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!