3 ways to advance the revolution

This week is Fashion Revolution Week – a yearly campaign that started as a remembrance for the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh and has evolved into a global movement calling for greater transparency, sustainability and ethics in the fashion industry.

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From the TV series ‘Sweatshop: Dead Cheap Fashion

So how do we bring about a real revolution in the fashion industry? Despite the meaningful contributions fair trade is making, it will take more than better safety inspections, more stringent labor standards, and less toxic materials.

 

A Fashion Revolution has to start with how we think about clothes. Over the past few decades, the price we pay for clothing has gotten lower and lower in relation to our incomes, enticing us to buy more and more. In fact, today we buy an eye-popping 5x more clothing than we did in 1980. There’s a steep human and ecological cost to this flood of cheap clothes. While it’s often warranted, it’s too easy to point our collective fingers at large corporations whose products are found in places like Rana Plaza. If we’re honest with ourselves, we can see our appetite for cheaper, faster, and more creates the conditions that lead to cutting corners. And the losers when corners are cut are workers and the environment. In other words all of us.

 

Demanding a supplier be socially compliant and then turning around and pressuring them to shave $3 off the price of each sweater is not sustainable math.

 

To evolve fashion forward, we have to start challenging the whole concept of “Fast Fashion” that’s been looming over the industry for years. There are three ways to hone our way of thinking about clothes that will go a long way in building a more sustainable future.

 

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Try Timeless. Shifting your shopping habits from “what can I wear now?” to “what can I wear now, and for years to come?” will not only save earthly resource, it’ll save you time and money too. By carefully selecting timeless silhouettes in colors you feel good in you’ll get more mileage out of your closet. If that feels like a pretty big baby step for your fashionista tendencies, you can still work timeless pieces into your wardrobe and then embellish them with fresh accessories each season.

 

Quest for Quality. Seek out quality fabrics that endure for longer than one season. If your timeless garment looks bad after a few months of washing and wearing, it’s not truly timeless. Pima cotton is a great option. Its long staple fibers are stronger (and softer) than almost any other cotton and will last through many seasons of washing and wearing. At Fair Indigo, we take the uncommon extra step of pre-washing most of our fabrics before cutting and sewing, insuring that all of the shrinking happens before it’s crafted into a garment. This prevents twisting, torquing, and puckering around the seams after you wash it at home.

 

Free Yourself from the Fashion Police. Every day we’re bombarded with messages about this season’s must have bag, the color of the year that everyone will be wearing, or what this or that celebrity was spotted wearing and why you need that thing, now. Free yourself from all this noise and allow your better instincts to inform you. Do you want to look your best and feel like your wardrobe is up-to-date? Of course. Do you want to dabble in the more trendy side of fashion? Sometimes, sure, or maybe not. But at the end of the day, you know what clothes make you look how you want to look and feel how you want to feel. Don’t let the Fast Fashion czars dictate to you what you want.

Showing up

An important part of fair trade is showing up. Email and Skype are not enough. Building meaningful face-to-face relationships with our suppliers is part of our manifesto. That often means persisting through good times and bad, and learning from the bad times to build something even stronger.

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We visited our main supplier in Peru earlier this month to work on some pretty exciting things.

 

First, starting this fall, the mill that knits, dyes, and washes our fabrics will be GOTS-certified (Global Organic Textile Standard) – the first and only fabric mill in Peru to achieve this very stringent standard. Our organic cotton fiber has always been GOTS-certified; our dyes have always been certified safe too. But this piece certifies the process is as safe and eco-friendly as can be, including recycling or treating 100% of the water used in the facility.

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Second, we’ve wanted to do this for a long time, but now we’re very close. 100% bio-degradable and compostable bags for our clothes! Until now, an elusive clincher in trying to build the Greenest Tees on Earth.

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In the midst of all this exciting progress, we faced some pretty serious challenges in finishing up our spring production. It should have shipped in early March. As you may have heard, Peru is experiencing  historically heavy rains that’s causing heartbreaking devastation.

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The coastal capital Lima, where our main workshop is, was not directly affected by the rains but is experiencing record-setting heat and humidity in a city that’s usually pretty dry and mild, thanks to the cold Humbolt Current. Most buildings don’t have or need air conditioning, but this past month the heat became unbearable to work in later in the afternoon. Our employees worked shorter shifts.

 

And last week, just as we were in the home stretch, the rivers near Lima overflowed their banks due to the rain upstream. This overwhelmed the city’s water utility and contaminated the water, which had to be shut off for all but a few hours a day as the city crews worked overtime to re-purify the water.

 

Roads connecting Lima to surrounding communities became impassible, including a road that connects our embroidery facility with our main workshop. A couple thousand pieces became stranded at the embroidery facility as a result.

 

All of this is really nothing. We hesitate to even connect delayed clothing production with what’s happening in Peru right now.  The inconvenience we’re feeling can’t be compared to the wrenching situation so many are facing. Everyone in our workshop and their families are thankfully safe. Here are some ways to help. Those of us here in Peru, along with our workshop owners and employees have reached out to local organizations. The relatively unscathed city of Lima has come together in a big way to make it easy to raise funds for relief, using smartphone apps and volunteer canvassers.

 

Today we are finishing up most of the shipment and should have it out the door tomorrow. The units stranded on the other side of the flooded roads – we hope to have soon. So if you notice several “coming soon” items on our website, and other items with limited colors and sizes, thank you for hanging tight while these amazingly strong, industrious, and big-hearted folks push it over the finish line.

