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Part 4 of “Fair Trade from the Seed to the Consumer”: The Retailer & Consumer

In recognition of Fair Trade Month, Marigold Fair Trade Clothing has a new blog series entitled: “Fair Trade From the Seed to the Consumer.” Our beautiful, fashion-forward products represent a completely fair trade supply chain, and you can be assured that from the cotton seed to the finished product, your Marigold purchase is helping to transform the lives of workers and t heir communities. Holding true to our value of transparency, and in an effort to educate and advocate for the Fair Trade model, we are opening up, and explaining, our complete value chain to the consumer public.

In Part 4 (and the final installment of this series), we will explore the fourth major link in the supply chain, and the one that you are probably most familiar with: Distribution & The Consumer.

In addition to selling directly to our consumers at events around the Seattle, Washington, area, and through our online catalog and shopping cart, we have the privilege of working with an amazing set of 60+ retailers across the country. Marigold is based on a wholesaler model, and so we really rely on our retail partners to spread the word about fair trade and distribute our products to the end consumer. We love working in close collaboration with stores to develop new products that suit the needs of their customers, and it is our goal to make the decision to buy fair trade an easy one!

In order to reach the biggest audience we can, staff at Marigold frequently speak at colleges, schools, community groups, festivals and events to share our story and spread the word about fair trade. We are also often involved in ethical fashion shows and stay involved in the local and global fair trade community through our social media sites. By staying connected to the movement, we can speak directly to retailers who may be entertaining the idea of offering ethical fashion and housewares, but we can also engage in a direct dialogue with you, our consumer. Our distributors are essential to our success, but we also love to hear directly from our consumers. You can tell us what’s hot, what’s not, and offer general feedback on our products and what you would like to see Marigold offer next.

We recently spoke to a Marigold supporter who was a winner of one of our blog contests, and then went on to order our beautiful Paisley Skirt. Here is what she had to say:

“I buy fair trade because I believe that I’m making a difference in the global community and enjoy influencing business and consumer trends toward the greater good. Because I care about what I buy, it’s great to find a central location where I can freely shop without worrying about where the products were made or under what kind of conditions.  At Marigold I have the assurance that everything is fair trade and can be confident that everything I buy is making the world a better place.  Marigold has a lot of options and some really great designs, and I especially love the paisley skirt – it’s very comfortable, flattering, and also very versatile so that I can wear it to work with more formal accessories, or for play with sandals.”

At the core of Marigold’s values is the idea of transparency, which is exactly what inspired us to open up our supply chain to the public with this blog series. We consider ourselves to not only be a fair trade clothing designer and wholesaler, but also an organization that spurs discussion, innovation and change. We want our retailers and consumers to feel engaged with Marigold, and know that you are playing a large part in furthering the fair trade movement.

The conventional garment industry, and what we have come to accept as normal and the law of the land, is one of secrecy and an impossibly long and convoluted supply chain that makes it difficult for consumers to know the story of the product. Marigold’s business model turns this antiquated system on its head by giving the consumer complete insight into the production process. We have no secrets, and because of this, when you purchase a Marigold product, you can be sure that you are getting the complete, honest, and fair history of the item.



October 26, 2010 at 1:00 am Leave a comment

Part 2 of “Fair Trade From the Seed to the Consumer”: Cloth Production & Block Printing

In recognition of Fair Trade Month, Marigold Fair Trade Clothing has a new blog series entitled: “Fair Trade From the Seed to the Consumer.” Our beautiful, fashion-forward products represent a completely fair trade supply chain, and you can be assured that from the cotton seed to the finished product, your Marigold purchase is helping to transform the lives of workers and their communities. Holding true to our value of transparency, and in an effort to educate and advocate for the Fair Trade model, we are opening up, and explaining, our complete value chain to the consumer public.

In Part 2 of our series, we will explore the second major link in the Marigold supply chain: Cloth Production & Block Printing

The organic cotton used to make Marigold products is milled, ginned and dyed by an association of over 5,000 farmers in the Indian states of Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, and then the finished cotton fabric is sent to the cooperative for stitching.

