives of more than 5,000 workers today. The results continue to motivate us every day to help educate and encourage our customers to do more."
With the 2017 collection, 20 percent of West Elm products are now handcrafted and more than 13 percent of all products are now Fair Trade Certified — that's 4,500 products across multiple product categories including furniture, decorative accessories, rugs, and wall art. According to the company, West Elm has invested more than $225 million to date in the handcraft sector, "preserving techniques unique to our artisan partners' histories and cultures — impacting the lives of more than 20,000 craftspeople and their family members."
The Brooklyn-based company also has made a serious commitment to empowering artisans in the US, as well, through its West Elm LOCAL program that stocks more than 6,000 American-made products from 800 small businesses around the country in special sections at approximately 88 of its stores.
WSM also owns Williams-Sonoma, which is working towards its own goal of $3 million in Fair Trade Community Development Premiums by 2020, and Pottery Barn, which introduced a Fair Trade program in 2016. Pottery Barn Kids, PBteen, and Mark and Graham just launched their Fair Trade programs this year.
"West Elm is an inspiring partner in their relentless commitment to affect positive change on an industry and the people behind the products," said Paul Rice, President and CEO of Fair Trade USA. "The Fair Trade Premiums from West Elm products have directly changed the lives of global workers and their families. As a result, many now have access to healthcare, education and other services for the first time in their lives. West Elm is a powerful example of how it is possible to do well while doing good — an example that is helping us build a movement."
For more about the announcements and impact, including a case study from one of its factory partners in China, visit westelm.com/commitments.