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Walking the Talk. Since 2006.

Posted on December 30 2019

Pioneers in sustainable clothing

Surf any news site or pick up a newspaper lately and you can't miss the latest news about sustainable clothing from across the retail spectrum. It's exciting to see sustainability, when it's real, go mainstream. After all, it's what we set out to do way back in 2006.

Our idea back then was simple:

1) The apparel industry is rife with sweatshop labor and cheap disposable clothing. Let's change that. 

2) What little ethically made clothing that exists is not being widely embraced because most of the designs don't work well into a modern wardrobe. Below is an actual hand-written note with results from a 2005 Google search for "fair trade clothing." Screen shots were not yet a thing, at least not for me!

3) Let's make fair trade clothing that people will actually want to wear. Instead of helping 20 workers in a cooperative making a hemp dress (not that there's anything wrong with that!), let's help 20,000 workers across dozens of cooperatives and factories by making fair trade and sustainable clothing that almost everyone will want to wear.

ethically made clothes

So that's what we did. Thirteen years, thousands of miles, and dozens of battle scars later, we can look back and celebrate that we were true pioneers in this Ethical Clothing movement. And we've stayed true to our mission.

Our greatest privilege is to meet amazing people (and creatures!) along the journey. Last week it was driving through unbearable Lima, Peru traffic to to check in on the 5-person cooperative that makes our French Terry Women's Blazer and Women's and Men's Jogger Pants.

cooperative made clothing

In 2008, it was a 19-hour trek to Inner Mongolia to find the elusive fair trade cashmere (hint: we were not successful in that endeavor but it happily led us to alpaca!).

fair trade cashmere

At Fair Indigo, we're all in. While we applaud the sustainable initiatives of larger companies, everything we sell fits the bill - not just 4 racks on Floor 3 or a special collection on the website. When you buy anything here, you're doing good.

We've also resisted the "faux-sustainable" bandwagon. For example, products made from "naturally derived" bamboo or viscose. While they sound sustainable and eco-cool, the process of turning wood or bamboo into fabric takes lots of energy and extremely caustic chemicals. It also creates garments that usually don't last more than a couple of years without pilling.

organic alpaca and pima cotton from peru

And though it's quite challenging in today's 70% off shopping culture, we've worked really hard to keep our prices as affordable as possible. It definitely costs more to use organic materials and pay fair wages. So to offset that as much as possible, our office in Madison, Wisconsin is the furthest from a hipster startup district you'll find - tucked away in a 1980's-era office park between a shopping mall and The Beltline. Our trips to Peru are economized with red eye flights, Air B&B's, and eating where the locals eat.

It's all worth it. Because we can change the world. Just by changing our clothes.

Robert Behnke
Founder

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