“You take a level of management out so more dollars come out of the factory,” Bass explains. “The workers/owners vote on how much bonus they want to pay themselves vs. reinvesting in machinery.”
As a result, Fair Indigo’s cost of goods is only 10 percent greater than comparable cataloger/retailer costs. But that doesn’t mean the company passes along those extra costs to its customers. “A lot of people took pay cuts to come here,” Bass says, himself included. “If what spins your wheels is flying places first-class, you won’t have fun here.”
Other ways in which the cataloger has kept its overall costs down include the location of its modest headquarters. “We wanted to be in the Madison area, because other catalogers are nearby,” Bass points out. Among them: Lands’ End, The Swiss Colony and Miles Kimball, Conney Safety Products and Demco.
But rather than settle in pricier Madison, Fair Indigo rents a modest space in an out-of-the-way industrial park in Middleton, just outside of Madison. The four cofounders and other executives work in rooms together rather than housing themselves up in posh, private offices.
In addition, Fair Indigo chooses models from nearby Chicago, rather than from the pricier, higher profile New York modeling scene, a 40 percent to 60 percent difference in wages, according to Director of Creative Ryan Williams. In addition, being just a little more than an hour’s drive away, working with local Chicago talent means no travel expenses for the cast and crew. “My photographer owns his own studio, so there’s no need to book one separately,” he says, adding that he knows of no New York City photographer who has a studio. The cataloger also saves on the rental of equipment, such as lights, lenses and wind machines. And catering is cheaper.
But finding less expensive models is only the half of it. “We build sets for photo shoots ourselves and go to Home Depot to get the materials,” Ragone points out. “But when we take the shots, no one could ever know that anything came from Home Depot. In fact, it’s part of an employee culture here. We have to get the same results. People here are resourceful at solving problems.”