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?


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.


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!


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.


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.”



Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. It’s a helpful little mantra for those trying to use and waste less. It’s time to add a 4th R word – Repair.


Over the past several decades, fewer and fewer people even attempt to repair slightly damaged clothing. When apparel is so cheap (and cheaply made), sadly, it’s easier to toss it and replace it.

Sweater Repair

But recently we’ve noticed more people interested in DIY techniques for extending the life of their clothes. Yay! Everything from mastering the simple task of  sewing on a button to craftier pursuits like repurposing a t-shirt into a market bag.

We’ve collected some of these ideas on our Pinterest board – Waste Not, Want Not.

One of the best resources we’ve found online is Love Your Clothes. It includes helpful suggestions on mending and repairing, along with maximizing the life of your clothing with proper washing, ironing, and stain removal.

You can also check your local area for mending workshops – for clothes and other household items. We have a fantastic one here in Madison, Wisconsin called One-One Thousand.

Don’t nix it, fix it!

With gratitude, Jody. Mom of the Joobles

Jody was the first person to encourage me to start Fair Indigo, which isn’t a surprise to anyone who knew her. She encouraged everyone to go for their dream, however improbable it seemed to most. Other good friends, rightfully, advised caution – a big risk, securing investors, long hours. But Jody – “you have to do this!” Jody believed.

Stacy, our Style Manager was a student of Jody’s at UW-Madison. She remembers her as a favorite teacher who sincerely believed in every student’s ideas and that anything was possible. Her enthusiasm in the classroom – and for teaching in general – was contagious.

Our photography model, Rada, said it well on Jody’s memorial page: “I will always remember you as the warm, happy soul that made everyone feel as the best version of themselves.”

Jody saw the world as if through the eyes of an innocent child – a world full of good people, a million awesome ideas, and color. Jody loved color. Beamed about it. Where others saw a weed, Jody saw “the most incredible leafy green color I’ve ever seen.”



Beauty on the outside you see. Beauty on the inside you feel. Whether it was Jody’s warmth, her smile, her energy, her happiness, her generosity, her positive attitude – however you want to describe it – it flowed out of Jody and into the people around her. She absolutely had no ability to turn any of that beauty off. Her “on” switch was locked in.

-excerpt from “A letter from Gary,” Jody’s husband, at her memorial service.



Few things embody Jody’s spirit like her Joobles. Look at their faces and you’ll feel her innocence, her pure joy. And you’ll probably smile, just like you’d do every time you were with her.


I have to give a shout here to Sergio because the Joobles would not exist without him. Sergio helped us coordinate with our Peruvian suppliers in the early days of Fair Indigo. On a trip Jody and I took in early 2008, our schedule was overbooked with urgent things to get done. He wanted to show us a hand knitting operation. “Maybe next time Sergio, we have too much to get done.” But he persisted, every day. Finally on our last day, we gave in. “OK Sergio, 30 minutes!”


Sergio with his wife, Rowena in Lima, Peru

Within 5 minutes, I had to pick Jody’s jaw up from the floor. She was 20 steps ahead of us gushing at the talent, hugging the knitters who didn’t speak her language but could feel her love, cooing over the quality of the needlework, the color. “Oh my Gosh Rob, this is incredible!” She was like the proverbial kid in a candy store. I agreed and was equally moved by the couple – Javier and Elsa – who owned the place. They, like Jody, were the kind of people who made you instantly feel like an old family friend. And as I later learned, they were beyond just warm and friendly – they were absolutely saintly. But, at the time, we were not looking for a hand knit supplier. “Jody, come on, we’re going to miss our flight.”

When we got off the plane back in Madison, Jody had sketched her first Jooble. She already had him named – Jiffy the Giraffe – and had picked out yarn colors. She had a vision and knew exactly what she was doing.

The rest of the characters were inspired by Jody’s love of kids and from suggestions by her boys, Avery and Cooper. All of us who worked with her knew the joy her boys brought her. It’s a joy nearly all parents feel, but Jody expressed it in a very special way using her own childlike awe.


Jody with her then baby, Avery and 17 years later at his graduation with dad and Cooper.


Jody fought cancer for nearly two years. Serious illness is so personal and there is no right or wrong way to handle it. To the outside world, Jody’s unstoppable optimism never seemed to diminish. Adjectives here seem inadequate in trying to describe how much we were overcome by her heroic attitude through something so difficult.

Jody the Owl

Her last design she called Blink the Owl. On one of Jody’s last days with us, her son Avery suggested to me, “maybe you could name a Jooble after my mom.” What a perfect idea. Blink became Jody the Owl.

