Saturday, November 28, 2009

Anonymous Angels

We are celebrating two years of jewelry-making partnership with Angeles Anonimos (Anonymous Angels) of Lima, Peru. Introduced to the Angels by other partners we were working with, we knew immediately we had found something quite special.

The founders of the organization, Maria Elena, Jorge, and Adriana had backgrounds in the mainstream jewelry business in South America. Combining their expertise in jewelry with their passion for helping "unemployable" Peruvians with disabilities created Angeles Anonimos. A key component of their plan was finding a US partner to sell the jewelry. We couldn't be happier to be that partner.

The San Luis district of Lima is desperately poor. Jobs are scarce, almost non-existent for people with disabilities such as polio or the inability to hear. The year-round mild San Francisco-like climate here is scant comfort to millions of residents who live on less than $2 per day.  Groups like A.A. are helping to make sure that Peru's recent economic boom is shared with people in areas like this where the workshop is located.

Some pictures from one of our production runs:

Accompanying us on one of our trips were local Madison, Wisconsin video storyteller Katy Sai and photographer Jay Olsen of  Thank you Katy and Jay...well done!  You can view the videos below.  We encourage you to share them with anyone you think may be touched by the stories here.

So what's with the name? Maria Elena was surprised it was not obvious to us when we asked her.  She told us that every time someone buys a piece of their jewelry, that person is an anonymous angel. Someone they will never meet, but who is making a big difference.  We had several disagreements about this as it was quite obvious to us who the angels were. "No no, you're the angels."  "No no, you are!" But our angel-calling sessions ended quite amicably, often with huge servings of delicious Peruvian food. (we know when we're outmatched). Thank you Angels! We are motivated every day to sell as much jewelry as we can. If you would like to help us support them, it's as easy as buying a piece of their jewelry.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Green cleaning: beyond vinegar

When we searched for a green cleaning line to carry in Fair Indigo's line, the pickings were slim. Frankly, many green cleaning techniques rely on very basic household items like vinegar and baking soda--things that make little sense for Fair Indigo to sell (check out shipping costs on a gallon of vinegar).

But then we met the people at Caldrea and let's just say they spruced up our idea of what green cleaning could look like. Their motto is "Beautifully Clean, Elegantly Green" and their philosophy is that just as much care should be taken in how we clean our homes as in how we clean our bodies. That luxury, utility, and eco-friendliness are perfectly compatible.

The key is essential oils. Did you know for instance that eucalyptus and lime oils are antiseptic? That geranium oil deodorizes? Or that orange oil has antibacterial properties? We didn't either but we are having a good time learning. The little sample kits they gave us to try came back with rave reviews from our employees who used them. "My kitchen smells like a spa!" from Denise sums up the reaction.

This season, we're testing two collections with holiday scents. Rose Pomegranate and Cypress Bergamot. If the response is strong enough, we're hoping to roll out more extensive collections in the seasons to come. We invite you to be part of our test!

Monday, November 2, 2009

A Promising New Partnership

First-time meetings with potential suppliers are usually pleasant enough. It's usually a polite get-to-know-you type of meeting, with a mix of softball and hardball questions, exchange of business cards, and a "we'll call you" ending.

When we heard about Jim and Sandy Martin of Oshkosh, Wisconsin and their 3-year old business called Green 3 Apparel, we were as intrigued as our somewhat jaded sourcing brains allowed us to be. We had pushed out the meeting for weeks, because, you know, priorities.

I remember the day well because I was uncomfortably over-dressed having met with "the bankers" earlier in the morning. This is nothing against bankers, only against tucking in my shirt.

By the time Jim had left our office, Jody, Katie, and I were buzzing around the room like insects figuring out how we could partner with Green 3 as quickly as possible. So amazing was their story, so wonderful was their product.

They had everything we stood for under one roof. Organic cotton, fairly made products (in a USA factory to boot), a design aesthetic that was modern but not edgy, fabrics like butter, eco-friendly dyes, prints done at a facility powered by wind and solar?! And, often forgotten, years of experience making apparel. And yes, they were a mere 2 hours away from Madison in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. (yes, it's a real city).

