The True Cost (movie)

The True Cost is a documentary film about the impact of fashion on people and the planet. Filmed in countries all over the world, from the brightest runways to the darkest corners of urban slums. The True Cost invites us on an eye opening journey around the globe and into the lives of the many people and places behind the clothing we wear.

Watching a movie like this can be very dispiriting – sometimes we at Fair Indigo feel like a laryngitis patient at a rock concert trying to spread the word about fair trade organic clothing. But if we all do our little part, piece by piece, garment by garment, we can make a difference.

The film will be released on May 29th, in the meantime watch the trailer below:

More colors, please!

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One of the most common requests we get is this: Please offer more colors, especially in your organic basics.

I hear you! It’s so fun to see a rainbow of colors to choose from in your go-to styles. To offer our best selling scoop neck tee in 20 colors – it’s the stuff dreams are made of around here!

The simple answer is this: We’re too small to offer that many colors. Let me explain what that means.

• When we first design a style we have to estimate how many pieces we will sell. Let’s say it’s 200 pieces for this example.

• If we offer it in 4 colors, that’s 50 pieces per color.

• Divide that by 5 sizes and we’re now at an average of 10 pieces per color/size combo (or in retail lingo, 10 pieces per SKU).

• So if we wanted to offer this style in 6 colors instead of 4 (I’ll do the math for you), now we’re down to 6 pieces per SKU.

• With numbers that low, it’s hard to keep stock on all sizes & colors. So the fewer colors offered, the easier it is to stay in stock. A bona fide balancing act.

The second reason relates to fabric dyeing minimums. Even though our partners in Peru are small businesses like us, they have to order at least 120kg per color per fabric to meet the dye vat minimums. There isn’t yet a “micro dye house” industry in Peru. 120kg is enough to make about 500 garments. So each new color we add means we have to add 500 more units to our order across however many styles that color comes in. No problem if we’re adding a color or two, but not feasible if we wanted to offer a dozen or more colors.

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But we are getting better! I’m excited we’re offering our widest color assortment ever this fall. Thanks to you (i.e. increasing sales).

The real answer – we need to sell way more than 200 pieces on every style we sell. If we could do that, this would be a non-issue. So tell your friends! More sales = more colors offered = more lives uplifted with clean, safe, & fair apparel making.

A counterclockwise stroll through abundance.

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Every Saturday morning, from April to November, the heart of downtown Madison, Wisconsin, undergoes a transformation.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Sometimes it’s the little things.

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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.

Refresher – What really is fair trade?

Fair trade products are equitably created goods including a range of products from food to clothing.  The focus tends to be on exports from developing countries to developed countries.  In these countries,  craftsmen, artisans, and producers work in safe and clean conditions, and for fair wages.  Their products are then sold locally or around the world.

The Peruvian Andes, home of some of Fair Indigo’s Artisans.

There is no standard definition of Fair Trade, though it is essentially trade that attempts to not harm anyone in the process of creating a product.  This can include sustainable and environmentally friendly practices, in order to have as little negative impact on the earth as possible.  Fair Trade is not fast-fashion, which can promote unfair working conditions, but nor it is charity.  It is the free market being used to the best of its ability.

Fair Trade originated in the United States in the 1940s, with Edna Ruth Byler of Scranton, Pennsylvania.  Edna worked with artisans in Puerto Rico to create beautiful textiles, which she brought back to the United States. Since, the Fair Trade movement expanded globally, starting with helping refugees of World War II in Europe. Fair Trade has increased greatly since the early 2000s.  The first World Fair Trade Day, May 10th, was held in 2002.  In 2006, Fair Trade sales topped at $2.6 billion globally.

In 2008, 88% of US consumers identified themselves as conscious consumers and socially responsible. However, less than 10% of consumers had purchased from a Fair Trade organization in the past year.

So, what’s next?  Check out the Fair Trade collections at Fair Indigo.  Fair Indigo works with Fair Trade companies from around the world, including Thailand, India, and Peru. Not only can you be sure that Fair Indigo clothing is fairly made, but that its quality and style will last for years.

A Worker in a Factory in Peru.

Sources:

http://www.fairtraderesource.org/wftd/

https://www.fairtradefederation.org/history-of-fair-trade-in-the-united-states/

http://www.altereco-usa.com/media/images/2009TrendsReport.pdf

Thanksgiving

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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.

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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.

Ines, founder of the school.

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.
Javier
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.

Camera-shy but proud.

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New kindergarteners.

Basic, yes. But an unquestionably beautiful place.

Each child brings water (a heavy lift up and down hills!)  To boil for drinking and supply flushing water for their new indoor toilet.

Javier doing what he loves. Handing out treats from the big city.

The school. Pride and joy.

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.

Lovely wardrobe. Better world.

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!