Baby Alpaca – no babies involved

alpaca

Last weekend, we participated in the Fair Trade Holiday Festival here in Madison. One of our perennial best sellers – the Baby Alpaca Scarf – was featured in our booth. More than once, I heard a passersby say something to the effect, “wow, that’s so soft, but I just don’t like the idea of baby alpacas being sheared.”

After politely correcting this misconception throughout the day, it was clear we needed to do some educating on what baby alpaca actually is and is not.

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Contrary to what the name might suggest, baby alpaca refers to fleece that is sheared from the very softest parts of adult alpacas (not babies).  The parts that don’t come into much contact with the ground, shrubs, or trees – namely the tops of the shoulders and upper back.

Technically, baby alpaca means the fibers are no more than 21.5 microns in diameter. These ultra-fine fibers are stunningly soft and lightweight, but stronger and less prone to pilling than sheep’s wool. It’s also seven times warmer but even more breathable than wool thanks to microscopic air pockets in the fibers.
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Many people who have skin sensitivities to wool can wear alpaca without problems.  Because it’s free of the lanolin found in wool which can cause a mild allergic reaction.

But wait, there’s more! You know that $50 cashmere sweater you saw at the mall? Yeah, that’s probably environmentally damaging factory-farm cashmere. Our alpacas are raised by small-scale herders and are free to roam far and wide in the spectacular mountains of Peru, like they have for thousands of years since before the time of the Incas. Our production team works closely with the herders to maximize their economic opportunities while also giving support to local health care and education programs. With Fair Indigo Alpaca, there’s a whole lotta warmth to go around.

Shop Alpaca at fairindigo.com

Social Fabric 2018.07.16

Potatoes

NATURE’S OLDEST COMFORT FOOD

French fries, German potato salad, Irish potato soup, Bengal potatoes. An international starch powerhouse, the humble potato is actually native to Peru, was domesticated there over 10,000 years ago, and was only introduced to Europe after the “discovery” of the Americas in the fifteenth century. Today, there are over 4,000 (4,000!) varieties of potatoes in Peru – only a handful of which are able to grow away from the ideal Andean climate and soil. Idaho gets closest but even there they can’t grow most of them. Madhur Jaffrey chronicles her journey through Peru’s potato belt. From the New York Times.

ZIPPING ALONG

Quick – think of a company or brand whose products you use daily. I’m guessing no one but the most insider-y of apparel insiders thought ‘YKK.’ And they probably didn’t either. But if you put on a pair of jeans, zipped up a jacket, or grabbed a backpack or handbag today, chances are you interacted with a YKK zipper. For decades, Japan’s YKK has made over half the world’s zippers. If you feel like geeking out on zippers, this deep dive by Quartz looks at the history, the present, and the future of apparel’s most essential fastening device.

THE LAST STRAW?

One bright spot in the movement to change our culture of consumption is the decline of single-use plastic shopping bags. We can thank growing consumer awareness as well as new local and state laws, the most consequential being California’s 2016 law outlawing the bags. (Shameless plug – our Envirosax reusable shopping bags are so cool, so convenient, you’ll forget you ever used plastic bags!).

Next up…the plastic straw. After shopping bags, no other product gets used once and tossed (rarely recycled) as a drinking straw. Re-usable straws and paper straws (remember those?) are making big comebacks as plastic’s reign finally begins to recede. We can all drink to that! From NPR.

SPEAKING OF THINGS GOING AWAY

It’s hard to fathom, but not too long before ‘Netflix and Chill’ we had ‘Blockbuster and Return in 48 Hours, 24 Hours for New Releases.’ After closing two Alaska locations, Blockbuster will have only one remaining store. Quite honestly, I didn’t realize they had any locations still open even though my member card looks as good as new (oh, the wonders of plastic!). The fact that the last store is in hipster mecca Bend, Oregon is even more surprising. Or is it? Could this be some kind of ironic Blockbuster? From Esquire.

Showing up

An important part of fair trade is showing up. Email and Skype are not enough. Building meaningful face-to-face relationships with our suppliers is part of our manifesto. That often means persisting through good times and bad, and learning from the bad times to build something even stronger.

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We visited our main supplier in Peru earlier this month to work on some pretty exciting things.

 

First, starting this fall, the mill that knits, dyes, and washes our fabrics will be GOTS-certified (Global Organic Textile Standard) – the first and only fabric mill in Peru to achieve this very stringent standard. Our organic cotton fiber has always been GOTS-certified; our dyes have always been certified safe too. But this piece certifies the process is as safe and eco-friendly as can be, including recycling or treating 100% of the water used in the facility.

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Second, we’ve wanted to do this for a long time, but now we’re very close. 100% bio-degradable and compostable bags for our clothes! Until now, an elusive clincher in trying to build the Greenest Tees on Earth.

Eco-Poly-Bag

In the midst of all this exciting progress, we faced some pretty serious challenges in finishing up our spring production. It should have shipped in early March. As you may have heard, Peru is experiencing  historically heavy rains that’s causing heartbreaking devastation.

