Every Saturday morning, from April to November, the heart of downtown Madison, Wisconsin, undergoes a transformation.
Even before the sun’s first light hits the dome of our beautiful Capitol building, the surrounding Square comes to life. Vans and trucks pull up curbside, engines purr to a stop, doors slam, hatches open. There is the scraping of table legs against cement and canopies in all colors begin popping up along the outer edge of the Square. At each stand, empty spaces slowly but steadily fill up with stacks of vegetables, trays of pastry, rows of colorful jars, blocks of cheese, flats of flowers, and regiments of potted plants. It is Saturday morning, and the vendors of the Dane County Farmers’ Market have arrived.
The Dane County Farmers’ Market (DCFM, for short) is, reportedly, the largest producer-only market in the United States. It’s a biweekly occasion, held Saturdays and Wednesdays, but Saturday is the big one. Around 300 vendors participate every year; 160 or so every Saturday. Since its inception in 1972, our market requires that all the vegetables, flowers, meats, cheese and specialty products be both produced in Wisconsin and sold at market by their producers. Resellers need not apply. Quality, along with origin, is also important. The average wait time before producers are invited to sell at DCFM is five years. These guiding principles are very much in line with ours at Fair Indigo: to support small producers (local where possible) while curating a compelling selection of high quality products.
Ethos aside, you know what we most love about our market? It’s just a really fun place to spend part of your Saturday. Starting around 6:00 a.m., the Square begins to slowly fill up with Madison residents and visitors. We tote bags and backpacks, we sip on coffee, we push strollers with children wearing crumbs of today’s must-have scone or donut around their mouths. We are showered and unshowered, wearing heels or pajama pants, in chattering groups or alone with our thoughts. We come when the sun shines and when it rains. We have lists or we impulse buy (often a little of both). We carry wallets fat with cash or strategize how to spend our handful of food assistance vouchers.
We meet up with friends, take artistic pictures of kohlrabi, sit on the Capitol lawn to eat cheese curds and soak up the sun and people watch. We sometimes spend more than we planned, but feel only passing remorse about it because everything we take home is just so beautiful or delicious or both. And we walk counter-clockwise around the Square. Always counter-clockwise. Why? Well, that’s just how it’s done.
And then, by 2:00 p.m., our market, this community spectacle that’s different every week, yet so familiar and consistent, comes to a close. The crowds thin until all that’s left are the oversleepers, the extended brunchers, the bargain hunters and those for whom the market wasn’t their primary objective, anyway. The vendors continue selling, happily but hastily, up until the moment they load the last bit of their wares and supplies back into their vehicles and head back to their homes and farms. And it wouldn’t be unreasonable to contend that everyone’s day ends a bit richer than it started.
This post guest authored by Caroline Sober-James, friend of Fair Indigo, fan of the Dane County Farmer’s Market and regular worker at the Harmony Valley Farm market stand.
For years, we’ve wanted to offer our best selling tees in heathered* colors and stripes. A humble enough aspiration right?
Because our partner in Peru is (like us) a small business, the added complexity of making these fabrics (vs. basic solid colors) has prevented us from offering them.
Until now! Thanks to your enthusiastic purchases last year (seriously, thank you!), we’ve been able to work closely with our partners and make it well worth their while to make it happen.
It’s a small but straightforward start – a timeless grey heather and a clean monochromatic stripe. Take a look at the styles they’re offered in here.*In fabrics, heathered refers to intertwining two or more different colors of yarn (often one white and one color) to achieve a lovely muted effect.
The area around Cajamarca, Peru is heart-stoppingly beautiful: majestic rocky mountains dotted with fertile patches of potato and corn fields and tidy dairy farms. We feel a special bond with ‘Peru’s Dairyland’ being from Wisconsin ourselves. The Queso Fresco is quite tasty, though I promised next time I’d try to smuggle in some of Wisconsin’s Pleasant Ridge Reserve and we’d have a Dairyland Duel.
But in the midst of all this brilliant natural beauty and fertile earth exists unbearable poverty too. With collapsing commodity prices for small farmers in the globalized economy and scant transportation infrastructure to Peru’s more dynamic coastal areas, many of the people in this once prosperous region survive on minuscule incomes and sustenance nutrition.
The children of the area, until recently, had nearly no hope of having things any better than their parents. The nearest school was miles (and hours) away via treacherous mountain roads. So what happens to kids in this situation? They. Don’t. Attend. School. Without education, there is no hope.
In 2000, Ines Fort set out to change that – and plant the seeds of hope. A native of Cajamarca who lived in Peru’s capital Lima for many years, she returned to open a school near her home town, “en el medio de la nada” (“in the middle of nowhere”) and started teaching local children in a makeshift classroom without running water or electricity. Within minutes of meeting Ines, I guarantee your hug instinct will take over. This gentle woman overflows with compassion and warmth and burns with devotion to the families of her home town. She tells her story here.
Later her brother-in-law, Javier, joined Ines in her mission. Javier, another extraordinarily generous soul and self-proclaimed farmer at heart, is also the co-owner, with his wife Elsa, of the business that makes Fair Indigo’s women’s organic knits and The Joobles organic baby line.
Javier was moved to action when he observed the children had a hard time staying awake in the classroom, he surmised because their breakfast consisted of a tea of water and orange peel. Here is Javier (with our magnificently helpful friend and translator Sergio) explaining how and why he started providing breakfast for the children of the school.
In 2010, thanks to your $5 donations at checkout, the Fair Indigo Foundation began funding the teachers for the school, and today we’re back visiting their newly opened kindergarten. The parents of the area are bursting with energy, gratitude, and hope. If their children can learn reading, math, and more, there is hope for them to participate in Peru’s booming economy around Lima or, better still, to bring a more lucrative economy back to their beloved Cajamarca. I know it sounds crazy that a teaching staff could be funded with $5 donations. But you did it! It makes all of us profoundly thankful. You’ve helped put smiles on these faces. You’ve given the best gift of all – hope.
