Thursday, September 23, 2010

Thinking Spring

It's hard to think about spring as the temperatures are getting cooler and leaves are starting to turn colors around the edges of our favorite trees.  Everyone is getting into the swing of school routines and before you know it, October will be here (have you decided what you are going to be for Halloween yet?).

Despite the fact that we recently introduced our fall collection, we are already thinking spring. Optimism abounds with the promise of warmer temperatures and longer days on the horizon. This got us feeling a little nostalgic about a recent trip to Arequipa, Peru, with its sun-drenched streets and brightly-colored buildings. The photos alone are enough to make a grown man (or woman) sigh.

With scenery this beautiful, it's difficult to not be inspired! Introducing the Spring/Summer 2011 color palette. Earthy red and warm golden orange. Soft yellow and leafy green. Sky blue. Colors that make us think of lazy afternoons drinking lemonade or having a picnic. Preferably near water, where we can catch a cool breeze.

Sol de Mayo, Arequipa, Peru

Doorway, Arequipa, Peru

And with the colors of Arequipa on our minds, we will while away our autumn afternoons with the customary activities - trips to the apple orchard, raking leaves on a warm afternoon, and picking out the perfect pumpkin to carve. Oh yes, and football. Lots of football.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

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 Ica 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!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Peru Trip Day 5: How Joobles Help Fund Micro Businesses

On our final workday in Peru, we visited one of the cooperatives that makes our Joobles line of organic characters and accessories.

Carmela started her business five years ago with a single knitting machine.  Her home-based business is located in the San Juan de Miraflores area near Lima, one of the many hillside shanty towns where settlers from the countryside have landed in search of a "better life" in Lima.

Today she has 6 machines and has brought 8 workers into the cooperative. An inspiration to all of us, Carmela said her success really hinges on her ability to a) invest in new machines to expand the capacity of knitting, and b) to get bigger orders!  Because sales of Joobles have exceeded our expectations (what other $25 baby gift could you ever want?), we hope Carmela can soon reach her goal of doubling her knitting machines and workers.

Fair Indigo works with a company here in Peru that coordinates production with dozens of businesses like Carmela’s, providing each with vital pieces of the business pie that are often out of reach for traditional craft-based cooperatives: legal/accounting support, logistics planning, and most importantly a link to consumers outside of Peru.

This company also completes a final inspection on all the pieces that are knit in the cooperatives.

It was an honor to meet Carmela and her family and share a snack with them in their home.

If you know anyone in the market for a baby gift (ahem, we've noticed not only babies like the Joobles), please send them our way! Carmela and dozens more like her will appreciate it more than you would ever guess.

And what motivates Carmela to bigger and better things?  "Es muy sencillo" it's very simple she says. She and her husband have two teenage sons and want to make sure they stay in school and on the right path for a better life. Carmela can think of no better way than to lead by example.

Peru Trip Day 4: Amidst Crushing Poverty, A Thriving School

The Fair Indigo Foundation supports children’s education in communities where our products are made. The Foundation is funded by 5% of Fair Indigo profits and by $5 optional donations in our website shopping cart.

Let me be perfectly clear. Those $5 donations are meaningfully and visibly changing lives here.

The Manchay neighborhood of Lima is one of Peru’s poorest. An overlooked desert hillside of makeshift houses, sparse utilities, and kids with little hope of escape. While we ponder the dents in our 401K’s, residents here ponder what they’ll eat tomorrow, and how they’ll get drinking water up the hill.

When we made our first donation to the Manchay School two years ago, it educated 80 children. Today, the school is thriving, with 350 students, two new classrooms, a new library, and a computer lab. The kids here in one of the most hopeless areas we’ve seen are receiving a solid education and looking quite healthy and happy.

This year, the Fair Indigo Foundation is funding a second floor addition to bring in even more of Manchay’s children. Our visit ended with a heart-touching song the kids performed and a rally on the playground with their fearless teacher Delia. We’ll share the whole story with pictures and video in the near future. A sincere thank you to those of you who have donated.

