0.0005%

The world grows a LOT of cotton. 57 billion pounds a year. The best cotton – Pima – is 2% of the total. Organic Pima cotton? Yep, 0.0005%. We’re talking 5 bushels out of every million! And that’s where we play. Most of Fair Indigo’s fabrics are made with Organic Pima cotton.

Why Pima?

Pima is an ELS (extra long staple) cotton. It’s significantly softer, stronger, and longer-lasting than other cottons. It beautifully resists pilling, shrinking, and disintegrating in your laundry. It really really does!

marianne-krohn-703821-unsplash

Which brings us to Peru

Cotton is to Peru as ice is to Antarctica. Cotton fabrics and garments have been found in Incan and even pre-Incan ruins. (OK, we’re not saying your Pima cotton tee will last that long, but…). Today, Peru is widely regarded as the best place on earth to grow cotton. And one of the very few places perfect for growing Pima cotton.

Why organic?

If you love organic food, but hadn’t given much thought to cotton, consider this: cotton occupies only 3% of the world’s farmland, but it consumes a whopping 25% of all pesticides. Setting aside the fact that we probably don’t want pesticides lurking in our clothes, cotton pesticides in particular are even stronger than many food crop pesticides and can cause grave damage to farmland and adjacent eco-systems. Sterilizing soil (which encourages deforestation in search of new farmland), leaching into ground water, rivers, and lakes, and posing danger to farm hands.

So when someone comments on your Fair Indigo tee, you can tell them it’s made with the top 0.0005% cotton in the world!

All of our cotton is grown without the use of pesticides, much like the Incas did. Our farmers use time-honored techniques like crop rotation for soil health (they grow quinoa in the off season), natural irrigation, and “intercropping” (see Fun Fact below).

Fun Fact: Corn is a natural pesticide for organic cotton. Our farmers plant one stalk of corn at the end of each row of cotton – kind of like an end aisle display. The corn attracts precisely the right insects that prevent cotton pests. We are so impressed with the thoughtful planning and hard work that goes into trying to do the right thing!

41099231_10155804641023527_3189773027059433472_n

 

Our farmers also use good old fashioned cow manure as fertilizer. Pima cotton requires that they weed and harvest completely by hand because machines partially destroy the extra long fibers.

Hard Work

Growing organic Pima cotton is precarious work. In addition to being a hands-on endeavor, there is a lot of dependence on a very specific weather pattern. A short, wet planting season followed by a sunny warm growing season, but with temperatures never getting too cold or too hot. Peru’s Andean midlands are ideal. Well, they were. In recent years, Peru has swung from extremes of droughts and floods, hot spells and cold snaps. In 2018, our farms experienced a perfect storm of the wrong weather at the wrong time. The harvest was decimated. While we usually have excess cotton to sell on the open market, with last spring’s harvest, we’ll have just enough to squeak by for our 2018 production. Too close for comfort!

Plan B

Javier, our master farmer (and co-owner with his wife Elsa of our Lima workshop), never wants to experience a year like 2018 again. And neither do we. While he can’t control the weather or climate change, Javier can hedge his bets. By buying small plots of land in various locations around the midlands, he’s betting that bad weather is less likely to strike in multiple areas than on our single large farm that served us well until 2018.

So…introducing our latest plot of land. 30 hectares in the Pisco region. In November it was certified by CAAE as organic. The soil had to undergo intensive testing to make sure nothing unnatural was hiding. And we passed with flying colors. The cotton you see below will be used in our Fall/Winter 2019 production – and (knocking on wood) it looks like it will be a banner harvest this time!