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Our Manifesto

From time to time we like to review our manifesto to make sure it accurately reflects the values we set out to live by. Other than going back and forth on the Oxford comma, it has pretty much endured intact. We hope it rings true for what you’re looking for too.

 

WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER

When fashion is done well, we all prosper. Informed people like you, farmers, herders, garment workers, and the earth we all share.

We believe in BUYING LOCAL as a first choice. When not an option, we believe in choosing FAIR TRADE as often as possible.

Fair Trade means workers are PAID FAIRLY, treated with DIGNITY AND RESPECT, and afforded the means to a HAPPY LIFE.

We believe FAIR TRADE CLOTHING should not only be ethically made, but also thoughtfully designed, beautifully constructed, and fairly priced.

We choose ORGANIC COTTON and EARTH-FRIENDLY MATERIALS whenever possible.

In a world drowning in disposable clothing, we believe SUSTAINABLE FASHION starts with QUALITY fabrics and construction that endure for years.

 We believe a sustainable wardrobe should lean heavily on TIMELESS STYLE, not ‘fast fashion’ fads.

We believe a SUSTAINABLE BUSINESS is built on a foundation of TRUST and lasting RELATIONSHIPS. With our suppliers and with our customers.

And we firmly believe that all of us can CHANGE THE WORLD. Just by changing our clothes.

Longevity

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An often overlooked but critically important element of sustainable clothing is longevity. First, will it last longer than a couple of seasons? Second, do you truly want it to – is it something you’ll wear now and for a long time to come?

 

At Fair Indigo, longevity is always top-of-mind. We use premium yarns and fabrics that will endure through years of wash & wear with minimal pilling. We pre-wash most of our fabrics so the shrinking is done prior to sewing. This uncommon and not inexpensive process prevents shrinking, twisting, and puckering after you wash it

 

And we carefully design each piece to get serious mileage – timeless style that’s Forever in Fashion. It feels great to stop chasing fads and start building a sustainable minimalist wardrobe that’s for keeps.

 

Furoshiki!

Try this easy, eco-friendly alternative to wrapping paper. Here’s an ingenious idea you might like if you want to avoid being knee-deep in wrapping paper this season. It’s based on a centuries-old Japanese fabric folding technique called furoshiki that lets you wrap objects in a piece of cloth – or, as we suggest in an Envirosax Bag. It might look a bit daunting, but watch this video for a quick demonstration. And the bonus with using Envirosax bags instead of simple fabric? The wrapping paper is a gift in itself!

Farewell, Fast Fashion

For the better part of this century, Fast Fashion has been one of the few apparel industry “success” stories. That is, if you define success as corporate dictated fashion trends, completely new looks every month or so, and addictingly low prices that make it possible to take part in the whole thing. H&M, Forever 21, Zara, Old Navy. Brands like these normalized the $10 t-shirt.

But the human and ecological effects of Fast Fashion have been catastrophic for our planet and many of its people. That’s because we’re buying an eye-popping five times as much clothing as we did in 1980. And why wouldn’t we? In 1990, the average price of a basic t-shirt in today’s dollar was around $38. Today it’s just over $14.

There’s a high cost for these low prices. To get a $14 tee, someone had to be paid a lot less than a living wage. It’s math and it’s not complicated. In fact, that $14 tee probably earned the garment worker in a country like Bangladesh twelve cents, according to a study by Macleans Canada.

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In other words, for every hundred dollars you spend on clothing, less than a dollar goes to the human being who worked really hard to make it.

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And apparel is well-documented as one of the most environmentally demanding industries in the world – so buying five times as much is obviously a big burden on our planet.

Films like The True Cost have started raising awareness of an apparel industry that many consumers erroneously believe was cleaned up when Kathy Lee Gifford discovered the sweatshops being used to make her clothing line in the 1990’s.

But things may be slowly changing. More and more of you are telling us you’re growing tired of Fast Fashion and the herd mentality that it perpetuates. That you’re seeking quality over quantity. And fashion that lasts longer than a Netflix binge.

We hear you and we welcome you with open arms. Our remedy is a fully evolved sort of fashion that is different from start to finish.

It usually starts with pure organic Pima cotton from a family farm on the coastal plains of Ica, Peru – hands down among the finest, softest, strongest cotton on earth. And longest lasting.

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Most of our fabrics are pre-washed at the fabric stage (not the garment stage). This time-consuming step is not common in the industry, but it insures that not only are styles pre-shrunk, they will also avoid much of the puckering that can happen around the seams with repeated washes where sewing threads shrink at different rates than the fabric. Pima cotton also resists pilling, wash after wash. Many of our customers report that they’ve owned the same tee or dress for years and it still looks like new.

Then there’s the people side of things. We work with a bustling family business that provides clean work, fair pay, and hope to hundreds of employees and cooperative owners around Peru. Wife and husband team Elsa and Javier of Lima walk the talk of fair trade. Employees and coop owners and their children are truly like family and are treated as such.

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The final remedy to Fast Fashion is what we like to call “Forever in Fashion.” Style that transcends the slavish fashion world, colors of the year, and the latest Must Have This or That. (Must have says who?) Styles that will look as great today as they will a few years from now. And that will wash and wear long enough to prove it. Landfills take note.

So farewell, Fast Fashion. It’s time for something slower, more meaningful, and satisfying. A long-term relationship with our clothes. www.fairindigo.com