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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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

Thanksgiving

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The area around Cajamarca, Peru is heart-stoppingly beautiful: majestic rocky mountains dotted with fertile patches of potato and corn fields and tidy dairy farms. We feel a special bond with ‘Peru’s Dairyland’ being from Wisconsin ourselves. The Queso Fresco is quite tasty, though I promised next time I’d try to smuggle in some of Wisconsin’s Pleasant Ridge Reserve and we’d have a Dairyland Duel.

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But in the midst of all this brilliant natural beauty and fertile earth exists unbearable poverty too. With collapsing commodity prices for small farmers in the globalized economy and scant transportation infrastructure to Peru’s more dynamic coastal areas, many of the people in this once prosperous region survive on minuscule incomes and sustenance nutrition.

The children of the area, until recently, had nearly no hope of having things any better than their parents. The nearest school was miles (and hours) away via treacherous mountain roads. So what happens to kids in this situation? They. Don’t. Attend. School. Without education, there is no hope.

Ines, founder of the school.

In 2000, Ines Fort set out to change that – and plant the seeds of hope. A native of Cajamarca who lived in Peru’s capital Lima for many years, she returned to open a school near her home town, “en el medio de la nada” (“in the middle of nowhere”) and started teaching local children in a makeshift classroom without running water or electricity. Within minutes of meeting Ines, I guarantee your hug instinct will take over. This gentle woman overflows with compassion and warmth and burns with devotion to the families of her home town. She tells her story here.

Later her brother-in-law, Javier, joined Ines in her mission. Javier, another extraordinarily generous soul and self-proclaimed farmer at heart, is also the co-owner, with his wife Elsa, of the business that makes Fair Indigo’s women’s organic knits and The Joobles organic baby line.

Javier was moved to action when he observed the children had a hard time staying awake in the classroom, he surmised because their breakfast consisted of a tea of water and orange peel. Here is Javier (with our magnificently helpful friend and translator Sergio) explaining how and why he started providing breakfast for the children of the school.
Javier
In 2010, thanks to your $5 donations at checkout, the Fair Indigo Foundation began funding the teachers for the school, and today we’re back visiting their newly opened kindergarten. The parents of the area are bursting with energy, gratitude, and hope. If their children can learn reading, math, and more, there is hope for them to participate in Peru’s booming economy around Lima or, better still, to bring a more lucrative economy back to their beloved Cajamarca.  I know it sounds crazy that a teaching staff could be funded with $5 donations. But you did it! It makes all of us profoundly thankful. You’ve helped put smiles on these faces. You’ve given the best gift of all – hope.

Camera-shy but proud.

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New kindergarteners.

Basic, yes. But an unquestionably beautiful place.

Each child brings water (a heavy lift up and down hills!)  To boil for drinking and supply flushing water for their new indoor toilet.

Javier doing what he loves. Handing out treats from the big city.

The school. Pride and joy.

On this day of Thanksgiving, we at Fair Indigo, and the teachers, parents, and children of Cajamarca, Peru give special thanks to you. Whether you’ve supported our small business through purchases (which by extension keeps The Foundation going) or made a $5 donation at checkout, you’ve instilled hope in the lives of truly grateful people. Thank you.

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.

Racky The Raccoon’s Journey Back to Peru

Racky the Raccoon and a few of his friends were privileged to journey to their home country of Peru last year. While the humans among us worked, their trip was purely for pleasure.

Racky got in a bit of trouble here and there, but then again…he is a raccoon so we went easy on him. He finally got around to uploading some pics from his camera.

Have you taken your Jooble anywhere? Post your pictures on our Facebook Joobles Around the World album! They’ve been everywhere from Disney to Central Park to literally inside the Stanley Cup!

Racky’s Peruvian Adventure

Reading guidebooks and brushing up on his Spanish.
All packed. Ready to go!
At the airport.
Friends Flop the Frog and Cutie the Lamb showed up too.
Seat 23C. Lots of leg room!
Racky looks a little green though.
Checking in at the hotel.
A nice shower after a long trip.
And a good night’s sleep.
Bonus! Flop the Frog is a big soccer fan and the FIFA World Cup was playing while we were there.
Making friends.
The Joobles were feeling very cosmopolitan at a German bar in Peru, watching a game played in South Africa between Spain and Netherlands.
Racky was thankful his designer didn’t design him with lederhosen.
Being amphibian, Flop the Frog was clearly more interested in liquids than the others.
Hamming it up with the waiter.
Ahhhhh, café.
On a park bench in Lima.
A beautiful cool day.
Knock knock. I need a ride
to the Inca Market.
Off to the Inca Market.
Racky kept sneaking out
of his car seat.
At the Inca Market, sneaking
his way into a picture that was
intended to be of this traditional
Peruvian doll.
Huacachina sand dunes!
Sand boarding at Huacachina.
Huacachina sand dunes.
On the flight to see the
famous Nazca Lines.
This is going to be so cool!
I see a spider, a monkey, an alien,
a bird. Why no raccoon!
Motion sickness sets in.
Taxi driver.
Bellboy.
At bakery.
At a shopping mall.
Shopping mall.
At the famous
Restaurante Jose Antonio.
Bartender.
Checking out. Adios!

