But rather than open one little store, the concept snowballed into a national catalog/Web business with a flagship store that’ll be followed by a chain of additional stores in similar cities to Madison — places where shoppers are likely to care about fair trade-manufactured clothes. These potentially include Cambridge, Mass., Boulder, Colo., and Berkeley, Calif., although no leases have been signed.
Store expansion plans call for two new stores next year, and three to five new retail locations in new markets every year beyond. As for the accompanying catalog/Web business, plans call for steady catalog circulation increases, as well. For its first year, Fair Indigo mailed 500,000 books. This year’s circ plan calls for 1.5 million. The company intends to mail 10 million books in 2010.
As the company expands, Behnke, Bass and Fair Indigo’s entire salaried staff of 13 will continue to heed its fair trade mantra. To get the company’s system in place, it took Bass, Behnke, Hughes and their fourth founding partner, Style Director Elizabeth Ragone, more than a year to find factories that would work up to its standards.
Many factories they approached balked at the idea. “They’d tell us, ‘If we pay these workers more, we’ll have to pay others more, and what if they don’t deserve it?’” Bass laments. “Some would agree, but we’d find out the extra money was going to the factory owners.”
In addition to finding appropriate vendors to heed its standards, Fair Indigo’s biggest challenge was to implement a business model that allowed for a greater cost of goods structure. Many of the factories Fair Indigo sources from — in countries such as Peru, Costa Rica, Uruguay, China, Macau, India, Spain and the United States — are cooperatives, owned jointly by the workers themselves. This enables the workers to be paid better, while eliminating the costs of paying owners and keeping the bottom lines up and the material costs to the cataloger down.