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Flavors of Fashion: A Moment with Fair Indigo

August 12, 2010

Ever wondered what the “fair” in Fair Indigo really means? This week I sat down with Fair Indigo store manager, Katie Stevens, about Fair Indigo not only as a store, but a brand that’s making a difference.

Fair Indigo is an organic-conscious and eco-friendly fair trade brand headquartered right here in Wisconsin. They serve their customers not only through catalog, but also through a wonderful store location in the heart of Hilldale Mall. I was able to steal a moment of the store manager Katie Steven’s time, and really get to know Fair Indigo’s unique products and goals as a brand.
My first impression of the Fair Indigo store was the beauty in its simplicity. All of their products showcase clean lines  and timeless silhouettes. Each item has a individual story about its origin, making your purchase not only educational, but meaningful as well. Another thing that struck me was the passion that the staff exhibits for Fair Indigo’s mission to help the earth and change poor working conditions in the apparel industry. I walked away from the experience enlightened as to the new possibilities available in fair and environmentally sound apparel production. But enough about what I saw, read it for yourself:

Carolyn Akin: First I want to ask what is Fair Indigo’s mission? What is fair trade exactly?
Katie Stevens:
Our mission is to create high-quality, wearable styles without the exploitation of workers and the environment. Fair Indigo as a brand is really representing treating people and the earth with respect. We are about working with great people, who are doing great things for other people and the planet.
Fair trade is a growing movement dedicated to the principles of rewarding workers and producers fairly for their work or products. The goals of fair trade are economic and ecological sustainability.

CA: Since the apparel industry can be known for unfair practices in labor and wages, how do you ensure that Fair Indigo’s products follow your mission statement?
First and foremost we work with worker-owned cooperatives whenever we can. We believe that businesses where all the workers share the profits is the best model. Where we can’t locate cooperatives, we work with a very tiny number of small family-owned businesses, where workers are truly treated like family, wages are fair, and working conditions pleasant. We were actually just in Peru visiting a few of those facilities last week; we are able to see our products being made!
We have really created relationships with the people we work with and they treat their workers and us like family. Take for example, have you heard of a factory where the owner comes in in the morning and gives her employees a kiss on the cheek, this is not your typical factory. Nor is the co-op where the owner donates breakfast and lunch to schools to feed the children, whom otherwise might not have much to eat. By working with people of such great caliber, their standards are just as high as ours.

CA: How do you determine what is considered a “fair wage”?
When we screen our facilities, we don’t use the minimum wage like most apparel brands. We look for a living wage as defined by the World of Good Development Corporation. The calculator is found at This is just a link to an organization that we work with that helps come up with a living wage because each country is different. That’s our main mission, that the people we work with are doing above and beyond minimum wage, otherwise we wouldn’t be working with them.

CA: How do you maintain a reasonable price, if you are increasing the apparel workers’ wages?
Mostly what we’ve realized, especially with the economy change, is what is a reasonable price to people. So everything we’ve developed going forward will fall into that reasonable price category. So to stay within that mission, we are creating styles that can be produced and still stay within that price point.  We also work with these companies directly, so there is no middleman taking a cut. We were speaking to the owners two weeks ago. It’s amazing!

CA: I read on your website Fair Indigo tries to be environmental and organic conscious. How does this come forth in your products and store?
As far as organic and socially responsible, all the cotton we use is organic cotton. When we started out we wanted to make a difference in people’s lives and as we evolved we realized how much there is a need and a niche for organic cotton. In trying to be more environmentally responsible, all we’ve produced this last spring/summer that was cotton has been organic cotton.
Here in the store all of our bags are made of 95% recycled materials. We have different partnerships as well, which can be found on our website, that we work with. For example, Just Coffee reuses our boxes that we receive merchandise in, to ship out their own coffee products. Also, when we unpack our merchandise they come in plastic bags; we have hundreds of these bags. We wanted a way to recycle these bags, so recently we have been working with a organization called Kindred Kids, which is based out of Columbus. They provide resources such as, toys, books, wheelchairs, walkers, etc. to kids with differing abilities, and they need bags to put all these items in. They are always looking for bags, she’s actually coming this afternoon.

