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.

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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. In the meantime we have to move! Since we’d rather sell stuff than move stuff, you get 30% off items we’d rather be out of come February. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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.
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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?

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

Social Fabric 2018.05.31

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GOOD NEWS!

Every time I open my News app, Facebook, or, (why do i still?) Twitter, I find myself almost squinting one eye shut to avoid the latest evidence the world is spiraling toward oblivion. While we can’t bury our heads in the sand to bad news or real struggles, sometimes it helps to take a step back and realize that across the arc of human history, the world is actually getting better in many ways. Here are fifty bits of good news. Not one-off feel-good stories, but real hard data. From A Wealth of Common Sense blog.

ON THE OTHER HAND…

One part of the world that has definitely not gotten better is humanity’s relationship with its clothing. The price we pay for our clothes has fallen substantially in the past thirty years and we are buying five times as much as we did in 1980. While that might sound like a good deal for consumers, it’s also led to a toxic brew known as “Fast Fashion.” Faster, cheaper, more, repeat. Global brands have gotten huge almost overnight with this formula. But the hidden costs are huge too. From The Elephant Journal.

OLD DOG, NEW TRICKS?

Most of us have heard that learning a new language is hard after age 10, really hard after 18. It’s always been in the back of my mind as I’ve thought about taking additional Spanish courses. But a linguistics professor is blowing up these common perceptions. It depends on how we define “fluent.” When I’ve asked our Peruvian partners to score my Spanish, they are very polite and say it’s good. When pressed for a bit more candor, they admit I sound roughly like a Peruvian toddler with a cute accent (or one time, “like a Canadian who lived in Chile for a few years” ???).  In any case, they understand “I get taxi for hotel” really means “I’ll get a taxi to my hotel.” And it’s just fine. And now I feel almost as accomplished as the president of France. From Quartz.

LADIES WHO LUNCH

On my recent trip to Peru, one of our lunch conversations turned to a pilot project in a remote Pacific region where a group of women farmers are transforming their community’s school lunches to ditch processed and junk foods for nutritious organic meals. The women re-discovered the benefits to natural foods after a series of horrible weather events forced them to learn to grow new types of vegetables, just to survive. Their self-taught farming skills now form the foundation of their thriving enterprise. Way to go ladies! From IPS News.

 

The fix is in

As anyone who works in apparel will tell you, the deck is stacked against things running on auto pilot. Murphy’s Law? Not really. Making clothing involves very ‘touchy’ elements: cotton fiber (which varies as the weather does), yarns, fabrics, dyes, washing processes, sewing needle tension, human judgement, and how those things interact with each other. If the water temperature during the dyeing process is 2 degrees off, fabric shrinkage can go way off course. It’s one of the reasons no one has quite figured out how to teach robots to make clothes. As the president of a major denim factory said in 1970, we’d colonize Mars before figuring out how to automate clothing production.

For the past several days I huddled with our partners in Peru to solve a perplexing issue. While 90% of our organic cotton fabrics this season were great as usual, there were a handful of colors that were, well, too soft. That may sound weird, but these colors felt a bit more like pajamas (soft and fuzzy) instead of how we want our organic women’s tees and dresses to feel (soft and silky smooth).

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Too soft? More accurately, the wrong kind of soft.

This had the technicians at our knitting and dyeing mill scratching their heads as they followed the same formula for knitting, dyeing, and washing they always have.

After several days of testing (and the usual jokes about how much easier it would be to make cardboard boxes) we found it. Our dye producer– maker of some of the gentlest dyes on earth – slightly changed their formula on some colors to be even more eco-friendly. While happy they took that initiative, they didn’t inform our dyeing facility. Sure enough, the very slight change interacted with the wash process and created a slight but perceptible change in how the fabric feels.

Drying fabrics after dye and wash

Drying fabrics after dye and wash

Once we discovered the issue, the technicians made an adjustment to the wash formula, we did a few more dye and wash tests, and voila! Our fabrics were as smooth as silk again. We gave the all clear for Fall/Winter 2018 production.

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Feeling better

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Ready for cutting and sewing!

Needless to say, this will add a couple weeks to our production calendar, but we should be still ok to have most fall goods in the door by September 1.

Why Made in Peru?

In our early years, Fair Indigo worked with several small-ish suppliers all over the world and in the US. We were country-agnostic. As long as you could produce quality products and pay and treat your workers well, we wanted to work with you. The universe of fair trade + clothing + quality was pretty small, however.

To be honest, at times it felt like we were flailing. Finding that rare supplier that fit the bill and jumping onboard with them quickly. It was a sugar high – always exciting. “Hey, we can finally offer jeans now!” Flash forward to today and “Made fairly in Peru” is printed on nearly all of our styles. Because as our beliefs about fair trade and sustainability have evolved, our sourcing has too.

 

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In addition to using organic cotton whenever possible and paying living wages, we’re now laser focused on reducing clothing waste – one of the biggest and least reported problems in the apparel industry. Since 1980, Americans are buying 5 times as much clothing and discarding it 3 times faster – mostly to landfills. All this Fast Fashion is an unmitigated disaster for the world’s resources (especially water) and for its low-paid garment workers.

Some days it feels like we’re a teacup trying to stave off a tidal wave but we’re trying to be part of the “let’s waste less” solution in two ways.