IMG_3449.jpg

Our brand new organic cotton farm (November, 2018) in the Pisco region of Peru

cotton

Looking great! February, 2019, about a month from harvest

See the entire Fair Indigo all-cotton collection here: https://www.fairindigo.com/fi-collections/all-100-cotton.html

Hang Tags No More

Last fall we made the decision to eliminate all hang tags on our men’s and women’s garments. It was an easy decision to make – reduce paper and plastic waste? Save labor time at our production facility attaching said hang tags? Done and done. In order to communicate some basic information about our company, we redesigned our clothing poly bags (including switching to degradable poly bags!) and wrote about it in the blog This Bag is Fully Degradable. Like a Leaf.HangTag

The only problem with eliminating garment hang tags is that some of our leftover stock from the previous season still had hang tags attached, leading some customers to believe the garment that arrived WITHOUT hang tags was worn or damaged. We can assure you this is not the case! Eliminating hang tags was a conscious decision on our part to be kinder to the environment and we understand sometimes change can cause confusion. But we hope it’s a change everyone can appreciate.

Do you have a burning question you’d like answered? A question about the Fair Indigo company, our processes, or fabrics? We’d love to answer your questions, so feel free to comment below or email us at service@fairindigo.com

Last call for Organic All-Cotton Fleece!

We’ve made the decision to discontinue our Organic All-Cotton Fleece for now – a sad decision indeed. Our fleece is rare – besides being made from super-soft-and-strong organic Pima cotton, it’s made from ONLY super-soft-and-strong organic Pima cotton. Almost all fleece on the market today is made from part or all synthetic fibers. The final product has been beautiful, soft, and warm jackets and dresses. Just read this online review (one of many):

Online Review.png

The decision to discontinue our organic fleece collection has come after a couple of seasons struggling to get the quality exactly right – it has become quite a headache to keep the fabric weight, softness, and amount of stretch just right, resulting in meters of unusable fabric. And that’s not what our company is all about. Along with the physical waste, it’s been using up our time and energy and the time and energy of our production facility in Peru. Time and energy we would rather put into other endeavors.

Screen Shot 2019-01-31 at 9.28.09 AM.png

 

The Year Ahead, a letter from our founder

CHANGE. There may be no more hopeful word in the English language. The last days of the year are often spent reflecting on what change we’d like to create in our own lives.

I want to read more books in 2019. As social media vies for more and more attention, I’m reading fewer books than I did five years ago. I don’t like that. And this year I’m changing it. I’m also continuing a multi-year evolution to buying less stuff. It feels great! Liberating you from clutter, helping your budget, and putting a small dent in humanity’s voracious appetite for depleting natural resources.

BUYING LESS as a resolution may seem like a disconnect coming from someone whose livelihood relies on more people buying more clothes. But that’s not how I think about it.

We start with the premise that (almost) all of the world’s 7 billion people wear clothes. And this has spawned an apparel industry that’s honestly devastating for the earth and many of its people, second only to the oil industry in its negative environmental impact.

The best way to CHANGE this is to embrace an ethos of BUY LESS, BUY BETTER. The antithesis of Fast Fashion. To invest in clothing you’ll want to wear well beyond this season. Clothing made with quality that ensures you can wear it for years to come. We’re so proud that you and we are part of this change.

Here are some more changes coming down the pike in 2019.

NEW FARMS!
After an intensive certification process, our workshop owners in Lima, Peru have started two new organic cotton farms – one in Pisco and one in Chiclayo. Diversifying geographically helps us hedge against bad weather and poor harvests that have increased in frequency recently. The first harvest is in April!

NEW WAREHOUSE!
In mid February, we’ll be able to offer much better service as we move our merchandise out of Amazon fulfillment centers. Here’s a BLOG POST explaining why. You can also scoop up some great savings in our MOVING SALE!

NEW WEBSITE!
Around the same time, we’ll be launching a new streamlined website with easier navigation, checkout, and mobile phone compatibility.

All of the above will help us focus more on our core mission – offering you high quality, organic, and ethically made clothing. Thank you for your support in 2018 and Happy New Year!

