There is a growing trend in today's marketplace--businesses that not only sell a product, but engineer their business model around supporting humanitarian causes or fair trade. Most of us have seen products like this or maybe have even bought a pair of shoes with the added satisfaction that a person in need would also benefit from your purchase. I'm hyped about this trend because it's truly beginning to change things around the world while expanding the role of business.
Traditionally we've seen businesses with philanthropic interests donate money toward causes and rely on non-profits to figure out how to best use it. While I certainly don't think that's a bad thing, it does add a "middle man" to the process, and at times well intentioned non-profits end up spending as high as 30-40% of their donations on administrative costs and fund raising.
Ever since the Revenue Act of 1954, the IRS has used the 501(c) designation for organizations like this. While it definitely helps non-profits lower their overhead by exempting them from taxes, it has also come to define our culture's perception of how to effect positive change in the world. After all, if you're a non-profit everyone knows that you are aiming to benefit others with your proceeds--and rightly so. The problem is when you are a for-profit business that seeks out the same type of social impact, often there is skepticism of the motives or sincerity of that business because of the fact that they keep some of the profit.
However, before the 501(c) designation existed, an organization didn't have to choose between making money and making a positive impact on society. They were simply judged by how they conducted themselves in the marketplace. Why can't a business both make money and drive social change? What if the way a business made money was directly tied to the causes it supported? Is that even possible? That is why I'm stoked to see a new way of doing business emerging in America. We call it, "business with a purpose". There are many ways to accomplish it, but the way we do it is by using a manufacturer who supports fair trade by hiring those who have been exploited by forced labor and/or human trafficking. They train them to sew, pay them a fair wage, and teach them life skills to help them become a contributor to their community. The result is the more clothing we sell, the more money goes to that cause because they actually produce the product.
If you think about it, this model underscores the fundamental purpose of business. At it's core, business is and should be a mutually beneficial enterprise. It serves a community by meeting a need while providing a livelihood for the people running it--amazing! And my favorite part is the fair trade aspect is self-sustaining because it doesn't rely on donations or fund raising; it's integrated into the business plan. Everyone involved
benefits, and social change is pushed forward simultaneously. The way we all do business really can drive social change, but it requires intentionality from us as consumers to choose companies that care just as much about the impact they make as they do the profits they take.
I recently got to meet a real, live Texas Organic Cotton Farmer!
Here's what he said...
Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative (TOCMC)
Evan Brooke: So who are you? What do you do? And what’s the Co-Op?
Kelly Pepper: Well, I’m Kelly Pepper and I’m the staff manager of the Co-Op. I’m one of two employees of the Co-Op that handle the marketing of the organic cotton grown by our members and then the administrative duties of the Co-Op. I was a conventional farmer originally and then an organic farmer. And I have an accounting education and small business experience. So, I combine all that in managing the Co-Op and it’s been a very pleasant experience.
Our Co-Op has about 35 members that produce most of the (organic) cotton grown in the United States. So, the Co-Op was formed in 1993 and many of the founding members are still actively involved on the board of directors. The members were some of the kind of pioneers in the organic cotton industry as it developed and evolved in the United States.
Evan Brooke: What is Organic Cotton?
Kelly Pepper: The standards prohibit the use of chemical pesticides, fertilizers, defoliants, as well as GMO seeds. The standards also require doing things to improve the health of the soil, like using crop rotations and cover crops.
Evan Brooke: What about weeds? How do y’all control weeds?
Kelly Pepper: Well weeds are the biggest issue that our farmers deal with from a production standpoint. It is absolutely essential that they control the weeds with mechanical tillage.
Evan Brooke: How do you find people to help work the fields?
Kelly Pepper: That can be a problem. Labor is key for our farmers. So, their attitude is to pay top wages, treat people right, and get the best employees that are out there. And take care of them and keep them for a long time. Because organic farming does require more labor than non-organic, it’s just a critical part of the operation.
Evan Brooke: So, how much cotton is grown in Texas and how much of that is organic?
Kelly Pepper: In recent years there’s been between five and six million acres of cotton grown in the state of Texas. Of that, less than half of one percent is organic. Some people laughingly like to say if you round the numbers it’s zero. Texas organic farmers have grown between 14 and 18 thousand acres of organic cotton in recent years. And those acres have produced between 6 and 14 thousand bales of organic cotton. The production varies greatly because of weather, especially rainfall. 70% or so of the acres are not irrigated and the production varies greatly depending on how much rain there is. That variability of quantity of supply creates marketing issues obviously.
Evan Brooke: How much cotton gets lost due to not using pesticides?
Kelly Pepper: Well, we are blessed in the high plains of Texas that insects are not a big problem. And so our farmers basically don’t worry about insects. And in most years, they may suffer a little bit of lost due to insects. But in general, if you leave it alone the beneficial insects will take care of the problems that come along and it’s not a major problem.
Evan Brooke: What’s your passion for expanding organic cotton here in the U.S.?
