Month: August 2010

the Fair Wear formula

Fair Wear Foundation (FWF) is an international verification initiative dedicated to enhancing workers’ lives all over the world.  They work closely with a growing number of companies that produce clothing and other sewn products and that take responsibility for their supply chain.  Through sharing expertise, social dialogue, and strengthening industrial relations, FWF increases the effectiveness of companies to improve labor conditions in the garment industry.

FWF recently came out with a new publication, the Fair Wear Formula, which describes their approach to improving labor conditions in garment supply chains.  While laying out the complexity of the problem, the booklet demonstrates that the solution will be complex as well and suggests comprehensive, multi-faceted actions that will require coordinated efforts of many stakeholders, including you, the consumer!

It’s a beautifully designed and well-written book that I highly recommend taking the time to look through.  This is the pdf version, and you can get your hands on a paperback or hardback copy by emailing


Mix and Match Tibetan Fashion

I just ended a week in Kathmandu working with our new fair trade partners on Spring 2011 designs.  I got so inspired by the colorful Nepali street fashion!  It’s a total parade of mix and match prints for the ladies, many of which are Tibetan, and the men wear the cutest traditional hats in hand-woven prints…Nepal is colorful in a different way than India and it is definitely influencing my design process.

I loved getting to know our new fair trade partners in Kathmandu. The pic below shows Sumitra, the head designer (right),and Anu, her assistant and chief pattern maker (left).

One of the neat things about our Kathmandu co-op is that the head pattern maker is a woman. In India at our other two women’s cooperatives I’ve noticed that this position is filled by a man. Even when all the seamstresses and designers are women, for some reason the pattern maker is always a man.  I have a hunch this is because pattern making is highly skilled trade and traditionally anything having to do with tailoring is a man’s line of work in India.  Anyways, I think it’s pretty cool that the head pattern maker at our Kathmandu co-op is a lady – nothing like breaking the gender barriers!

I found out the pattern maker Anu’s story.  Anu’s mother was a widow, and when she was young her mother took her to live at an ashram near the co-op.  The ashram takes in women in need and provides them with a place to live and also job training.  They also have a school for the deaf.  That is where the co-op comes in. Over the years they have worked closely with the ashram to develop a two year training program to give the ashram women job skills.  After the women complete their two year program they are offered work at the co-op, and that is how Anu got connected.  The co-op saw her talent right away and paid for her education to go to design school and now she is the chief pattern maker!

Here are some pics of the production unit stitching our new Fair Trade trousers for Fall!


As Karma would have it…

Sunday, December 14, 2003 Travelogue:  Excerpts from past impressions and experiences in India (see the first travelogue segment we posted)

Hello to everyone!!!

I’ve never done one of these group e-mails before, but I think now is as appropriate a time as any.  I hope you all are well and enjoying the Christmas season.  As I sit here in the swelter of a city called Trichy, I can’t quite fathom a snowflake falling.  Joni, Michelle, and I have been in India for 9 days now, and are exploring the southern state of Tamil Nadu.  We are slowly adjusting to the myriad of cultural and social differences.  Everyday I learn something new, but to be honest, I’ve got a lot of questions that still need answering.  I guess it’s like a huge puzzle.  All the pieces are in front of me, and yet I’ve got no idea how they fit together, or what they will look like in the end.

My first big question concerned the cows.  I’d heard the rumor, and yes, it’s true.  Cows really do roam around everywhere here, even on the beach.  Apparently they actually BELONG to people, and every night they go back to wherever their home is, get fed and milked and stuff, and then head back out into town the next day to linger in obtrusive places and eat trash.  Cows especially enjoy standing still in heavily trafficked areas, looking like they’ve forgotten where they are, or who they are, for that matter.

So what else have I gathered so far?  With the exception of answering their cell phones, people here seem to be doing the same things they’ve been doing for thousands of years.  Ok, so there are internet cafes and international phone calling centers (disconcertingly called STDs) on every corner.  But on those same corners are also men wearing identical styled sandals as people were wearing a thousand years ago.  I know this because I saw a sculpture yesterday of Shiva that was made in the 10th century, AND HE HAD ON THESE SAME SHOES.  Apparently South India, and the state of Tamil Nadu in particular, is one of the few classical societies left to have remained intact and relatively uninfluenced by outside forces for over two thousand years.  This means that a woman who is bowing down and placing an open coconut at an alter to Vishnu is quite possibly performing an action that’s been going on for countless generations.  As my guidebook says “If the sacred peaks of the Himalayas are Hinduism’s head, and the Ganges its main artery, then the temple complexes of the South are its spiritual heart and soul.”

I have to say it is intense here in India, but perhaps not quite the place I had imagined.  As Joni says, it’s important to put on your “patience cap.”  The emotional highs and lows are a bit like the smells.  Sometimes it’s a gust of fresh sweet flowers piled in neat rows at a vendor’s table, other times it’s the overpowering waft of shit from an open sewer.  You never can tell which aroma you’re gonna get, so you just have to roll with the stenches (ha).

Stay tuned for more travel stories.

I miss you guys,



Harshali’s Story (everything is connected)

Being in India reminds me of a postcard I got at a museum in Germany, with a funny looking man in spectacles holding up a handwritten sign that says:  “Everything is connected.  The point is to know it and understand it.”

I met Harshali two years ago when she was a shy 17 year old with limited English speaking skills.  At that time she was working as a helper at our women’s cooperative and we struck up a friendship on our shared path home after work.  I was staying in an apartment close to the co-op, and Harshali’s grandmother and sister were selling fish on the side of the road next to the apartment complex.  After work at the co-op Harshali would help her grandma and sister until the small stand closed, at around 9 pm.  Harshali is from Tamil Nadu, a state in the south of India, and her parents died when she was very young, leaving her and her younger brother and sister behind, with only her grandmother to fend for them.  Joining the millions of others who comprise Mumbai’s enormous migrant workforce, Harshali’s grandmother decided to emigrate to the big city in the hopes of finding work to support her two granddaughters.  Two years ago Harshali had just started work at the co-op.  Soon after she was able to afford to send both her younger siblings to school, as well as start a college economics course.

Now she is an assistant to one of the co-op’s designers and oversees all sampling work, and is just about to graduate her program.  She dresses smartly, in cute matching salwar suits that show her evolving fashion taste, and speaks English well, with the confidence of a young professional woman.  I believe she is on her way to becoming a designer herself someday, and I know that without her work at the co-op she could very well still be selling fish on the side of the road with her grandma and elder sister.

India as a whole is not a society that encourages social mobility.  Economic brackets are enforced by caste lines, and like most industrializing nations, the poverty class is growing as the rural poor migrate from villages to mega-cities to find new kinds of work.  The opportunities for economic advancement that fair trade organizations offer to women in poverty are truly a rarity.  Being a part of the fair trade community means that we are ALL connected to this positive change.

While we meet and get to know the women in India who make our clothing, our customers are actually the ones make the difference.

By shopping fair trade YOU make a story like Harshali’s possible.

Thank you for your support!