Best,

Robert Behnke
Co-founder & President

Ornaments as memories

I have vivid and fond memories of decorating the Christmas tree as a little girl. Ours was never one of those perfectly choreographed trees, with precisely spaced and color-coordinated ornaments perched among garland and ribbon. No, ours was one of those mish-mash trees, decorated with a motley, genre-crossing selection of ornaments. Some were handmade, some delicate, some glamorous, some rustic. Some were beautiful. Some were, frankly, not. But they all had a story, and they all had a place on that tree. I still see them in my head at this time of year. Ornaments as memories.

Fast forward to now. I have my own little family. I’m mom to two kids. We put up a live tree every year. We’re forming our own traditions around that event, as sticky with pine pitch and fraught with clumped ornament hanging by my littles as it is. One of our traditions has become purchasing Pilgrim Imports ornaments from our friends at Fair Indigo.

IMG_9688

Starburst Heart Ornament

By my latest count, we’re up to about 13 of them. We’ve added them gradually; one to two a year. And our selection is gleefully eclectic, running the gamut from the Tree of Life to Santa, Sugar Skull to Rooster, Mermaid to Butterfly, Jiffy the Giraffe to our newest, the Holly Reindeer. All so different, but somehow perfectly in sync as they hang together on the tree, amidst all the other ornamental mish-mash. Thankfully, that tradition continues.

Now, there’s a lot I could say about how great these ornaments are just as ornaments. I could talk about the quality, how detailed they are, how they’re substantial without being bough-breakingly heavy. I could admire how they can move effortlessly from beautiful to whimsical (sometimes in the same ornament). I could note that I’ve not run across a single sharp edge, loose wire, or other lapse in craftsmanship on any of the ones we’ve adopted yet. All that would be 100 percent true.

IMG_9686

The author’s daughter, Maggie, started labeling the ornaments. The boxes they arrive in are perfect for gifting and/or storage.

But that’s not why I felt like writing about them.

This is a letter of gratitude. I wanted to write something as a thank you to Fair Indigo and Pilgrim Imports and every worker behind every ornament that hangs on our tree because, when it’s Christmas in my home, these aren’t just decorations. They are meaningful. They are memories. They are stories. They are on a journey with my family, transforming, with every season and every tree, into heirlooms. I will pass these down to my children for their own trees. And when I can pair those warm-fuzzy feelings with knowledge that each of these is handmade by a man or woman in Thailand who is treated well and compensated fairly for his or her work, that’s all the sales pitch I need.

This post was generously written and shared by a Fair Indigo customer, Caroline Sober-James, from Madison, Wisconsin. See these ornaments here.

Beyond Amazon

Here at Fair Indigo we are counting down the days. In t-minus 60 (ish), we’ll start shipping orders from a new warehouse. Today orders are shipped from dozens of Amazon fulfillment centers around the country.

We couldn’t be more excited. To give you better service, to reduce our carbon footprint, and to work with an awesome team of like-minded people at the new warehouse.

DMF

Looking forward to working with this world class crew!

Our relationship with Amazon has been…complicated.

In 2011 when we decided to start selling on Amazon, we had singular reasoning: to provide a better life for the most garment workers, we need to sell more clothes. And there was no better place than Amazon to get our organic & ethically made clothes in front of more eyes. Their reputation for fast and efficient shipping made them an attractive option to ship our fairindigo.com orders too.

Amazon helps thousands of new customers find us. Which helps us sell more fairly made clothing. Which does tons of good.

But our shipping partnership hasn’t been without challenges. Like when an alpaca scarf sometimes gets shipped in a carton that could hold a small microwave. Or when multiple packages are shipped for a single order because Amazon’s algorithms distribute inventory across multiple warehouses.

In recent months, Amazon hasn’t been shipping some orders as quickly as they are supposed to either. (Lots of insider jargon, but here is our letter to them about this). And while Amazon’s announcement of a universal $15 minimum wage is a great thing, their reputation for working conditions hasn’t lived up.

