Will Fair Trade Catch On?
Bill Bass, president/CEO of fair trade apparel cataloger Fair Indigo, offers catalogers and other multichannel merchants looking to source through fair trade factories, several tips and insights into how and when the fair trade apparel market might develop in the United States.
Catalog Success: How do you do it?
Bill Bass: Find the factories. There’s not an installed base of factories out there that treats its employees well. You have to go out and spend a lot of time finding them.
It takes a lot of work. You have to want to do it and do it enough that you’re willing to figure out other ways to save money. If you already run your business in a certain way and decide you want workers at the factories you source from paid more, you have to look somewhere else to cut costs. We were fortunate in that we started this way, and that’s the basis of our company.
CS: Will other catalogers follow your lead?
Bass: As other companies do this, you’ll start to see factories raising their standards. Right now, any factory owners who take care of their employees as we like them to are doing so because they want to. But there’s still a market for cheaper, cheaper, cheaper and using employees like commodities. So right now, there’s no infrastructure in place, and you have to create your own.
CS: What’s specifically required of factories in fair trade?
Bass: Two things: quality and social standards. Some of the cooperative factories are, by nature, socially good places to work, but they weren’t hitting our quality standards. So [Fair Indigo Vice President of Merchandising and Sourcing] Rob Behnke spent almost three weeks in Costa Rica with one of them just a few months before we launched to get its quality standards up.