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.

Partners in Good

Meet Rowena and Sergio, wife and husband (and business partners) living in Lima, Peru. There is no other way to say it. Without these two incredibly dedicated and incredibly generous souls, Fair Indigo would not exist today.

Rowena and Sergio, partners in good

We met them way back in 2005, when they were both (unmarried at the time) working at our dress shirt factory in the Chorrillos neighborhood of Lima. Yes, a real life dress shirt factory romance that you see on TV all the time! Shortly thereafter, they married, started their own sourcing business, and had two beautiful sons, Joaquin and Sebastian.

Rowena, Sergio, Joaquin, Sebastian, Christmas 2010
Along the way, Sergio’s brother Nicolas has also helped Fair Indigo, especially in our relationship with Angeles Anonimos, our fair trade jewelry partner that trains artisans with disabilities in life and work skills. Nicolas took the Angels under his own wings and made a difference in many lives there.
Brothers, Sergio and Nicolas

And what exactly do these fine people do for us? Every fair trade facility we work with in Peru, they helped us find. Every shipment that leaves Peru, they arrange inspection. Every English/Spanish technical translation that needs to happen to create a garment, covered.  They are our eyes and ears on the ground in our most important production region outside the United States and have welcomed us into their business and into their homes.  We will soon feature more stories about some of the adventures we’ve shared along the way and the heartwarming producers they have connected us with. To Sergio, Rowena, Nicolas…muchas gracias!

PS: Sergio and Rowena work with small companies like ours (and a big one now and then) but say their dream is to work with “10 Fair Indigos.” They are true fans of underdogs in an apparel world dominated more and more by giants. If you know someone who has some organic clothing sourcing needs in Peru and can place decent size orders, we can connect you!

Supporting Education in Peru

A quick Internet search of popular New Year’s resolutions includes living healthier, learning something new, and helping others.  Goals that tie in nicely with our mission of making a meaningful difference in people’s lives.

This past summer, the Fair Indigo Foundation made donations to two impoverished schools in Peru.  One of the schools we visited is the Serapis Elementary School, located in the high Andes of northern Peru.  It serves rural children who would otherwise have to walk many miles down the mountain to attend school.

When we visited last summer, there was no running water or electricity; although trucks were delivering electrical poles while we were at the school and we are hopeful the lights have been turned on by now.

As you can imagine, along with the scarcity of basic services like water and electricity, school supplies are also lacking so our donation of books, paper, markers and pencils was met with many smiles.

Among other challenges children face in this rural community is getting even one nutritional meal each day.  Breakfast and lunch are prepared daily by the teachers and parent volunteers giving students the energy they need to learn and grow.

Our “Joobles” line of fair trade organic stuffed animals are made at cooperatives that serve as the economic building blocks of the organization that oversees these programs.

Peru Trip Day 6: Sand Boarding in Huacachina, Peru

We are lucky to work for a company that, despite very modest resources, encourages us to take a day on our business trip to do something fun and/or educational. To really dive into the culture and understand the people.

As veterans of larger apparel brands, I can tell you that typically the only culture we were able to absorb on our rushed trips was a quick couple of hours at a touristy market.

On the last day of our trip to Peru in July 2010, we made a journey four hours south of Lima to the Inca region.  A vast coastal desert with one of the largest sand dunes in the world at Huacachina.

But first, we toured a Pisco vineyard and winery.  Pisco is a type of grape brandy and the main ingredient in the Pisco Sour, the national drink of Peru. Some of us like this drink more than others.

Next we were awed by the mysterious Nazca lines…who do you think made them?  Racky the Raccoon loved the plane ride but was feeling a little air sick after so many twists and turns to see the lines.

But after six long and grueling days of work, what we really needed was to let off some steam.  Our steam letting took the form of sand boarding and dune buggying around the sand dunes at Huacachina. So remote feeling as to be almost cartoon-like, our dune buggy driver gave us a roller coaster-worthy trip of a lifetime.   We finished the day at the beautiful town of Huacachina, long considered the “Oasis of America.”  No really, it looks like a Roadrunner and Coyote cartoon scene.

Peru is truly a spectacular place to visit, for work, for play, and to live. The diversity of things to do and see is hard to find anywhere in the world in such a small area.  Did you know Peru contains 28 of the world’s 32 identified climates?  If you need suggestions, we are happy to put you in touch with folks who can help you plan a trip!