So one of our 2019 resolutions is to bring you a cleaner, greener, friendlier delivery experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baby Alpaca – no babies involved

alpaca

Last weekend, we participated in the Fair Trade Holiday Festival here in Madison. One of our perennial best sellers – the Baby Alpaca Scarf – was featured in our booth. More than once, I heard a passersby say something to the effect, “wow, that’s so soft, but I just don’t like the idea of baby alpacas being sheared.”

After politely correcting this misconception throughout the day, it was clear we needed to do some educating on what baby alpaca actually is and is not.

cl_00183_fw17.jpg

Contrary to what the name might suggest, baby alpaca refers to fleece that is sheared from the very softest parts of adult alpacas (not babies).  The parts that don’t come into much contact with the ground, shrubs, or trees – namely the tops of the shoulders and upper back.

Technically, baby alpaca means the fibers are no more than 21.5 microns in diameter. These ultra-fine fibers are stunningly soft and lightweight, but stronger and less prone to pilling than sheep’s wool. It’s also seven times warmer but even more breathable than wool thanks to microscopic air pockets in the fibers.
SustainableFibers

Many people who have skin sensitivities to wool can wear alpaca without problems.  Because it’s free of the lanolin found in wool which can cause a mild allergic reaction.

But wait, there’s more! You know that $50 cashmere sweater you saw at the mall? Yeah, that’s probably environmentally damaging factory-farm cashmere. Our alpacas are raised by small-scale herders and are free to roam far and wide in the spectacular mountains of Peru, like they have for thousands of years since before the time of the Incas. Our production team works closely with the herders to maximize their economic opportunities while also giving support to local health care and education programs. With Fair Indigo Alpaca, there’s a whole lotta warmth to go around.

Shop Alpaca at fairindigo.com

Let’s talk earth-friendly dyes

In the world of fabric dyes there are 2 types – natural and synthetic. Natural dyes use items found in nature, such as minerals, roots, berries, bark, leaves, and wood to alter the color of fabric and yarns. At first blush, it would seem using natural dyes would be a natural extension of using organic cotton, which we use in the vast majority of our products. So why don’t we use natural dyes in our clothing?

IMG_2041

But as we explored the natural dye option, we learned there are good reasons why they have not been widely adopted, even among brands trying to produce the most earth-friendly clothing they can.

First, natural dyes, on their own, don’t hold their color. As an example, if we used blueberry by-product to achieve a deep purple color, after a couple of washes, the garment’s color would be less deep, less purple. After several washes, it would be purplish-white. Not what most people are looking for.

There is a way around this. For lack of a better term, color ‘adhesives’ could be added during the dying process to help the color stick, even after washing. But these adhesives are extremely caustic and more than negate the benefits of organic cotton.

But there is a “third way.” To achieve colorfastness (the ability to hold color after several washings), while minimizing exposure to harmful chemicals, we use the gold standard for safe dyes – OEKO-TEX Standard 100.

CL_SEPTCOVER_FW18_11

OEKO-TEX Standard 100 insures that the dyes are free from several substances, whether or not they are regulated by the US government (many are not). These include some of the better-known carcinogens and harmful substances:

  • Azo colourants
  • formaldehyde
  • pentachlorophenol
  • cadmium
  • nickel
  • lead

These chemical safety standards are extremely stringent and our dye maker, a company called DyStar, endures rigorous testing on a constant basis. If you want to geek out on specifics, you can have at it here. DyStar is well-known as a company committed to innovating sustainability in an industry that notoriously doesn’t.

A word to those with sensitivities: eliminating the most harmful chemicals from dyes is a good thing for all of us, there are some people who have severe allergies or sensitivities to various chemicals that may or may not be judged as generally safe or harmful. We can’t promise anyone with these sensitivities will have zero problems with our dyes (every body is unique), but we have heard from several such customers who excitedly told us our fabrics have not triggered these reactions.

 

 

This Bag Is Fully Degradable. Like a Leaf.

Let’s talk about one very unsexy topic of the clothing industry – plastic bags. They are a necessary evil in the world of clothing manufacturing – protecting your garment between our production facility in Peru to your doorstep. We’ve spent years searching for a solution that is a little gentler on the environment, and here it is!

