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).

Organic cotton fabric

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.

post_meeting

Feeling better

organic cotton fabric

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.

AlpacaYarn

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.

Rosa

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…

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!

Alight with Joy and Hope

If you were to visit a certain village near Chiang Mai, Thailand, you’d see a thriving settlement filled with devoted families, a busy marketplace and a newly improved school. Yet two decades ago this was an area so desperately poor that families were often forced to send their children to work in Bangkok’s treacherous factories.

But all that has changed.

Today, more than 400 neighbors work with fair trade importer Pilgrim Imports of Milwaukee, Wisconsin to produce the intricate hand-made metal and beads ornaments you see here. The jobs are satisfying, clean and pay a living wage. No one thinks of dumping trash in rivers or using harmful chemicals because the villagers work where they live.

Today, more than 400 neighbors work with fair trade importer Pilgrim Imports of Milwaukee, Wisconsin to produce the intricate hand-made metal and beads ornaments you see here. The jobs are satisfying, clean and pay a living wage. No one thinks of dumping trash in rivers or using harmful chemicals because the villagers work where they live.

The “acid” used to clean the metal ornaments is citrus juice, unlike the toxic kinds used in mainstream factories. They are proud to preserve village traditions, so happy children don’t have to migrate to Bangkok, and deeply moved people like you enjoy their art.

As brightly as these ornaments shine, their makers smiles shine brighter still. Share the joy by purchasing these fair trade ornaments for just about anyone on your list.

Partners in Good

Meet Rowena and Sergio, wife and husband (and business partners) living in Lima, Peru. There is no other way to say it. Without these two incredibly dedicated and incredibly generous souls, Fair Indigo would not exist today.

Rowena and Sergio, partners in good

We met them way back in 2005, when they were both (unmarried at the time) working at our dress shirt factory in the Chorrillos neighborhood of Lima. Yes, a real life dress shirt factory romance that you see on TV all the time! Shortly thereafter, they married, started their own sourcing business, and had two beautiful sons, Joaquin and Sebastian.

Rowena, Sergio, Joaquin, Sebastian, Christmas 2010
Along the way, Sergio’s brother Nicolas has also helped Fair Indigo, especially in our relationship with Angeles Anonimos, our fair trade jewelry partner that trains artisans with disabilities in life and work skills. Nicolas took the Angels under his own wings and made a difference in many lives there.
Brothers, Sergio and Nicolas

And what exactly do these fine people do for us? Every fair trade facility we work with in Peru, they helped us find. Every shipment that leaves Peru, they arrange inspection. Every English/Spanish technical translation that needs to happen to create a garment, covered.  They are our eyes and ears on the ground in our most important production region outside the United States and have welcomed us into their business and into their homes.  We will soon feature more stories about some of the adventures we’ve shared along the way and the heartwarming producers they have connected us with. To Sergio, Rowena, Nicolas…muchas gracias!

PS: Sergio and Rowena work with small companies like ours (and a big one now and then) but say their dream is to work with “10 Fair Indigos.” They are true fans of underdogs in an apparel world dominated more and more by giants. If you know someone who has some organic clothing sourcing needs in Peru and can place decent size orders, we can connect you!

Anonymous Angels

We are celebrating two years of jewelry-making partnership with Angeles Anonimos (Anonymous Angels) of Lima, Peru. Introduced to the Angels by other partners we were working with, we knew immediately we had found something quite special.

The founders of the organization, Maria Elena, Jorge, and Adriana had backgrounds in the mainstream jewelry business in South America. Combining their expertise in jewelry with their passion for helping “unemployable” Peruvians with disabilities created Angeles Anonimos. A key component of their plan was finding a US partner to sell the jewelry. We couldn’t be happier to be that partner.

The San Luis district of Lima is desperately poor. Jobs are scarce, almost non-existent for people with disabilities such as polio or the inability to hear. The year-round mild San Francisco-like climate here is scant comfort to millions of residents who live on less than $2 per day.  Groups like A.A. are helping to make sure that Peru’s recent economic boom is shared with people in areas like this where the workshop is located.

Some pictures from one of our production runs:

Accompanying us on one of our trips were local Madison, Wisconsin video storyteller Katy Sai and photographer Jay Olsen of StoryBridge.tv.  Thank you Katy and Jay…well done!  You can view the videos below.  We encourage you to share them with anyone you think may be touched by the stories here.

So what’s with the name? Maria Elena was surprised it was not obvious to us when we asked her.  She told us that every time someone buys a piece of their jewelry, that person is an anonymous angel. Someone they will never meet, but who is making a big difference.  We had several disagreements about this as it was quite obvious to us who the angels were. “No no, you’re the angels.”  “No no, you are!” But our angel-calling sessions ended quite amicably, often with huge servings of delicious Peruvian food. (we know when we’re outmatched). Thank you Angels! We are motivated every day to sell as much jewelry as we can. If you would like to help us support them, it’s as easy as buying a piece of their jewelry.

A Promising New Partnership

First-time meetings with potential suppliers are usually pleasant enough. It’s usually a polite get-to-know-you type of meeting, with a mix of softball and hardball questions, exchange of business cards, and a “we’ll call you” ending.

When we heard about Jim and Sandy Martin of Oshkosh, Wisconsin and their 3-year old business called Green 3 Apparel, we were as intrigued as our somewhat jaded sourcing brains allowed us to be. We had pushed out the meeting for weeks, because, you know, priorities.

I remember the day well because I was uncomfortably over-dressed having met with “the bankers” earlier in the morning. This is nothing against bankers, only against tucking in my shirt.

By the time Jim had left our office, Jody, Katie, and I were buzzing around the room like insects figuring out how we could partner with Green 3 as quickly as possible. So amazing was their story, so wonderful was their product.

They had everything we stood for under one roof. Organic cotton, fairly made products (in a USA factory to boot), a design aesthetic that was modern but not edgy, fabrics like butter, eco-friendly dyes, prints done at a facility powered by wind and solar?! And, often forgotten, years of experience making apparel. And yes, they were a mere 2 hours away from Madison in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. (yes, it’s a real city).

Sandy cultivated her green values first as a midwestern farm girl, then as an apparel industry insider, traveling the world and seeing first-hand the destruction caused to the environment, workers, and communities by the simple act of producing t-shirts.

Her heart told her there was a better way and we couldn’t agree more. Here’s a sampling of some of the Greenest Tees we could ever even hope to imagine…many more to come.


See the entire selection of USA-made T-shirts.

Supporting jobs here at home, too.

In addition to working with facilities in developing countries around the globe, we are excited to be exploring new opportunities to bring you more U.S-made products as well. It is encouraging to see after decades of hemorrhaging apparel jobs, there appears to be a resurgence in small, lean and mean US-based apparel factories.

Speaking of jobs at home, we are proud to print all of our catalogs on Forest Stewardship Council certified paper at Quad Graphics.

Quad is very well known in southern Wisconsin as one of the best places to work for salaried and hourly employees. Fair Indigo would not be where it is today without their expertise, service mentality, and commitment to small businesses like ours. We are happy to support such a company and its workers.

In fact, this weekend, our September catalog is on the printing press, always an exciting thing to see. Here’s a sneak peek of the cover being printed right now.