In order to make the beautiful, one of a kind products that you have come to love, we use fabrics that are vegetable-dyed and hand block printed, bringing the past into today’s fashion conscious world. Hand block printing is an age-old tradition that dates back to 12th century India, but it is a dying art form due to the trend of mass production. We believe in honoring and celebrating this tradition and so the fabrics used at the co-op to make Marigold clothing and housewares come from a group of artisans who have been block printing for generations. The work is done by hand with intricately carved wooden blocks called bunta which are pressed into the fabrics with great precision to bring you products that area true work of art.

Using a model of a completely fair trade supply chain, everyone who has had a hand in creating a Marigold product is becoming an economically self-sufficient stakeholder, and is not simply a worker.

Stay tuned for Part 3: Product Design & Production. In the mean time, what are your thoughts on using artisan traditions (such as block printing and vegetable dying) for the production of consumer goods? Is this important to you? Do you think the general shopper is concerned about the source of their fabrics?

October 19, 2010 at 5:51 am Leave a comment

Part 1 of “Fair Trade From the Seed to the Consumer”: Organic Cotton Farming

In recognition of Fair Trade Month, Marigold Fair Trade Clothing is starting a new blog series entitled: “Fair Trade From the Seed to the Consumer.” Our beautiful, fashion-forward products represent a completely fair trade supply chain, and you can be assured that from the cotton seed to the finished product, your Marigold purchase is helping to transform the lives of workers and their communities. Holding true to our value of transparency, and in an effort to educate and advocate for the Fair Trade model, we are opening up, and explaining, our complete value chain to the consumer public.

In Part 1 of our series, we will explore the first link in the Marigold supply chain: Organic Cotton Farming.

For the past three years, and especially since the summer of 2010, Marigold has been expanding our line to include more organic cotton products, while staying committed to fair trade and artisan design. We believe that it is important to support farming that does not employ harmful practices and that protects both the environment and the workers.

Marigold plays a part in growing the movement by offering clothing and housewares made from organic cotton that does not use agro chemicals that destroy our environment by contaminating water supplies, destroying soil nutrients, and harming wildlife. Along with the environmental impact of industrial practices, farmers also suffer from exposure to chemicals and experience ailments such as severe skin and digestion problems, and fatal diseases, including cancer.

In addition to having to deal with on the job health issues, cotton farmers in India often do not receive a fair enough price to cover production costs and many have been forced to borrow money at extortionate rates. Unable to repay debts or support their families, suicide is common, and in the Amravati district of Maharashtra alone, there are 5,000 farmer suicides every year. Over the past two years Marigold has been buying our organic cotton from an organization based in Andrah Pradesh that helps farmers to escape the spiraling debt and increase their income by 50%. Since the organization started working in 2006 there have been no suicides amongst the 6,000 farmers we work with. Through our company’s cotton sourcing standards, farmers have regained their dignity through self determination and through fair trading conditions.

Stay tuned next week for Part 2: Cloth Production and Block Printing. In the mean time, what are your thoughts on organic farming practices? Do you think it’s important to support the movement through your purchases of organic cotton clothing and other products?

October 13, 2010 at 4:51 am 4 comments

Come see Marigold at the Fair Trade Futures Conference in Boston (Sept.10th-12th)

Fair Trade FuturesMarigold Fair Trade Clothing will be attending the Fair Trade Futures Conference, which takes place in Boston, Massachusetts, on September 10-12, 2010. This will be Marigold’s fifth time attending this event, which has been dubbed North America’s largest fair trade conference. The weekend will feature seminars, discussions, workshops, social activities and a free to the public exposition and shop of 75+ fair trade vendors, including Marigold.

Conference organizers have invited professionals, entrepreneurs, activists, students, and anyone in the public who is interested in finding out more about fair trade and meeting like-minded people. The event is intended to be a learning experience and an open forum for discussion for the projected 750+ attendees traveling to Boston from around the country and globe.  Topics will include:

  • The Politics of Fair Trade Certification and Governance
  • How to be an Effective Fair Trade Advocate
  • Kids: Creating a Fair Trade Future
  • Fair Trade 101
  • What is the Future of Fair Trade?
  • Does Fair Trade Deliver on its Promise?