IMG_3535.jpg

Our new polybags are made from the same materials as typical ones – Polyethylene (PE). So they have the same benefits – water and moisture resistance, efficient protection of the product, see-through (a MUST for warehousing purposes), strength.

But these polybags contain d2w®, an oxo-biodegradable additive (made from various types of salt) that is added during the production process. While the polybag remains as strong as ever during normal use, it breaks down completely in the natural environment, leaving no plastic remnants behind. Once the additive has done its part to break down the materials, natural bacteria and fungi take over.

The bags are 91% biodegraded within 24 months, similar to a leaf, breaking down into water, CO2, and a small amount of biomass. They can still be REUSED and RECYCLED just like any other polybag, where PE recycling is accepted.

IMG_3536

We also eliminated garment hangtags for this season’s production. Hangtags are helpful in telling the Fair Indigo story, but we felt it was a waste of resources – and frankly, a waste of time, energy, and labor attaching those little hangtags to every garment. So we decided to print the Fair Indigo story directly on the polybag, keeping our packaging and marketing waste to a minimum. Win-win!

The new polybags read as follows:

“After years in the apparel industry, a small group of us started Fair Indigo because we knew there was a better way to do business. To create modern, quality clothes while paying the good people who make them a fair and living wage. Instead of racing to the bottom, we help life people up.

Each garment is meticulously fashioned with great care using premium materials like organic Pima cotton and sustainably herded alpaca. We build garments you’ll want to wear for years, with quality that ensures you can.

Thank you for helping us change the world, one stitch at a time.”

 

Social Fabric 2018.07.16

Potatoes

NATURE’S OLDEST COMFORT FOOD

French fries, German potato salad, Irish potato soup, Bengal potatoes. An international starch powerhouse, the humble potato is actually native to Peru, was domesticated there over 10,000 years ago, and was only introduced to Europe after the “discovery” of the Americas in the fifteenth century. Today, there are over 4,000 (4,000!) varieties of potatoes in Peru – only a handful of which are able to grow away from the ideal Andean climate and soil. Idaho gets closest but even there they can’t grow most of them. Madhur Jaffrey chronicles her journey through Peru’s potato belt. From the New York Times.

ZIPPING ALONG

Quick – think of a company or brand whose products you use daily. I’m guessing no one but the most insider-y of apparel insiders thought ‘YKK.’ And they probably didn’t either. But if you put on a pair of jeans, zipped up a jacket, or grabbed a backpack or handbag today, chances are you interacted with a YKK zipper. For decades, Japan’s YKK has made over half the world’s zippers. If you feel like geeking out on zippers, this deep dive by Quartz looks at the history, the present, and the future of apparel’s most essential fastening device.

THE LAST STRAW?

One bright spot in the movement to change our culture of consumption is the decline of single-use plastic shopping bags. We can thank growing consumer awareness as well as new local and state laws, the most consequential being California’s 2016 law outlawing the bags. (Shameless plug – our Envirosax reusable shopping bags are so cool, so convenient, you’ll forget you ever used plastic bags!).

Next up…the plastic straw. After shopping bags, no other product gets used once and tossed (rarely recycled) as a drinking straw. Re-usable straws and paper straws (remember those?) are making big comebacks as plastic’s reign finally begins to recede. We can all drink to that! From NPR.

SPEAKING OF THINGS GOING AWAY

It’s hard to fathom, but not too long before ‘Netflix and Chill’ we had ‘Blockbuster and Return in 48 Hours, 24 Hours for New Releases.’ After closing two Alaska locations, Blockbuster will have only one remaining store. Quite honestly, I didn’t realize they had any locations still open even though my member card looks as good as new (oh, the wonders of plastic!). The fact that the last store is in hipster mecca Bend, Oregon is even more surprising. Or is it? Could this be some kind of ironic Blockbuster? From Esquire.