Sandy cultivated her green values first as a midwestern farm girl, then as an apparel industry insider, traveling the world and seeing first-hand the destruction caused to the environment, workers, and communities by the simple act of producing t-shirts.

Her heart told her there was a better way and we couldn't agree more. Here's a sampling of some of the Greenest Tees we could ever even hope to imagine...many more to come.

See the entire selection of USA-made T-shirts.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Supporting jobs here at home too.

In addition to working with facilities in developing countries around the globe, we are excited to be exploring new opportunities to bring you more U.S-made products as well. It is encouraging to see after decades of hemorrhaging apparel jobs, there appears to be a resurgence in small, lean and mean US-based apparel factories.

Speaking of jobs at home, we are proud to print all of our catalogs on Forest Stewardship Council certified paper at Quad Graphics.

Quad is very well known in southern Wisconsin as one of the best places to work for salaried and hourly employees. Fair Indigo would not be where it is today without their expertise, service mentality, and commitment to small businesses like ours. We are happy to support such a company and its workers.

In fact, this weekend, our September catalog is on the printing press, always an exciting thing to see. Here's a sneak peek of the cover being printed right now.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Hello from Winter in Uruguay!

Summer may be the height of sun and fun, but at Fair Indigo we are itching for products, fresh air. In our fair trade sweater plant in Uruguay, at the southern tip of South America, it's the middle of winter and pretty chilly. As we ride through the countryside we're surprised how similar the landscape looks to our Wisconsin home (even lots of cows).

The factory here in Montevideo, the nation's capital, just won 4th place in a national innovation contest from the Ministry of Industry. For the $10,000 prize money, Gregorio, the owner, decided to give it to the employees. Here's an iPhone shot of the party they had to celebrate the award.

Gregorio and Andres (below center and right) are the father/son team who have made this workplace so positive that over 30% of the staff has been here at least 10 years. The fact that they distributed their award to the workers is not surprising to anyone who knows them.

Andres will be visiting us in Madison this December...we'll compare cows and snowfall totals. He also says Uruguay cheese is the best in the world, but we doubt that. Still--pretty gutsy challenging a Wisconsinite on cows, snow, and cheese.

While not partying with the award-winning staff, employees like Alejandra and Cristina are at work finishing up Fair Indigo's new line of organic cotton sweaters launching this September. In a week or so we'll even be able to show you a sneak peek of the the sweaters in the finishing area.

For a look at our current sweaters made in Uruguay, here's a link.

Monday, July 20, 2009


So many people have asked to learn more about us. Who are you? How did you start? What’s coming next? Why don’t you have petites? Will you hire me?

If you're reading this blog you probably already have a basic understanding of what we are tying to do: change the apparel industry by insisting on fair wages, humane working conditions, and ecological responsibility as the core of our business, not a corporate footnote.

Those of us who started Fair Indigo grew up in this industry and saw first-hand a couple of things. #1: Wow, people buy a lot of clothes! And #2: Wow, people who make clothes have pretty difficult lives. Let's change this.

The defining moment for me came in Thailand, 1998. Working for a huge apparel corporation, touring a sweater factory in 98 sweltering degrees, fantasizing about returning to my air-conditioned luxury hotel in Bangkok. A knitter, whose name I never learned but pictured here (the middle one), said in broken English with the most sincere smile, “thank you, I like to make more sweaters for you.”

While this seemingly innocent offer was called “so sweet” or "cute" by my co-workers, it profoundly impacted me. Here was a woman knitting 9 hours a day, 6 days a week in a climate where no one even understood the concept of a sweater. She could sometimes finish 50 sweaters in a workday. At least 15,000 Americans were wearing sweaters knit by this woman they never met. Yet she was likely more grateful than any one of us wearing the sweat of her labor on our backs. As thanks, her income allowed her to buy enough rice to feed her family. Not much more.

From this day forward, I never looked at another t-shirt or sweater or pair of jeans or wallet again without thinking about the tired hands that created it. This visit, by a wide-eyed 28-year-old wowed by his company’s sending him to exotic Thailand, began the journey that launched Fair Indigo in September, 2006.

In this blog, we, the tiny team at Fair Indigo, would like to share more stories with you. Put you in contact with the people who work so hard every day so that you can “stay warm” or “look cool.” Thank you for listening. Thank you for sharing.