More colors, please!

Crayons

One of the most common requests we get is this: Please offer more colors, especially in your organic basics.

I hear you! It’s so fun to see a rainbow of colors to choose from in your go-to styles. To offer our best selling scoop neck tee in 20 colors – it’s the stuff dreams are made of around here!

The simple answer is this: We’re too small to offer that many colors. Let me explain what that means.

• When we first design a style we have to estimate how many pieces we will sell. Let’s say it’s 200 pieces for this example.

• If we offer it in 4 colors, that’s 50 pieces per color.

• Divide that by 5 sizes and we’re now at an average of 10 pieces per color/size combo (or in retail lingo, 10 pieces per SKU).

• So if we wanted to offer this style in 6 colors instead of 4 (I’ll do the math for you), now we’re down to 6 pieces per SKU.

• With numbers that low, it’s hard to keep stock on all sizes & colors. So the fewer colors offered, the easier it is to stay in stock. A bona fide balancing act.

The second reason relates to fabric dyeing minimums. Even though our partners in Peru are small businesses like us, they have to order at least 120kg per color per fabric to meet the dye vat minimums. There isn’t yet a “micro dye house” industry in Peru. 120kg is enough to make about 500 garments. So each new color we add means we have to add 500 more units to our order across however many styles that color comes in. No problem if we’re adding a color or two, but not feasible if we wanted to offer a dozen or more colors.

Spectrum
But we are getting better! I’m excited we’re offering our widest color assortment ever this fall. Thanks to you (i.e. increasing sales).

The real answer – we need to sell way more than 200 pieces on every style we sell. If we could do that, this would be a non-issue. So tell your friends! More sales = more colors offered = more lives uplifted with clean, safe, & fair apparel making.

Sometimes it’s the little things.

Tees2

For years, we’ve wanted to offer our best selling tees in heathered* colors and stripes. A humble enough aspiration right?

Because our partner in Peru is (like us) a small business, the added complexity of making these fabrics (vs. basic solid colors) has prevented us from offering them.

Until now! Thanks to your enthusiastic purchases last year (seriously, thank you!), we’ve been able to work closely with our partners and make it well worth their while to make it happen.

It’s a small but straightforward start – a timeless grey heather and a clean monochromatic stripe. Take a look at the styles they’re offered in here.

*In fabrics, heathered refers to intertwining two or more different colors of yarn (often one white and one color) to achieve a lovely muted effect.

The “greenest” tees are the ones that last.

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There are countless ways to judge how environmentally responsible t-shirts are.

Does the t-shirt use organic cotton? What about the dyes and chemicals used in the processing of the fabric? How many miles did the tee have to travel on a boat, plane, or truck to its end user? What kind of packaging did it arrive in? On top of these, who certified the cotton organic? Whose organic standard was used?

While these are all important, one of the most overlooked measurements is this:    how long will this t-shirt last?

We don’t know of studies showing the average life of a mass produced tee, but we know instinctively it’s shorter than it was years ago. That $12 tee you bought three years ago? Exactly. There’s not much sustainable about a disposable organic tee.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, the lifespan is a year. Imagine the impact of building a t-shirt that lasts 4 years or longer. That’s 75% less cotton. 75% less water. 75% less packaging. 75% less fuel.

So when we set out to create the World’s Finest Tees (dresses & skirts too!), longevity was top of mind. Here’s what we do:

1. Start with pure organic Peruvian pima cotton. The Andean climate of Peru yields irresistible pima cotton–among the finest in the world–renowned for its sublime softness, brilliant luster, and resistance to breaking down and pilling. Rare organic pima is even softer. With no pesticides or chemicals getting in the way of its natural goodness.

2. Build in shape retention. This may irk some purists, but we add a dash of spandex to many of our tees. It allows the tee to hold its shape beautifully over time, not stretching out. (For purists, we do offer a collection of 100% pima organic cotton tees, dresses, & skirts too).

3. Pre-wash the fabric. Before we cut the fabric for sewing, it’s gently washed, extracting almost all of the shrinkage before sewing. This is a much more expensive method than the typical garment wash. But it insures that tees will fit consistently from batch to batch. And, critically, that the tees will have very minimal shrinkage over years of washing so they’re not catapulted into the disposable category.

Image4. Build in economic sustainability. In our view, environmental responsibility goes hand in hand with economic and social responsibility. Making organic tees in a sweatshop to keep their prices lower is simply misguided. All of our tees are made by a small group of workers and cooperative owners like Viviana. Workers paid living wages and treated with respect and dignity.

 

foundation5. Pay it forward. Proceeds from Fair Indigo’s profits (along with $5 donations at website checkout) support the Fair Indigo Foundation. The Foundation supports education in the communities where our products are made. Because we firmly believe…no, we know because we’ve seen it…that besides paying living wages, the best ticket out of poverty is education. (Read more).

With premium ingredients, fashionable yet timeless designs, and values you can wear on your sleeves, the World’s Finest Tees will be spot on trend this season. And the next and the next and the next.

