Social Fabric 2018.04.27



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Social Fabric 2018.04.22




Earth Day 2018 will “focus on fundamentally changing human attitude and behavior about plastics and catalyzing a significant reduction in plastic pollution” according to organizers at The Guardian recently documented plastic devastation on the Australian coast in their photo series “Plastic Tsunami” – it’s hard to look at.


How many of you didn’t realize the global waste trade was a thing? It is, and it’s huge. At its peak, China alone imported 9 million metric tons of waste from the US, Europe, and Japan. But starting this year, China started banning imports of 24 types of waste, causing a major backlog in the trash-exporting countries. I suspect this will not end well until we permanently figure out a way to reduce our demand for (and supply of) cheap trashy stuff. From CNBC.


There are countless articles and blogs with tips on how to reduce your plastic usage. Here’s a nice condensed list for busy people who want to make a difference without feeling guilty that you don’t make your own ketchup. From Green Education Foundation.

I can vouch for #15.  It’s so easy to clean your whole house using little more than simple soap, vinegar, lemon juice, and baking soda. Wellness Mama has a nice comprehensive guide on how to ditch plastic containers by switching to home remedy cleaning products.


Not since Alexander Fleming noticed that a bit of mold had “contaminated” his petri dish and was killing the Staphylococcus bacteria he was growing has there been such a potential game changer discovered by accident. Fleming’s mistake ended up creating penicillin, but now scientists unintentionally created a “mutant enzyme” that literally devours plastic waste. While this appears to be great news and you can count me among the hopeful, a mutant enzyme seems like something you’d want to proceed with caution on before rolling out in a big way. From Business Insider.


Social Fabric 2018.04.17


If you hired Steven Spielberg to come up with a dystopian screenplay about the excesses of Fast Fashion, I doubt he could come up with something this good. A town in Sweden is literally burning excess unsold H&M clothing in its power plant. From USA Today.


This shirt’s old! And most likely owned by a dignitary from the 10th century who clearly followed care instructions. In spirit, it isn’t so different from what we strive for at Fair Indigo – Forever in Fashion! From The New York Times.


Speaking of old, as if I needed another diversion during business travel in Peru, archeologists have discovered new ancient line drawings on hills in the Peruvian desert, these ones even older than the famous Nazca Lines. From National Geographic.


In 2008 during a late night walk with a group of friends on a Costa Rican beach, we unexpectedly and quite literally stumbled upon a giant sea turtle (we’re talking VW Bug size). I’ll never forget my 30-something friend’s 9-year-old scream when he realized the ‘boulder’ he was going to lean on had 4 legs, a tail, and a head that moved in the direction of his ankle. Ever since, I have been fascinated by this creature’s migratory abilities – returning to the beach where they were born, decades later. Now we know how; they have built in GPS. Well, sort of. From The News and Observer.

Spring means the Farmers Market

(But the Farmer’s Market doesn’t always mean spring!)

I heard today was the first day of our Dane County Farmers’ Market here in Madison – said to be the largest in the United States. At around 7am I opened my laptop to make sure I heard correctly and this article popped up.


I could hear the 40mph wind howling outside and what sounded like icy rain drops horizontally smashing into the windows. Flipping my laptop shut with a groan, I seriously contemplated crawling back into bed. But I thought if these hearty farmers can brave opening day, I surely can walk three lousy blocks to Capitol Square and make a quick round.

So I grabbed our farmers’ market tote, threw on a winter coat that last week we’d put away for the season in the spare room closet (oops), and headed out. Should’ve worn gloves.


As expected, the stands were a little sparse, but the mood was jovial and defiant of Mother Nature’s wintery curveball. Everyone I made eye contact with seemed to be transmitting the same message – “why do we live here?”

Early spring isn’t as bountiful as later in the season, but it’s a great time to score some root vegetables, eggs, and Wisconsin cheeeeeeese!  Oh, and bakeries – I don’t know how these at some point qualified to be in the farmer’s market, but I’m not complaining.

The route is also home to some passionate folks – collecting signatures for a referendum, giving free exercise classes, or saving the world. Democracy at its best. Today was no exception. Around the first corner I came upon a couple of shivering college students handing out flyers about their crowd funding project – Project Home by Re-Volv – to bring solar power to lower income families. They are 75% to their goal – check it out!

Next up was a stalwart trio from a local rowing club looking for new recruits. They hadn’t gotten any takers yet, but their banner had blown away four times by 8:30. I took a quick picture, shivered thinking about icy Lake Mendota, and moved on.


The best thing this time of year is the sweet (metaphorically and literally) “wintered spinach.” If you don’t know what it is, you should really “learn more.” It’s meant to be eaten like potato chips. So good!

Before heading home, I warmed up with a cup of coffee at Colectivo – an innovative Milwaukee roaster that conveniently opened an outpost right on the farmer’s market route. Today’s feature was Gaia – a blend roasted from women-led farms around the world. A perfect remedy for my icy hands and face!


In the end, my finds were pretty typical for early April: potatoes, an onion, winter spinach, a couple blueberry cornbread muffins, and some Brun-uusto style Scandinavian cheese. Looking forward to (hopefully) warmer Saturdays ahead!


If you want to read about the Dane County Farmer’s Market at its seasonal peak, here’s a post from guest blogger and friend-of-founder, Caroline.


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.