Fashion is a form of art and a way to express our inner selves to the outer world. However, we have to start thinking about the impact our clothing has on the world. As fashion cycles accelerate, designers and retailers adopt increasingly unsustainable practices in order to bring trendy products to market as quickly and cheaply as possible.
‘Fast fashion’ feeds on our craving for something new, stimulating demand without delivering real value and generating huge amounts of waste. According to the World Resources Institute, the average U.S. consumer bought 60% more clothing in 2014 than in 2000, but kept each garment only half as long! The average American sends more than 70 pounds of clothing to landfills every year, but that's not the only environmental impact - the cotton crop is the second heaviest user of pesticides and herbicides globally, and fabric dyeing often pollutes thousands of gallons of water per garment.
The environmental impact isn’t the only problem. The exploitation of workers who grow the raw materials, weave and dye the fabrics, and cut and sew garments is epidemic. As retailers drive down prices to feed our impulse buying habits, working conditions deteriorate further.
To get an insider's perspective, we interviewed Robert Behnke, founder and CEO of Fair Indigo, a company fully committed to fair trade principles and better ways of doing business.
What led you to start Fair Indigo?
I worked for a mainstream clothing brand for 13 years. During one of my first sourcing trips in Thailand, I found myself in a factory that made sweaters. I remember being struck by the fact that I was in a tropical country, in a factory full of 400 employees making sweaters – something they would never wear in their daily lives – for people on the other side of the world
It was that disconnect between the maker and the consumer that started me thinking in a new way about how clothing is made and sold. At the time, fair trade was not something that people talked about much. It wasn’t until the early 2000s that I started wondering whether fair trade clothing could be a viable business.
Why should people buy fair trade?
The core idea of our brand is the fair treatment of workers. Most of our customers already care about making a difference through their purchases. The clothes we buy and wear affect the environment and all the workers around the world who were involved in creating them or the materials they were made from. Our customers know that purchasing our products lifts up workers, with a good wage and a safe workplace.
What makes Fair Indigo’s products unique?
We inspire consumers to think differently about their clothes. People like the durability of our clothing. That doesn't mean that it’s heavy, just that it's well made from high-quality materials. We get lots of great reviews on our long-lasting t-shirts. Sustainability isn’t just about using organic cotton, it’s about creating clothes that are not going to fall apart and have to be replaced in six months.
Long-lasting clothes are something our customers are craving right now, mostly because there is so much cheap, ‘fast fashion’ out there. Yes, it is really enticing because of its low price, but then it doesn’t last and you have to replace it or throw it away.
What are Fair Indigo’s best sellers?
Where are Fair Indigo’s clothes made?
The large majority of our line is made by a family-owned company that grows organic pima cotton in Lima, Peru. Their business is unique. It’s hard to find small apparel makers that are thriving; it’s even harder to find one that grows organic cotton. This family-owned company works with hand-knitting cooperatives, which we use for our line of baby clothes and stuffed animals.
When I met them, the first thing I noticed was that they had a very mature staff. That told me that the workers were treated well. I was right. Typically when you go to factories all over the world, most employees are in their early 20s. These workers don’t last, because they are usually treated badly and get burned out.
Can you tell me about the Fair Indigo Foundation?
Our foundation is funded by a donation that customers can make at checkout. The Fair Indigo Company pays for 100% of the administrative expenses of the foundation, so that every single donated dollar is put to work doing the foundation’s work. Our core mission, besides fair trade, is education; we believe it is the answer to lifting everyone up. We focus the foundation’s work on education in the communities where we make our products. At the moment we are sponsoring two schools in Peru.
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