Jody never got to visit the school in Cajamarca, Peru that the Fair Indigo Foundation supports. One of my biggest regrets is that we didn’t make time to visit it on one of her trips. “Next time.” Be careful about using too many next times.

But last week, we did something pretty amazing. Jody’s son Avery accompanied me on a trip to the school, where we distributed Joobles to the nearly fifty students. The kids had picked out their character a couple months ago, our knitters got busy making them, and last week we held what felt like a mini Oscars ceremony (but way less pretentious and way cuter) handing out the Joobles to each child. I read each student’s name, they came running up to the “stage,” and Avery handed out their Jooble – topped off with his signature high five.

It’s a day I’ll never forget, and a day where everyone could feel Jody there with us. Without a doubt, we could feel her there. Thank you Avery! It’s time to plan that trip with your dad and Cooper.

Here are some pictures from the day, and the days leading up to it.


Avery with Javier & Elsa – owners of the business that produces our Joobles.



Whoops – this one still needs a tail!



Just landed at the tiny, tidy Cajamarca airport. Refreshing temps in the 40’s and 50’s. Avery soon became know as “the tallest man of Cajamarca.”



The beautifully quiet rolling hills around our school in Cajamarca – Peru’s Dairyland.



Let the fun begin! First up – Laura chose Racky the Raccoon.



Alex chose Roar the Lion.



Angie picked Avery’s personal favorite – Jody the Owl.



Lots of missing teeth, but no missing smiles. 😉



The Joobles did have a little competition – Javier handed out his famous lollipops too.



¡Sonreír! (Smile!)



Standing tall.



Some time out for reading.


Jody brought joy to the world every day of her too-short time on this earth. Avery extended that joy last week to these kids. With Cajamarca being Peru’s poorest state, for many, this was their first toy. But the joy won’t stop here. It’s so Jody to figure out an ingenious way to spread her smiles to thousands more for many years to come. Well done, my friend. Thank you.

Flop the Frog goes to Arizona

Flop the Frog had quite an adventurous week in Arizona! He road-tripped all over the place to Page, Sedona and Flagstaff.  He hiked, swam and climbed rocks which was perfect since he usually has a hard time sitting still. Take a look at some of his greatest selfies below.


Flop’s adventures started with a tour of the Lower Antelope Canyon. He had to go down about four staircases to get into the canyon, but once he did he was amazed with the colors that ranged from bright oranges to blues and purples based on how the light hit the rocks. The guide said in the morning they have to take all of the scorpions and snakes out!












His next adventures involved swimming and kayaking in Lake Powell with Lone Rock in the distance, hanging out and enjoying the scenic views in Page, visiting the Glen Canyon Dam and hiking a little bit to see Horseshoe Bend!  We explained to Flop that it wasn’t an actual horse that made the impression but many years of erosion.
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Within the Coconino National Forest Flop visited a couple different ancient ruins (pueblos) in the Wupatki National Monument. Flop found it hard to believe that these are around 900 years old!


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Best of all, Flop got to visit the Grand Canyon, one of the wonders of the world.  The hike on the Bright Angel trail was breathtaking, metaphorically the views were beautiful and physically the 3 mile hike back uphill was exhausting.


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After a long day of hiking the Grand Canyon, Flop opted for a Pink Jeep tour in Sedona the next day.  He even got to take the wheel for a couple minutes.


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Flop had a great week exploring some new places and learning about nature. Behind him is the tallest point in Arizona, Humphrey’s peak. You can’t see it from here, but there was even some spots of snow at the top!




Follow The Joobles on their Facebook page, Twitter @Jiffythegiraffe and Instagram @thejoobles for more of their adventures and cuteness!

Practicing our Philosophy of “Showing Up”

In past posts we’ve talked about the importance of showing up. Most recently our Customer Service Manager, Ellen (who also serves as President of our non-profit Fair Indigo Foundation), and Co-Founder, Bill, visited our production partners in Peru.


Every returning trip strengthens relationships, widens smiles and drives us to continue working to make the clothing business a little kinder.  Here are a couple highlights from their trip.


Always an incredible stop, Ellen and Bill visited the Foundation’s adopted school, Serapis. At the school there are currently 46 students (plus 3 dogs and 2 roosters) ranging in age from 3-12 years old with a staff of five teachers, one doubling as the principal.