Peru Trip Day 3: Building a Better T-shirt

Yesterday was about working with a very small fair trade group (Angeles Anonimos) to literally figure out a way to keep them alive. Today we worked with a second type of supplier...a medium sized modern clothing factory that makes garments for Fair Indigo, in addition to other clients in Latin America and Europe.

Diana, the factory's founder and owner, has been quietly practicing fair trade before she had ever heard the term. We sensed something special here two years ago on our first visit. Diana was running late. As she arrived, what we saw on the sewing floor was remarkable (having worked in the apparel industry most of our adult lives).  Under the din of the salsa music on the sewing floor, several employees dropped what they were doing to greet Diana with a hug, a kiss on the cheek, a warm smile. Quite the opposite of "the boss is coming, look busy."

Two years later Diana is one of our most important suppliers.  Bringing us organic pima cotton tees, dresses, skirts (and next year pants!).  She has also created a great place to work.  Employees like Walter and Juanita (below) have been here for many years (11 for Juanita) and commute up to 2 hours a day.

With so many garment factories in Lima, why travel so far?  Chats with Walter, Juanita, and others paint a picture of of a place that not only pays fair wages, but also allows workers to truly grow.  Diana partners with a local technical school with donations of machinery and fabric and pays for employees to use the school to learn more advanced skills.  Turnover is a big problem in this business, but not here.

We have 8 styles going through production here today, in various stages. Very exciting to see it live...the styles are turning out gorgeous!

Thank you Diana and team!  And thank you Fair Indigo customers for continuing to purchase products from this wonderful facility.

Walter works on FI style #1400 while Juanita works on #724. From their hands to your back!

Diana, smart businesswoman, neighborhood employer of choice, and all-around nice person (with her new friend Flop the Frog).

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Peru Trip Day 2: Angeles Anonimos on Life Support

Today we visited the Angeles Anonimos (Anonymous Angels) to brainstorm with them about their struggling business. Angels is an organization that trains and employs people with disabilities, most of whom are considered "unemployable" here.  As of now their only customer is Fair Indigo.  We've been selling their jewelry for nearly 3 years, but it's not quite enough to keep them fully operational year round.

We learned from Jorge (one of the founders, and in our mind a living saint) that today the workers are only called as-needed.  He said that for the school/workshop to provide full employment, they would need about $20,000 of orders per month, well above where we are now.

We also had the privilege of speaking with two of the workers, Marlene and Alfredo.  A.A. has clearly given them some confidence that was immediately apparent (bigger smiles, more assured voices, even new haircuts!).  But their dream is to work with A.A. full time again.

Jorge (co-founder of A.A.), Marlene (artisan), Katie (from Fair Indigo), Rob (from Fair Indigo), and Alfredo (artisan).  Starting work on our fall collection.

All the Angels really need is more business.  For Fair Indigo to sell more of their jewelry, for more businesses to carry their jewelry. An "Oprah moment" wouldn't hurt.  We've shot video which we'll be editing and releasing soon.  Hoping many of you can help us find them some new business.  At fair trade shops, jewelry stores, small companies, big companies...anyone can help. 
Katie and Jorge share an emotional good-bye with a renewed determination to find "our Angels" more business.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Peru Trip Day 1: Watching World Cup in Peru!

After the typical weather-related delays in Miami, the crew from Fair Indigo arrived in two shifts to Lima, Peru in the wee hours of the morning on Sunday. Joining us are special guests the Joobles (Racky the Racoon, Cutie the Lamb, and Flop the Frog) who have been asking to visit their home country. (The Joobles are made at small cooperative workshops throughout Peru).

Being World Cup Sunday, and since Flop is a huge futbol fan, we decided to head downtown to the Stadium Bar to watch the big game. We apparently got there a bit too late because it was already at capacity. So we were re-directed to a place around the corner...a German-themed watering hole where the Zoo Crew was quite well received. (and no, that's not beer Flop is eying up, it's apple juice).

More updates soon!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Fair Indigo "Foodies"

I work amongst quite a group of amateur bakers and chefs here at Fair Indigo. It is an unusual day at the office when someone doesn't bring in something delicious - Homemade Banana Bread, Lemon Cookies with White Chocolate Chips, Almond Cake with Strawberries.  Is your mouth watering yet?

