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.