This article provides an overview of a sociological study of ethical sourcing, gender and sustainable livelihoods in Kenya, undertaken as a PhD in 2006–2009. It presents an in-depth exploration of how both theoretical and methodological ‘gaps’ in previous ethical trade and gender research can be addressed via the careful selection of methods that aim to improve the participation of women in data collection. The article describes the logic of good research design: from identifying gaps in the literature and designing research questions to addressing these gaps; developing a context-specific, gender-sensitive methodology that links the local level of livelihoods to the global level of ethical trade; and implementing a mix of qualitative methods that are participatory and inclusive of women farmers on the ground. I also reflect on two main methodological challenges that I experienced in the course of field work in Kenya: enhancing the participation of women through workshops and field walks and working with non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Each reflects some of the practical challenges of ensuring fairness and ‘voice’ in gender research. The article concludes with an analysis of the success of the project in meeting its objective of bringing women's perspectives of local livelihoods together with the global understandings of ‘ethicality’ in formal ethical/fair trade standards.