The Story Behind Indigenous and Its Organic, Fair-Trade Fashion

| 12/4/2012 1:31:44 PM

This press release is presented without editing for your information. The Utne Reader editorial staff does not recommend, approve or endorse the products and/or services offered. You should use your own judgment and evaluate products and services carefully before deciding to purchase.  

For INDIGENOUS’ founders, Scott Leonard and Matthew Reynolds, creating socially and environmentally conscious fashion has been a journey toward ever greater transparency and accountability. 17 years ago, they began their mission with the goal of bringing fair wages to economically marginalized communities in South America. Today, the goals of INDIGENOUS have expanded to include assistance with training, investment in knitting equipment, and community outreach.

From humble beginnings—with co-founders Scott and Matt picking burs out of sweaters before delivering them to the Nature Company—INDIGENOUS organic + fair trade fashion has come into its own. As a pioneer in the eco fashion industry, INDIGENOUS helped to create the first Fair Trade apparel certification. And, though sweaters made by INDIGENOUS’ fair trade supply chain may now hang next to high end apparel in stores like Bloomingdales and Neiman Marcus, INDIGENOUS has not only remained true to its founding principals, it has pursued ever greater transparency and accountability. By engaging with important agents of social change such as the Grameen Foundation and RSF Social Finance, and by inventing the Fair Trace Tool—an innovative way for customers to see through the manufacturing veil—INDIGENOUS continues to raise the bar, creating new standards in Fair Trade.

The spark that led to INDIGENOUS began with Leonard’s travels in Ecuador. “I had seen firsthand that women were not necessarily being honored for their weaving and knitting skills,” says the Indigenous CEO. “They weren’t being paid the wages that they could have been, or they didn’t have the opportunity to apply those skills to the marketplace.

“We really wanted to make a difference in the world with women in economically marginalized communities,” Leonard says. “We thought that bringing in fair wages and technical assistance, and marrying environmentally friendly fibers with more sophisticated designs, was a way to do that.”

With over 1,500 artisans hand-making their garments, the task of measuring the social and financial impact of fair wages and ethical business practices is daunting. That’s why, in the Summer of 2011, INDIGENOUS employed the Grameen Foundation’s Progress Out of Poverty Index (PPOI) to measure the financial status of its artisans.

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