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The coastal capital Lima, where our main workshop is, was not directly affected by the rains but is experiencing record-setting heat and humidity in a city that’s usually pretty dry and mild, thanks to the cold Humbolt Current. Most buildings don’t have or need air conditioning, but this past month the heat became unbearable to work in later in the afternoon. Our employees worked shorter shifts.

 

And last week, just as we were in the home stretch, the rivers near Lima overflowed their banks due to the rain upstream. This overwhelmed the city’s water utility and contaminated the water, which had to be shut off for all but a few hours a day as the city crews worked overtime to re-purify the water.

 

Roads connecting Lima to surrounding communities became impassible, including a road that connects our embroidery facility with our main workshop. A couple thousand pieces became stranded at the embroidery facility as a result.

 

All of this is really nothing. We hesitate to even connect delayed clothing production with what’s happening in Peru right now.  The inconvenience we’re feeling can’t be compared to the wrenching situation so many are facing. Everyone in our workshop and their families are thankfully safe. Here are some ways to help. Those of us here in Peru, along with our workshop owners and employees have reached out to local organizations. The relatively unscathed city of Lima has come together in a big way to make it easy to raise funds for relief, using smartphone apps and volunteer canvassers.

 

Today we are finishing up most of the shipment and should have it out the door tomorrow. The units stranded on the other side of the flooded roads – we hope to have soon. So if you notice several “coming soon” items on our website, and other items with limited colors and sizes, thank you for hanging tight while these amazingly strong, industrious, and big-hearted folks push it over the finish line.

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Our Manifesto

From time to time we like to review our manifesto to make sure it accurately reflects the values we set out to live by. Other than going back and forth on the Oxford comma, it has pretty much endured intact. We hope it rings true for what you’re looking for too.

 

WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER

When fashion is done well, we all prosper. Informed people like you, farmers, herders, garment workers, and the earth we all share.

We believe in BUYING LOCAL as a first choice. When not an option, we believe in choosing FAIR TRADE as often as possible.

Fair Trade means workers are PAID FAIRLY, treated with DIGNITY AND RESPECT, and afforded the means to a HAPPY LIFE.

We believe FAIR TRADE CLOTHING should not only be ethically made, but also thoughtfully designed, beautifully constructed, and fairly priced.

We choose ORGANIC COTTON and EARTH-FRIENDLY MATERIALS whenever possible.

In a world drowning in disposable clothing, we believe SUSTAINABLE FASHION starts with QUALITY fabrics and construction that endure for years.

 We believe a sustainable wardrobe should lean heavily on TIMELESS STYLE, not ‘fast fashion’ fads.

We believe a SUSTAINABLE BUSINESS is built on a foundation of TRUST and lasting RELATIONSHIPS. With our suppliers and with our customers.

And we firmly believe that all of us can CHANGE THE WORLD. Just by changing our clothes.

Refresher – What really is fair trade?

Fair trade products are equitably created goods including a range of products from food to clothing.  The focus tends to be on exports from developing countries to developed countries.  In these countries,  craftsmen, artisans, and producers work in safe and clean conditions, and for fair wages.  Their products are then sold locally or around the world.

The Peruvian Andes, home of some of Fair Indigo’s Artisans.

There is no standard definition of Fair Trade, though it is essentially trade that attempts to not harm anyone in the process of creating a product.  This can include sustainable and environmentally friendly practices, in order to have as little negative impact on the earth as possible.  Fair Trade is not fast-fashion, which can promote unfair working conditions, but nor it is charity.  It is the free market being used to the best of its ability.

Fair Trade originated in the United States in the 1940s, with Edna Ruth Byler of Scranton, Pennsylvania.  Edna worked with artisans in Puerto Rico to create beautiful textiles, which she brought back to the United States. Since, the Fair Trade movement expanded globally, starting with helping refugees of World War II in Europe. Fair Trade has increased greatly since the early 2000s.  The first World Fair Trade Day, May 10th, was held in 2002.  In 2006, Fair Trade sales topped at $2.6 billion globally.

In 2008, 88% of US consumers identified themselves as conscious consumers and socially responsible. However, less than 10% of consumers had purchased from a Fair Trade organization in the past year.

So, what’s next?  Check out the Fair Trade collections at Fair Indigo.  Fair Indigo works with Fair Trade companies from around the world, including Thailand, India, and Peru. Not only can you be sure that Fair Indigo clothing is fairly made, but that its quality and style will last for years.

A Worker in a Factory in Peru.

Sources:

http://www.fairtraderesource.org/wftd/

https://www.fairtradefederation.org/history-of-fair-trade-in-the-united-states/

http://www.altereco-usa.com/media/images/2009TrendsReport.pdf

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!

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.

Stuff, Stuff, and More Stuff

Our guest blogger today is Forrest Espinoza, founder and CEO of Artterro. Artterro Eco Art Kits are fun, open-ended art projects that make it easy for kids and adults to unplug and get creative with gorgeous, artist-quality materials.  The kits are assembled at Goodwill Industries of Southeastern Wisconsin by people with special needs.   