In addition to formal presentations, conference attendees will also have the opportunity to participate in discussions with many high-profile organizations and speakers including:

  • Kevin Danaher, Co-Founder and Public Education Director, Global Exchange
  • Safia Minney, Founder, People Tree UK
  • Carmen Iezzi, Fair Trade Federation
  • David Funkhouser, Transfair USA
  • Ron Hershey, Ten Thousand Villages
  • Sophi Trancell, Divine Chocolate

With so many bright minds coming together at one time, new ideas, innovations, and heated debates are guaranteed to be an overarching theme of the weekend’s exciting events. So are you interested in attending? Tickets are still available and can be purchased online or at the door.  Please visit the conference website for more information and we hope to see you at our Fair Trade Marketplace booth next week!

September 4, 2010 at 12:34 am 1 comment

Update on BCWS: Kalpona Atker arrested

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about the labor rights struggles happening in Bangladesh.  I told you about the great work that the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity (BCWS) has done, but that they were struggling with the government to maintain their organizational rights. I am very sad to report that on August 13, 2010, a main figure head of the BCWS, Kalpona Atker was arrested for “inciting worker unrest.”  She was doing her part by advocating for garment workers’ rights, but has paid the price for her dedication to the cause and was taken to jail by 20 officers. Read more and take action HERE.

Discussion:

Wal-Mart is Bangladesh’s biggest customer. Knowing that, and the power behind the mega-brand, do you think Wal-Mart has an obligation to help the workers? Why might they not to choose to step in? Do these in-actions by corporations make you think twice about purchasing from them?

This is a follow to my recent post: $24 per month: The salary of 3 million garment workers in Bangladesh

August 27, 2010 at 6:58 am Leave a comment

Reaping the benefits of certification labels

You can read The Omnivore’s Dilemma to get the full story about how industrial agriculture came to be in the US, but it’s actually a recent development. For years, people have farmed exactly the same way: at a low yield to feed the family and a few townspeople, with the help of animals to pull plows and provide fertilizer, always growing and rotating a variety of crops. With the invention of modern farm equipment and techniques, the application of patent protection to high yield seeds, government subsidies, and the wide-spread use of pesticides, farming in the last 50 years has become more of a cut-throat political game then anything.

Organic farmingOrganic farming has become quite fashionable, and many producers have jumped on the band wagon in order to capitalize on the ever-growing and affluent LOHAS segment.  This is a marketing term that refers to a particular group that focuses on sustainability, makes thoughtful decisions about what products they buy, and that relies on food certification labels to at the point of sale. But some independent farmers have always used organic techniques, not just in the past few years when the industry has boomed, but have been unable to label and sell their products as such because of government restrictions. The kicker is that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) manages the organic labeling of foods in the US, and like any certification, it involves a lot of time and money to obtain and maintain the status.

But the economic downturn has affected everyone, including small, independent farmers who already operate on a low margin. Many who have been “hold outs” for the organic label are reconsidering their ban, and are now coughing up the yearly fees and royalties necessary to sell their “officially organic” products to grocery chains like Whole Foods. Even though organic techniques have been at the core of these producers’ values since the beginning, the competition, including large conglomerates, have taken the segment by storm and reaped the increased sales due to their USDA organic-labeled foods. At this point, giving into more government involvement in the food system is the only way that they can compete.

So what does this sudden change of heart tell us? Despite what your opinions are about the industrial food system, one thing is clear: certification labels matter. All consumers, not just the ones in the LOHAS segment, are starting to ask more questions about their products, including where it was produced, by who, and under what conditions. However scary they may be, scandals in the marketplace are driving the demand of increased supply chain transparency. No one wants to get salmonella from eggs they purchased at the corner store, or serve contaminated food to their dogs, and certification labels, although confusing at times, do help the consumer to make reliable decisions.

Changes in the food system are just the beginning, and conscious consumerism is beginning to pop up in other industries including apparel and footwear.  Transfair USA, the only third-party certifier of Fair Trade products in the US, will soon be fully launching its Apparel and Linens pilot.  What this means for you is that for the first time in history, you will be able to choose an ethical tee shirt over one that was made in a sweat shop.

