Social Fabric 2018.05.31



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.


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.


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.


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).

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.


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.



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.


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.


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



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.