Every year when the holidays roll around I start to think about the all the Stuff. I start to feel a little sad, and I’m reminded of the movie The Story of Stuff.  If you haven’t watched it, it’s about how our stuff is made out of raw materials from the earth and how most of it ends up in a landfill only six months after it’s made.  Just when I’m resolving not to contribute to this huge problem, one of my young sons runs up to me with a list in his hands and a big smile on his face and says, “Here Mom, this is what I want for my birthday and Christmas.”  Both my sons have birthdays the week before Christmas, so that means we tend to get twice the amount of Stuff this time of year.  At that point, I snap out of my anti-Stuff mindset and tell myself that I need to start thinking about it in a different way.  We don’t have to buy disposable Stuff.  We can buy truly meaningful, even life-changing gifts for the people we love, plus we can make some special gifts by hand.

One of my favorite ways to make a difference with my dollar is to buy Fair Trade, which means an artisan has been paid a fair wage for their work.  It feels like buying a gift for three people: the recipient who gets to enjoy it, the artisan who is strengthening her community and family, and yourself, because it just feels good to give Fair Trade!

I’m also partial to giving a gift that offers a hands-on experience, like art materials or my own Artterro Eco Art Kits.  When you give a child the gift of art, you offer them a chance to unplug and tap into their creativity.

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Finally, we can also make very special gifts ourselves.  It doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive.  Try finding a project idea online that you can complete with new and used materials.  It’s a great way to upcycle supplies you may have lying around your house, and you end up with a totally unique finished product.

For many years now I have been doing all three of these things.  I feel so good knowing that I gave my money to good companies, I’m giving my kids gifts that are educational, and I’m giving things I already own a new life and home.  It helps me feel better about all this Stuff not ending up in a landfill in six months.  Okay, I’m off to make some handmade gifts—wish me luck that I will get them done on time!

Small Business Saturday

Many people are surprised to learn Fair Indigo has fewer than 10 employees.

We are a tiny handful of people who are privileged to share a daunting, humbling, but uplifting purpose. We comb the globe from Burlington, North Carolina to Chiang Mai, Thailand in search of uniquely beautiful clothing and gifts – all made with immense care by people whose lives have been changed by the availability of safe, clean work and living wages. We’re a small business by anyone’s definition, but with a hopeful eye on the big world we all call home.

When you call us, you’re not calling contracted employees at a mega call center. Our phones ring right here in Madison, Wisconsin. Go ahead. Give us a call at 800.520.1806 and see for yourself. You will likely to reach Mary, Carol, Ellen, or Stacy. If they’re all busy on the phone, you might even get our president Rob on the line. (He loves those days!).

Shopping at Fair Indigo not only supports our small business, but dozens of others – our small scale suppliers and cooperative partners – all over the country and the world. It’s like a Feel Good Double Coupon!

This year, be a better gift giver!
Thank you for supporting small business.
Your friends at Fair Indigo

Arequipa. Alpaca’s Capital City.

Situated at 2,335 meters (7,661 feet) above sea level in the Andes Mountains, Arequipa is Peru’s second most populous city with a population of nearly a million. Despite its location in the tropic zone, the elevation prevents it from exceeding 77 degrees Fahrenheit or dipping below 40 at night. At the higher elevations outside the city, the temperature drops much lower (as we unwittingly discovered on our last trip there…even our hearty Wisconsin skin was no match for the fierce Andean winds).

Andes Mountains seen through one of Arequipa’s narrow streets.

Santa Catalina Monastery, built in 1580.

Vicunas (alpaca’s cousins) grazing just outside Arequipa.

A woman sits outside her home in the Los Tambos neighborhood.

Arequipa’s Central Square

Santa Catalina Monastery

A colorful street.

A local resident watching a parade in celebration of Arequipa’s many weekend festivals (Peruvians are good at finding reasons to celebrate!)

See more pictures of Arequipa here.

Fair Indigo ended up in Arequipa because it serves as the regional hub for Peru’s sustainable alpaca herding and knitting. The ancient Incas called alpaca the “fiber of the gods.” We call it the “Cashmere of the Andes.” An ethical option for those who want something really special, but are reluctant to indulge in cashmere because of the factory farm model it usually adheres to. We’ve offered our Baby Alpaca Scarf (no, not from baby alpacas!) since 2006 and it continues to be one of our top sellers year after year. A classic gift, made fairly. Workers like Manuela below enjoy a decent living and upward mobility thanks to our customers’ continued purchases of this scarf.

Employees enjoy a free health clinic on site.

Employees enjoying a lunch of delicious Peruvian cuisine.

Here’s Manuela finishing up the “fringe” on our alpaca scarf.

These alpacas are herded and sheared sustainably and with great care. The market for their fleece in North America grows little by little each year but is dwarfed by the mammoth cashmere industry. We’re grateful for our customers who are helping to turn the tide. You can see our growing collection of alpaca styles here.