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From left to right in the photo above:

  • David Condor Raico teaches 11 students in third and fourth grade.
  • Maria Esperanza Songay Huaccha teaches 11 students but in first and second grade. She also teaches local traditional dance!
  • Luis Suxe Suarez is responsible for teaching 10 students in fifth and sixth grade.
  • Maria Angelita Diaz Ruiz teaches 14 students in Kindergarten.
  • Gabriel Terrones Vilela is the director (principal) of the school and also teaches English and Computer Skills.


During their visit to the school, the students put on a show of traditional music and dance, donning their best attire for the visitors. The communities surrounding the school have intense pride in their heritage; cultural preservation is a core subject taught at the school.


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After the 6th grade, students can attend secondary school at the San Juan Bautista School in Llacanora, an hour walk from Serapis.


Parents, siblings, grandparents, and neighbors were all in attendance and helped prepare a traditional noon meal for Ellen and Bill, along with Javier and Elsa, the owners of our apparel workshop.


The menu included:


  • Cuy (farm-raised guinea pig)
  • Habas (similar to a Lima beans)
  • Cecina (fried, dried beef)
  • Hominy (white corn that has been soaked in water boiled until it’s soft and puffy)
  • Canchita (fried, crispy corn)
  • Capuli (berry)
  • Potatoes
  • Corn Tamales (stuffed with chicken and peppers)
  • Tamatillos (stuffed with sweet corn)


Later that day after lunch, Ellen and Bill also visited a technical school in the town of Polloc. The school resides in a stunning building – a restored former church – the Don Bosco. Gabriel, the school principal, led the way on his dirt bike. It took a few treacherous roads and hairpin curves to get there, but it was worth the ride!


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The church and adjacent boarding school were converted by an Italian non-governmental organization in 1979 as part of a cooperative established to provide training and job opportunities in poor rural communities.


About 25 students are admitted to the free, 5-year school each year. In addition to classes in core curriculum, they learn to paint and work with glass, wood, metal, and stone. Once trained, artisans earn a wage according to the number of pieces they finish per month. Churches in Peru, Italy, and the United States have commissioned work from the co-op.


Our Co-founder and President, Rob, will be making the next trip to Peru later this month, stay tuned!




“Loved clothes last”

Our friends at Fashion Revolution will be exploring waste in the fashion industry in an upcoming e-zine. They’re calling it “Loved clothes last.” We’re so happy to see them focus on this often overlooked piece of the ethical clothing puzzle.

Summer 2015 Issue.indd

Waste in apparel production is a huge problem. Mountainous scraps of fabric, excessive chemicals, and an unbelievably huge amount of wasted and polluted water are all side effects of the modern world’s method of putting clothes on our backs.


But it’s too easy to point our fingers at “them” – those in the apparel industry creating this waste. More challenging (but also more rewarding) is changing the way we think about our clothes. We can all take ownership of being part of the solution and a better way forward. Here are four ways.


Pay it Forward. Resale shops by definition create zero waste and the treasure hunt can be pretty fun. If you don’t have the patience for hunting on a regular basis, just pick a few days a year to hit up your local stores and see what you find. (hint – Tuesday or Wednesday morning are the best times to go if you can swing it.) On the flip side, that one top you bought but never really got into still sits in your closet. It’ll be great for someone else. Pay that bad boy forward and feel the peace of mind that comes with lightening your closet load.


Repair. Shoe repair shops are making a comeback, yay! There was a time when taking shoes to a cobbler was what people did when their soles wore out. Next time your favorite pair looks like it’s on its last steps, head to your local cobbler – you might be surprised what he or she can accomplish for a fraction of the price of a new pair.


Make Quality a Habit. Seek out brands that are known for quality in fabrics and garment construction. That $15 organic tee may seem like a great way to support the earth, but at that price, it’s doubtful it’ll last long (or that the worker who made it was paid fairly). Which means you’ll have to buy another one. Which is wasteful. Invest in clothes that last.


Embrace Minimalism. It’s liberating to dis-entangle yourself from the craziness of the Fast Fashion world. Pay less attention to what fashion editors and celebrities are saying you “must have” and simply wear what naturally makes you feel great. A minimalist wardrobe consists of timeless, versatile pieces you feel great in, whatever the season or year. Make your own style. Enjoy until you’re tired of it, regardless of when the magazines tell you it’s out. Your Quality Habit will come in handy here too because you’ll want to wear your favorites for a long time!


Baby steps often seem like a daunting and sometimes even impossible way to make a difference in a world of 7 billion people. But other than food, there is no other product so consumed as clothing. If even a small fraction of us take some baby steps, we can have a huge impact.

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.




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.



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.



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.


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.



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.


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!



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