We may be quite far removed from the, “We all wanna change the world” 1960s, but a group of former Lands’ End executives and employees last year did set out to change the world — the world of multichannel apparel sourcing.
A year since its formal launch, Fair Indigo, a marketer of casual apparel, has stuck to its passion of complying with the rules of fair trade in apparel manufacturing. Headed by former Lands’ End senior vice president of international and e-commerce, Bill Bass, the Middleton, Wis.-based cataloger/multichannel merchant’s raison d’être is to only use apparel manufacturers that pay more than the bare minimum wages and treat their employees fairly.
“Most factory workers are unhappy people,” Bass says. “When we visit factories to explore sourcing, we tell the factory owners that we want to pay their workers extra.” Fair trade is nothing new in other industries, such as coffee, in which Starbucks regularly sources its beans from fair trade vendors. Even McDonald’s has begun to follow suit with its “premium” coffee. But in the U.S. apparel market, fair trade is virtually nonexistent. In some other countries, such as the United Kingdom, some marketers, such as Warrington, England-based Marks & Spencer, have started carrying fair trade-manufactured clothing.
“I’ve been in the apparel industry for a dozen years and thought, ‘Why hasn’t this happened yet in clothing?’” says Fair Indigo’s Vice President of Merchandising and Sourcing Rob Behnke, a former merchandising exec at Lands’ End and Duluth Trading. What little fair trade there’s been in the U.S. clothing market has been dominated by rural artisans selling textiles, he says. “It’s been sort of a black hole in the market.”
Twice a year, Fair Indigo executives visit each factory with which they do business. They also regularly have the factories audited, demanding proof that the workers making their clothing are paid well beyond the accepted minimum wages and are happy in their work environment.