One recipe in particular is office-renowned - Ellen's Delicious Olive Dip.  It is an oft-talked about combination of cheese, green olives, cayenne pepper and more cheese (if nothing else, we are proudly supporting our local dairy farmers!).

Served up with pretzels or veggies, this dip is typically consumed as a meal at one's desk between meetings and emailing marathons. Or, like today, it inspired an impromptu "snack break" in the kitchen while commenting on the latest samples for our Holiday 2010 catalog.

Which got us thinking...  do you have a  recipe that people just can't stop talking about? Better yet, did you come up with that recipe yourself? If so, submit it for our Holiday Recipe Contest! One winner will have his/her original recipe printed on a limited edition towel gift set available for purchase this holiday season - plus, the winner will receive a set of towels when available.

Holiday Recipe Contest 2010
How to enter: Post your original recipe as a comment to this blog (below).  
Entries should be posted no later than June 8, 2010. 
Please include the following information:
  • Recipe Title and Recipe
  • your Name, City and State
  • why you think your recipe is a winner 
 We look forward to seeing what you can come up with!

Official Rules aka "The Fine Print":
Recipe Requirements: Entries must be submitted with the following information: Title, Recipe (including specific ingredients, measurements, step-by-step instructions for preparing, and cooking times), Reason why recipe should be considered, Entrants first name, city and state. Entries must be your own original creation (not based on any other published recipe), and not have won a prize in any other contest.

Entry Requirements: Entrant must be 18 or older. All entries will become property of Fair Indigo. Entry constitutes permission to reproduce, publish, distribute, and otherwise use the recipe in any way without compensation. By entering the contest, you release Fair Indigo from any liability whatsoever, and waive any and all causes of action, related to any claims, costs, injuries, losses, or damages of any kind arising out of or in connection with the contest.

Contest Rules: Void where prohibited by law. Entrant hereby agrees that he/she owns all rights to all entry materials submitted, and all such entry materials are original works of authorship and have not been copied from any other work and do not violate, misappropriate or infringe any copyright, trademark or other proprietary right of any other person.  After finalists have been selected, the finalist's recipe, name, city and state could be made publicly available, such as through Internet websites, catalogs, and other methods of distribution, and used for promotional or marketing purposes, including without limitation a public vote on an Internet website to determine the public’s favorite finalist recipe.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Fun is Good for You!

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently published a summary of research into the benefit of play in the development of a child, and, importantly, what type of play is most beneficial.

The abbreviated version is that young children are increasingly spending much too much time playing with electronic toys that involve passive participation (i.e. pushing a button and watching). In addition, a growing number of stuffed toys revolve around licensed media characters where most of the personality and disposition of the character has been pre-defined by the media creator.

Imagination is not just nice, it's quite literally essential for the development of a child's intellectual and social development.

Examples of toys that support this kind of development are building blocks, simple household items like wooden utensils and containers, and unbranded animals or characters.

While academic research is a great validator, we knew instinctively that our Joobles collection of organic stuffed animals made by fair trade cooperatives in Peru, was a healthy thing for mind and spirit, young and old, and in this case, unlike too often,  consumer and producer.  Doctor's orders: have fun!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What Not To Do

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh said something once that has stuck with me since I heard it. Paraphrasing..."The hardest thing for an entrepreneur is figuring out what not to do."

How true. Figuring out what to do is pretty easy. We're all taught how to make a list of priorities. But saying no to truly good ideas...that's really tough.

Almost everyone at Fair Indigo is a fountain of ideas. Let's do this. Let's try that. We get even more ideas from our customers. You should carry extended sizes. You should ship to the UK. You need more men's stuff. I love your baby selection, why don't you go up to kids sizes? Will you please open a store in Boulder.

If resources were not an issue, we would do all of these things. But of course resources are an issue.

Saying "no" is not in my DNA; it's a skill I continue to get a crash course in. But I think limited resources will serve us well in the long term. Making limited but smart additions to our line isn't like ice cream, it's a bit more like spinach--tasty, but in a "I know this is good for me" kind of way. The ice cream will come later.

Have you had to figure out what not to do? Would love to hear your stories.