CA: Let’s talk specifically about the Fair Indigo store, when did it open? Demographic it serves? Goals as a store?
As far as the store, we opened in 2006. It serves everyone: men, women and baby. Our customers really range anywhere from 20s to 65-plus. Online it might skew a little older, but in the store we can get a younger audience because there are a lot of other fun shops around us besides our own, and people will stop in. Our goals would be to provide organic and fair trade styles that are timeless and affordable for everyone. We want people to have clothes that don’t go out of style every year because it doesn’t really support our sustainable mission if one has to buy new clothes every season. We also want to connect the shopper to what we are doing and who we are working with; how we make a difference and how they can make a difference.

CA: Are there any specific products in the store that have a special story about a worker or location it was made in?
Each item in our store has a story! Each of our tags have a picture of someone from the facility in which that garment was made, and a description of why we are working with that facility. We even have a kiosk in the store in which you can scan the tag and get more information about the garment and where it came from. Every channel you go through, whether in-store or online, you have the ability to learn about who we are working with.
When we were recently down in Peru we met up with a company we are working with called Angeles Anonimos (Anonymous Angels) who make most of our fine jewelry which includes mostly sterling silver or items dipped in gold. Angeles Anonimos is a group that was founded by people who had been in the jewelry industry and they decided to form a cooperative to teach students the jewelry-making skills and then employ them as well. All of the students have a disability of some sort. In Peru, right outside of Lima, unemployment is high, so if you have a disability it’s even harder to find a job. So this has been a great thing that they have done, but we are their only main supplier and we are not able to provide enough work to keep them working full time. We are trying to reach out through a video we’ve created with Jorje, who is the owner, so that we can pass this company on to other people who might have interest in a company that could make jewelry for them. The people on the video, which was made around 2007, features people that still work with that company, and even though we can’t give them full-time work, the best thing that has happened with this co-op is that not only has it taught these people all these great skills, but it has also given them more self-confidence. They all now also have other jobs and do Angeles Anonimos as needed. It nice to know that they are in a better place and have more self-confidence to find other jobs too.

CA: While Fair Indigo has a store location, I know catalog sales are also crucial to the brand. How would BRAVA readers go about signing up to receive the catalog?
Just go to our website, There is a button on the lower right of the homepage that says “Request a Catalog”, click it, and then enter your information to receive a catalog.

CA: Lastly, what experience would you like the customer to have walked away with, after visiting Fair Indigo?
Having people touch and feel our organic cotton, a lot of it is Pima organic cotton, so it has a longer fiber and a really soft hand. It’s less likely to pill and is so comfortable and soft. You can’t get that from a picture. So when you come in feel that, but then learn about what we are doing and know that a purchase you make can help provide work and opportunities for people in other areas. We also have stuff here made in the U.S. and are always looking for more products like this. But most importantly, we want people to know how each of us can help make a difference!

Here’s a few of my favorites from Fair Indigo:

Graphic tee by Green3, $34; Fair Indigo
Made locally in Oshkosh with organic cotton and earth-friendly, water-based ink.

Joobles blanket wrap, $32 each; Fair Indigo
Available in blankets, sweaters and stuffed animals. Made with organic cotton and eco-friendly dye by fair trade workers. Cute variety of characters!

Necklace by Angeles Anonimos, $69; Fair Indigo
Created by a co-op of disabled women in Peru.

Cream cardigan, $72; Fair Indigo
Grey necklace by Andean Collection, $38; Fair Indigo
Sweater made by a fair-trade, family-owned factory in Uruguay.

Green dress, $24.80; Fair Indigo
Made in Peru by woman-run fair-trade factory.

Fair Indigo/ Hilldale, Madison / (608) 661-7662

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