Savings for you – from our pockets, not theirs.

Fair trade tries to do fashion right, which includes building a fair price from the start. A fair price means farmers and garment workers are fairly paid and we work hard to keep prices feasible for as many of you as possible. We never set our prices artificially high in order to plan “sales” that we email you about every other day.

 

 

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Flor, sewing machine operator, at our vendor in Lima, Peru.  

 
A few times a year we simply need to move overstock or end-of-season merchandise. If you find a bargain, it means we ordered too much and need to make room for the new. That markdown is on us, not them. You can rest assured every item you buy supports fair trade, regardless of the price you paid.

Grandparents of The Joobles

While small family businesses are increasingly rare in apparel making and almost unheard of in toy production, this one, run by Javier and Elsa stands apart. Their business grows its own organic cotton, runs its own small-batch sewing factory in Lima, and serves as a central hub for dozens of tiny knitting cooperatives who would never get their products to market without their assistance, expertise, and passion for helping others.

 

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Javier & Elsa in the countryside near their beloved hometown of Cajamarca, Peru.

 

These tiny knitting cooperatives are the birth places for The Joobles – our organic stuffed animals and baby accessories. We like to refer to Javier and Elsa as Los Abuelos de Los Joobles – The Grandparents of The Joobles.

 

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Javier with his favorite Jooble – Huggy the Bear

Owing to the harsh winter climate in the highlands, Peru has an abundance of incredibly skilled (and very patient! – see videos below) sweater knitters.  But too often these skills don’t translate into sustainable incomes. Javier and Elsa are changing that for dozens of such knitters. Elsa scouts for and hires the artisans, trains them in areas like logistics, inventory management, and quality control, and coordinates production and exportation to Fair Indigo.

 

Artisans like Irma and Gabriel proudly knit our Huggy the Bear collection. Prior to being hired by Elsa, the couple lived in a shantytown outside of Lima where they had come from the countryside ten years earlier in search of a better life.

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Huggy the Bear artisans Irma and Gabriel, with our co-founder Rob (center)

 

The better life didn’t come easily, but since being hired by Elsa, they have upgraded their home two times and now live in a brick house in a neighborhood where both of their children can attend public school – something Irma said was her ultimate dream. She was never able to attend.

 

The Joobles are finished, inspected, packed, and shipped from Elsa and Javier’s factory in Lima. Here is “smile maker” Maria with her favorite Jooble – Jiffy the Giraffe.

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It’s actually breathtaking to think about. In this race-to-the-bottom world, every stitch of every Jooble is made with nothing but hard-working hands arranging and moving needles over yarns. You’ll appreciate that heirloom quality the moment you hold a Jooble in your own hands. And hopefully you’ll smile back knowing it’s provided hope and a better life to another human being too.

Why not natural dyes?

All of our Fair Indigo and Joobles products use Oeko-tex certified dyes – among the safest, most gentle commercial dyes available and free from Azo colourants, formaldehyde, pentachlorophenol, cadmium, and nickel, among other harmful chemicals.

Yarns

We’re sometimes asked if we have considered using “natural” or vegetable-based dyes. The simple answer is yes, we have, but we’ve concluded it’s not a great idea. A little-known fact about vegetable dyes is that in order for them to adhere properly to fabric, they need to be applied with a mordant. A mordant is a polyvalent metal ion, which itself contains a cocktail of several harsh chemicals.

 

Absent using the mordant, the vegetable dye color is going to wash out of the garment a little each time you wash it until, over time, it’s a fraction of the intensity it started at.

 

Natural indigo dye is an exception and doesn’t require a mordant, but it’s extremely expensive and not readily available in Peru where we make our garments. It also fades over time like other natural dyes.

 

The Lost Cotton of the Incas

5000 years ago the Incas had this all figured out. Inca cotton grew in multiple color shades right from the seed. We were fortunate enough to see a small collection of this cotton at our recent visit to the Amano Pre Colombian Textile Museum in Lima. Unfortunately the Spanish conquerers saw little use for the colored cotton and took it out of circulation after several generations. While a handful of the seeds are in circulation today, the quality of what remains is generally not strong enough for commercial garments. There are many in Peru who believe the Lost Cotton (seeds) of the Incas are still out there, hidden in forgotten corners of the Andes. A quest for these elusive seeds seems worthy of an epic hiking trip through Peru or maybe even a major motion picture!

 

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Natural colored cotton yarns at the Amano Pre Colombian Textile Museum in Lima, Peru

 

Pride

The quiet pride we have always felt for our little adopted school in Cajamarca, Peru bubbled over into euphoria as we learned that little Eberth a) is not so little anymore and b) is the first student from our school (and indeed from his entire village) to get accepted into Law School! He’ll be starting at the University of Cajamarca in early 2018.
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Here he is with a picture of himself in the school’s classroom, we think about 9 years ago. His mom told us that it has been her and her husband’s dream to have a child of theirs simply finish elementary school. Attending college was something they never dreamed even remotely possible when Eberth was a small child.
Before the school was built, very few children in the area were able to complete much elementary school at all. We look forward to many more to follow in Eberth’s footsteps. We’re so proud of you, amigo!

Fine Print

We’ve long wanted to develop prints for our organic Pima cotton knits. You might be wondering what we’ve waited for and what even makes this worth talking about. For small businesses like ours, printing on fabric is often hamstrung by steep minimum order requirements that most printers need to make it efficient and worth their while.

 

To get around this, we thoughtfully design our prints to be, like our clothing, Forever in Fashion. Not something that is “so 2017” that you won’t want to wear it in 2018 and beyond. Timeless, pretty, understated.

 

Also, any printer we work with has to share our commitment to using safe, earth-friendly dyes. Ours are water-based. The quality needs to be impeccable – smooth and soft, not brittle and flaky. It has to endure beautifully through years of washing.

 

Our first print – “Medallion” – delivers. The facility we are working with is the only GOTS-certified fabric mill in Peru. The intricate but uncomplicated design is utterly wearable. Today and for years to come.

Shop our Prints (and Stripes too!)

 

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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