First, designing clothes that are Forever in Fashion. We don’t want you looking in your closet, finding a Fair Indigo item, and thinking “that’s so 2016.” It doesn’t mean we won’t nod to current trends, but our focus is on style that endures through multiple years. Minimalism, in many areas of life, can feel great! And do good.

Second, clothing has to last. You know that favorite tee in your closet you bought five years ago for $10? Yeah, that probably doesn’t exist. So we strive not only to design pieces you’ll want to wear for years, but to build in quality that insures you can.

Which is what leads us to Peru. Honestly, there is no better place on earth to make clothing. In terms of climate, Peru has it all. In fact, it contains 28 of the world’s 32 climates – more than any country on earth. The diversity of what Peru can grow, raise, and harvest is remarkable. “Coast. Mountain. Jungle.” It’s almost a national mantra seen everywhere from travel brochures to restaurant menus. Peruvians take great pride in their three regions, each with a rich and distinct indigenous history, several micro-climates, and a wonderful diversity of flora, fauna, and flavors.

One micro-climate (a quarter way up the hills from the coastal desert to the Andes) is literally the most ideal place on earth to grow organic Pima and Tanguis cotton. Their quality is unmatched, even edging out somewhat more famous Egyptian cotton. Its distinctive long-staple fibers endure beautifully for years without pilling. Add a dash of sustainably herded alpaca – stronger, warmer, and lighter than wool (without the itch!) and kinder than factory farm cashmere.

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Then there are the people of Peru. Friendly? Generous to a fault? Happy? Check, check, check. On top of all that goodness, their apparel making skills are legendary – handed down through generations, literally from the time of the Incas. There are thousands of workers here able, willing, and happy to make your clothes. They just need the chance to do so.

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But even in an ideal clothing-making place like Peru, things sometimes go off course. Which is why I’m here this week. Solving unforeseen problems is well over 50% of any apparel maker’s job (75%?). More on that in the next post…

Social Fabric 2018.04.27

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RENTAL VALUE

A new California startup has a novel idea to reduce waste and help families save money at the same time. It’s sort of a re-imagination of the hand-me-down kids clothing model many of us remember from our childhood. Though my younger brother didn’t appreciate the Mork & Mindy sweatshirt as much as I did, it was still, by and large, a good model. From Treehugger.

FAIR TRADE FINE PRINT?

A student at the University of Illinois has an interesting concept; applying fair trade principles to social media and personal data. But privacy is a really tough nut to crack. The uncomfortable truth is most of us will answer “no” when asked “are you ok that websites you visit share your data with others?”  But most of us experience the micro-benefits of data sharing every day in the form of online content that’s more relevant to us. From The Daily Illini.

DON’T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER

Right or wrong, the enduring stereotype of the Millennial is someone who misses the essence of the beautiful sunset because they’re preoccupied capturing the perfect selfie and figuring out the ideal Instagram hashtags (#sunset? #CaliLove?). So here’s a bit of counterintuitive news. Millennials are a big reason public libraries are thriving. 53% of Millennials visit libraries, higher than Gen X or Boomers. #LongLiveBooks! From Quartz.

NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

I didn’t want to believe this when it first bubbled up on my radar last year, but apparently the fanny pack…is back. Whether you’re on Team Fanny-tastic or Team Ban the Fanny, the cool kids are sporting The Pack. I wonder if this is a good time to nudge our designer Stacy to work on that fair trade alpaca fanny pack – the FannyPaca.🤣 From Harper’s Bazaar.

What’s changed?

On April 24, 2013, a five-story garment factory called Rana Plaza in the Dhaka district of Bangladesh collapsed, killing over 1,100 workers and injuring 2,500 more – the worst garment industry accident of all time. Though the sheer scale of that horrific day kept it in the headlines for longer than usual, it largely receded from the mainstream media’s consciousness, except for the occasional anniversary look-back, like several that are out today.

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I remember shortly after the accident, some of the knee-jerk reactions I heard from industry insiders and even some well-meaning consumers. “Made in Bangladesh” had become toxic, just like “Made in China” had been a decade and a half earlier when the Kathy Lee Gifford clothing scandal erupted.

A well-intentioned consumer may reason that if she or he stops buying things made in Bangladesh, it will punish the exploiters and force them to change their ways.

But that is absolutely the wrong approach. People in Bangladesh (and China and everywhere) need jobs and fair pay and safe working conditions. Boycotts, as good as they may feel to join on Twitter or Facebook, are mostly destructive in cases like this. All they really do is incentivize companies to move their production to a country that’s not in the headlines, leaving the exploited workers now jobless too. This is exactly what happened. 150,000 workers lost their jobs in the months after Rana Plaza. Victims of companies choosing the less painful option (leaving) instead of the right option (staying and fixing).

Some progress has been made in Bangladesh. But not enough. This PBS Newshour clip does a pretty good job of summarizing where we are five years later.

We can’t be naive enough to believe all of our clothing is going to be made in small family-owned workshops and cooperatives like Fair Indigo’s fair trade clothing is. In a world of seven billion people, there needs to be scale. There needs to be large companies and big production facilities in addition to the small ones that may capture our hearts, but can’t come close to clothing the world.

Fashion Revolution is a great one stop shop for all things related to improving the garment industry. There is no easy solution. It’s going to take thousands and millions of us asking our favorite brands what they are doing to improve working conditions in Bangladesh and elsewhere. Brands do listen to their customers on matters of style and trends. They’ll listen on conscience too if enough of us demand it.