On this day of Thanksgiving, we at Fair Indigo, and the teachers, parents, and children of Cajamarca, Peru give special thanks to you. Whether you’ve supported our small business through purchases (which by extension keeps The Foundation going) or made a $5 donation at checkout, you’ve instilled hope in the lives of truly grateful people. Thank you.
Our new partner, Neon Buddha, is fundamentally changing lives for the better in Chiang Mai, Thailand. With now over 500 workers on staff, Neon Buddha’s ethical work standards are fundamental to their business model. All staff has company paid health care including maternity leave and paid continuing education which includes free English classes for all staff, their family and friends.
In addition, the company is on the leading edge of environmental sustainability too, for example, planting dozens of trees to provide shade for the factory and keep energy use to a minimum.
Enjoy the video!
There are countless ways to judge how environmentally responsible t-shirts are.
Does the t-shirt use organic cotton? What about the dyes and chemicals used in the processing of the fabric? How many miles did the tee have to travel on a boat, plane, or truck to its end user? What kind of packaging did it arrive in? On top of these, who certified the cotton organic? Whose organic standard was used?
While these are all important, one of the most overlooked measurements is this: how long will this t-shirt last?
We don’t know of studies showing the average life of a mass produced tee, but we know instinctively it’s shorter than it was years ago. That $12 tee you bought three years ago? Exactly. There’s not much sustainable about a disposable organic tee.
Let’s say, for the sake of argument, the lifespan is a year. Imagine the impact of building a t-shirt that lasts 4 years or longer. That’s 75% less cotton. 75% less water. 75% less packaging. 75% less fuel.
So when we set out to create the World’s Finest Tees (dresses & skirts too!), longevity was top of mind. Here’s what we do:
1. Start with pure organic Peruvian pima cotton. The Andean climate of Peru yields irresistible pima cotton–among the finest in the world–renowned for its sublime softness, brilliant luster, and resistance to breaking down and pilling. Rare organic pima is even softer. With no pesticides or chemicals getting in the way of its natural goodness.
2. Build in shape retention. This may irk some purists, but we add a dash of spandex to many of our tees. It allows the tee to hold its shape beautifully over time, not stretching out. (For purists, we do offer a collection of 100% pima organic cotton tees, dresses, & skirts too).
3. Pre-wash the fabric. Before we cut the fabric for sewing, it’s gently washed, extracting almost all of the shrinkage before sewing. This is a much more expensive method than the typical garment wash. But it insures that tees will fit consistently from batch to batch. And, critically, that the tees will have very minimal shrinkage over years of washing so they’re not catapulted into the disposable category.
4. Build in economic sustainability. In our view, environmental responsibility goes hand in hand with economic and social responsibility. Making organic tees in a sweatshop to keep their prices lower is simply misguided. All of our tees are made by a small group of workers and cooperative owners like Viviana. Workers paid living wages and treated with respect and dignity.
5. Pay it forward. Proceeds from Fair Indigo’s profits (along with $5 donations at website checkout) support the Fair Indigo Foundation. The Foundation supports education in the communities where our products are made. Because we firmly believe…no, we know because we’ve seen it…that besides paying living wages, the best ticket out of poverty is education. (Read more).
With premium ingredients, fashionable yet timeless designs, and values you can wear on your sleeves, the World’s Finest Tees will be spot on trend this season. And the next and the next and the next.
Our guest blogger today is Forrest Espinoza, founder and CEO of Artterro. Artterro Eco Art Kits are fun, open-ended art projects that make it easy for kids and adults to unplug and get creative with gorgeous, artist-quality materials. The kits are assembled at Goodwill Industries of Southeastern Wisconsin by people with special needs.
Every year when the holidays roll around I start to think about the all the Stuff. I start to feel a little sad, and I’m reminded of the movie The Story of Stuff. If you haven’t watched it, it’s about how our stuff is made out of raw materials from the earth and how most of it ends up in a landfill only six months after it’s made. Just when I’m resolving not to contribute to this huge problem, one of my young sons runs up to me with a list in his hands and a big smile on his face and says, “Here Mom, this is what I want for my birthday and Christmas.” Both my sons have birthdays the week before Christmas, so that means we tend to get twice the amount of Stuff this time of year. At that point, I snap out of my anti-Stuff mindset and tell myself that I need to start thinking about it in a different way. We don’t have to buy disposable Stuff. We can buy truly meaningful, even life-changing gifts for the people we love, plus we can make some special gifts by hand.
One of my favorite ways to make a difference with my dollar is to buy Fair Trade, which means an artisan has been paid a fair wage for their work. It feels like buying a gift for three people: the recipient who gets to enjoy it, the artisan who is strengthening her community and family, and yourself, because it just feels good to give Fair Trade!
I’m also partial to giving a gift that offers a hands-on experience, like art materials or my own Artterro Eco Art Kits. When you give a child the gift of art, you offer them a chance to unplug and tap into their creativity.
Finally, we can also make very special gifts ourselves. It doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. Try finding a project idea online that you can complete with new and used materials. It’s a great way to upcycle supplies you may have lying around your house, and you end up with a totally unique finished product.
For many years now I have been doing all three of these things. I feel so good knowing that I gave my money to good companies, I’m giving my kids gifts that are educational, and I’m giving things I already own a new life and home. It helps me feel better about all this Stuff not ending up in a landfill in six months. Okay, I’m off to make some handmade gifts—wish me luck that I will get them done on time!