Marigold Fair Trade Clothing is part of this program (more news to come later…), and while you have come to trust and love our company through our stories and transparency, you will soon have an official certified label to verify what you have always known: that buying a product from Marigold connects you to the producers and offers you a chance to be part of an alternate trade system that respects human dignity and sustainability.

Discussion:

What are your thoughts on certification labels? Do they affect your purchase decisions, and if so in what categories? If one clothing item was labeled organic and fair trade, and the one next to it did not have the certifications, how would your thought process change? Do you think a label can help to increase sales?

Source: Seeing ‘Gain’ in the Label Organic, The New York Times, August 7, 2010

August 23, 2010 at 4:25 am Leave a comment

$24 per month: The salary of 3 million garment workers in Bangladesh

Barely surviving on pennies per day

The country of Bangladesh is a major hub in the global garment industry with over 3 million workers and 4,500 factories, producing over $16 billion in exports for big brands like Zara, Carrefour, JC Penney and Wal-Mart.  But Bangladesh  also has the lowest minimum wage in the entire world: $24 per month. This law was established in 2006, at the same time a local NGO determined that it would take workers in the capital city of Dhaka $20 per month to meet the minimum calorie intake to survive.  Food prices since then have tripled, which means that workers in the garment factories can’t even afford to feed themselves, let alone provide for their children.  Life for these workers is a hellish daily struggle just to survive.

The role of the BCWS

But there has been some hope in the form of The Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity (BCWS), an NGO started in 2001 to peacefully address labor rights issues.  The organization is well known in the community for its credible research, bringing awareness to the big issues, leadership training and conflict resolution.  While BCWS has many accomplishments, it has always had to deal with the government looking over its shoulders, literally tapping phone lines, intercepting emails and following workers.

As of June 3, 2010, the Bangladesh government officially revoked BCWS’s legal right to operate, and while no official reason has been given, it is speculated that it is due to BCWS’s support of a particular factory’s effort to unionize.  Things got really out of hand on June 16, 2010, when BCWS staff member Aminul Islam was captured, blindfolded and beaten.  His life, and those of his family, were threatened and he was coerced to give false testimony against BCSW, saying that it had spurred the factory workers to uprise and stop working.  Mr. Islam escaped and survived, but he and the other workers live in constant fear:

“Now I’m living in extreme anxiety,” he says. “I don’t even know what I should do now.  I can’t walk. I can’t even move because of the pain that I got from the beating. I can’t sleep. Nightmares of torture won’t let me sleep.”

Protests in the streets of Dhaka

In a desperate attempt to insure their survival, the garment workers are now putting their foot down and are demanding a pay increase to $72 per month (equal to $2 per day and $.35 per hour), but the government is stating that these actions and sentiments are not genuine, and workers are instead being coerced by BCWS (The factory in question has also filed criminal charges against the organization, reporting theft, vandalization and violence).

All of this has spurred weeks of violent protest in the streets of Dhaka, with workers burning furniture, looting, blocking traffic, and police have brutally reacted with batons and tear gas.  As of Thursday July 29, 2010, the government agreed to increase the minimum wage to $43 per month which will take effect on November 1, 2010, but the workers are not satisfied and violence continues to escalate.  Click HERE to see a video of the street protests.

What can you do?

The garment workers of Bangladesh need BCWS, and BCSW needs our help.  Click HERE to send a letter to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh demanding that their NGO status be reinstated.  In addition please connect with organizations like Amnesty International and read about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights developed by the UN in 1948.

In addition, your continued support of fair trade companies like Marigold help you to stand up to labor rights abuses by voting with your dollars and demanding fair treatment and wages for workers.  By becoming an informed and engaged citizen of the world, and not turning a blind eye to the critical issue of human rights violations, you are helping to take the first step towards peace, prosperity and equality.

SOURCES:

http://www.sweatfree.org/bcwsalert-7-2010

http://www.sweatfree.org/news_NYT-7-16-2010

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/38481520/ns/world_news-south_and_central_asia/

http://www1.voanews.com/english/news/asia/Bangladesh-Garment-Workers-Protest-Recent-Wage-Hike-99615314.html

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-10813750

http://syrusbdpicture.blogspot.com/2009/08/garments-worker-in-bangladesh.html

August 6, 2010 at 9:49 am 1 comment


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