The High Price of Free Shipping

When you get free shipping, you are more than likely deducting pay from someone else’s paycheck.  It’s not free for them.
One of the most frequent requests we get is “why don’t you offer free shipping promotions like other companies?” To understand the answer, it’s important to understand how other companies can do this using a combination of three tactics:
#1) If you’re large enough (many times larger than Fair Indigo), you can negotiate lower rates with shipping partners (UPS, Fedex, etc.).
#2) You can raise the price of individual items to cover the lost margin. For example, a company with a $29.99 shirt may raise the price to $33.50 to cover the “free shipping policy.” (As you may or may not know, you’ll sell lots less $33.50 shirts than $29.99 shirts…basic price barrier psychology).
#3) You can go after your garment suppliers for lower costs to make up the margin up front.
It is safe to say that #1 and #2 have largely been exhausted. With high fuel prices, shipping rates are becoming more and more difficult to lower and most consumers have little appetite for higher retails on clothing after years of falling prices.
So most companies are left with #3. Going after the price they pay the garment factory.
What goes into the cost of the garment? Primarily three things:
   a) cost of raw materials (e.g. cotton)
   b) cost of labor
   c) cost of transportation to get goods to
the warehouse or store
The cost of raw materials has done nothing but gone up in the past several years. Same with the cost of transportation.  So…the workers take the hit.
Let’s be clear. Despite the sweatshop scandals that started with the Kathie Lee Gifford line in the late 1990’s, and despite the Corporate Social Responsibility standards adopted by all major apparel brands, know this: widespread pay abuse of garment workers is real. It’s still happening. And it’s brutal. Here is an excellent and extensive article on the topic. While major apparel brands preach social responsibility, often with very good intentions, they mercilessly push for lower costs at the same time. They can’t have it both ways.
I know from my own connections in the apparel industry that many companies are paying $2 for their t-shirts. For t-shirts they price between $20-$35, except during a 50% off “sale.” (When I left the mainstream apparel industry in 2005, it was not uncommon to pay between $5-$10 per t-shirt).
Most of our t-shirts sell for $20 – $35 too. But we pay many many multiples more than $2 per shirt to our fair trade cooperatives in Peru and to our USA suppliers. And when we mark them down 30%, it’s because we bought too many or designed a not-appealing-enough shirt (we call these dogs). Not because we planned it into our marketing strategy like most others. When we mark things down, the garment workers have already been paid. We take the responsibility and we take the hit (as our finance guy can vouch for!).
The math doesn’t lie. Free Shipping is clearly brutal on the lives of garment workers.
This blog reaches a few hundred people at most. It is nearly impossible to compete with the multi-million dollar corporate “free shipping” campaigns you’ll see. Please forward this to anyone you think will find it at all valuable or interesting. Thank you!

Cotton’s Perfect Storm

As commodities go, cotton has not been that different from others on the open market. The weather and worldwide government subsidy policies fluctuated within a fairly narrow range while worldwide demand slowly increased from year to year.

Today, that model has been turned on its head. Unprecedented bad weather (severe droughts and floods) has devastated crops in almost every major cotton producing region in the world including near complete and heart-breaking washouts in large parts of Australia and Pakistan. All in 2010.

Burgeoning middle classes in large developing countries like China, India, and Brazil have kept demand growing at its fastest pace in years. And the demand for organic cotton is growing even faster.

Last last year I got a call from Sergio, our partner on the ground in Peru. “We have never seen anything like this,” his voice had a sound of impending doom. We produce our entire line of organic baby gifts as well as some of our women’s organic tees  in Peruvian cooperatives. Sergio suggested that we buy enough cotton to supply an entire year’s worth of production because of predicted further price increases, something that is extremely difficult for a company of our size.

While spending time with our other partners, Jim and Sandy of Green 3 Apparel in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, they talked of “getting killed” by cotton prices and how challenging 2011 was going to be because of it. Green 3 supplies us with almost all of our USA-made clothing.

Headlines talk of big companies being squeezed by cotton prices. If big companies are being squeezed, small companies like ours are truly being choked.

The bottom line. The price of cotton clothing is going up this year. There is no way around it. We pledge to do everything we can to create other efficiencies in our business to keep prices as reasonable as possible. Fair Indigo has always been committed to the concept of “sustainable pricing.” Setting prices that are fair to workers (supporting living wage jobs) and provide just enough profit to continue to develop new products and find new customers. Long-term, this is the only sustainable economic model that will support workers and consumers here and around the world. Something we strongly believe in.

Fun is Good for You!

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently published a summary of research into the benefit of play in the development of a child, and, importantly, what type of play is most beneficial.

The abbreviated version is that young children are increasingly spending much too much time playing with electronic toys that involve passive participation (i.e. pushing a button and watching). In addition, a growing number of stuffed toys revolve around licensed media characters where most of the personality and disposition of the character has been pre-defined by the media creator.

Imagination is not just nice, it’s quite literally essential for the development of a child’s intellectual and social development.

Examples of toys that support this kind of development are building blocks, simple household items like wooden utensils and containers, and unbranded animals or characters.

While academic research is a great validator, we knew instinctively that our Joobles collection of organic stuffed animals made by fair trade cooperatives in Peru, was a healthy thing for mind and spirit, young and old, and in this case, unlike too often,  consumer and producer.  Doctor’s orders: have fun!