Kelly Pepper: I’m passionate about U.S. production not only at the farm level but on the manufacturing level, creating jobs here at home for the textile industry. And so, not just selfishly for the Co-Op and it’s farmers, but for the U.S. manufacturing. I would love to see it grow and procreating jobs for Americans. But the reality at this point in time is you can’t buy U.S. cotton, manufacture a product in the U.S., and be price competitive with something that’s being imported from India.
Evan Brooke: What’s it going to take then?
Kelly Pepper: Well, that’s a much bigger economic, global question than I have an answer for.
I’m excited, Evan, about what you’re doing in trying to start up a program using our cotton and manufacturing it in the U.S.! We just really want to support what you’re doing and what others are doing similarly to build the textile industry back up in the U.S. and create jobs here at home for our people.
Refugees are those who have left their own country to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster.
Did you know that in the last 5 years, Texas has brought in more refugees than ANY OTHER STATE?
Over the last few months, EBEC has formed partnerships with refugee groups in Austin and San Antonio.
Open Arms is a non-profit social enterprise of the Multicultural Refugee Coalition in Austin. They offer living-wage employment to refugee women in Austin.
EBEC's Texas Grown & Sewn Tshirts are produced here!
The goal for these shirts was to make sure EVERY PART of the supply chain upheld fair trade standards, so we used Texas organic cotton and produced them in Austin.
I even visited with a Texas Organic Cotton farmer in Lubbock, TX.
These organic cotton shirts respect the Texas plains by avoiding chemicals and support Texas jobs on the farm and in Austin!
I have also started hanging out with the refugee ladies in San Antonio! I saw some of their beautiful work at a Christmas market last year and asked if they would like to make a few simple items for the King William Fiesta Parade in April. They said yes!
So they made these adorable "Turban Twist" headbands and Fiesta skirts.
Wouldn't it be great if most of our clothing was made locally, like how it has been throughout history before about 50 years ago?
Many refugees come in "pre-screened, fully documented, and eager to work." This kind of employment is a blessing to so many refugees in Texas.
And boy, do they have some stories to share!!
My church buys tshirts for the different ministries we have going on. I bet yours does too.
Should a church spend extra on fair trade or ethically-sourced tshirts?
Here are my thoughts...
Tshirts should be made of organic cotton or recycled materials, as well as ethically manufactured.
Organic cotton is a must because it is too dangerous and risky to use all those toxic chemicals on a farm, and we should have some respect for our farmers and the "least of these" in the surrounding communities who drink the local water. My need for another Tshirt should not hurt someone else's health. Ever.
"Ethically produced" means garment workers are paid a fair living wage, working in a safe environment, and treated with respect. The best way to tell a brand is ethically made is if they are BRAGGING about social & environmental responsibility. You should see pictures, videos, quotes, etc on the website to prove it. Patagonia does this well. They should also have some outside stamp of approval, like a Fair Trade certification or federation member, B Corporation, or GOTS certified.
A pastor was asking me about one company in particular, let's call it "Bob Loblaw," and here were my thoughts on it...
You can do a little googling on the country of origin to see what the situation is like over there. Haiti is rough. I'm not going to say "Bob Loblaw" is outright lying, but I want a little more information from the website. Those shirts are cheap, and they have no certifications. It LOOKS like they do, with their pretty graphics and wording, but it's not there. However, maybe they're a start-up like me and just haven't done all that yet. You can call and ask.
I found one factory in my quick research here that is on the right track in Haiti, Industrial Revolution, but I'm still searching for how to buy their blank Tshirts.
So instead of just criticizing and complaining, I have a solution! Texas grown & sewn shirts, with a fully exposed supply chain that includes Texas farmers and providing work for local Refugee women. I am planning to market the Tshirts to churches and non-profits, groups who are trusted to use funds to bless others and combat abuse locally and globally.
Cheap clothing supports slave labor and human trafficking. It's time for the church to get involved!
Did you know that there is slave labor in the supply chain of MANY items in your house and on your body? The problem is HUGE, but there are a few small changes you can make in your shopping habits that can make a big difference. Fight back. Promote freedom and human rights by switching a few of your brands.
Check out this website to investigate apparel, electronics, and foods.
"I want to have an ethical wardrobe, but I just don't know where to start!"
Here's how you do it!
1. Decide on a capsule wardrobe, keep only what you need.
2. Buy only what you need from fair trade & ethical sources, thrift stores or swapping with friends.
3. Start the conversation with others by sharing the story of your clothing.
Texas organic cotton, y'all. Here's why.
What in the world is sustainable clothing?
Why should I care about a sustainable wardrobe? How do I maintain a sustainable wardrobe?
My 4 ideas:
Buy less - this alone would have huge implications for the industry
Buy thoughtfully - think fair trade, ethically-sourced, and thrifted garments
Take care of your clothes - wear a few times before laundering if possible, spot-clean, wear aprons, wear undershirts, mend clothing
Consider organic products - less chemicals in/on my body, respect for environment, looking out for farmer's health
Would you just look at this picture???
This is a great little read about our issue with TOO MUCH STUFF.
Here's my favorite quote: "And as the token environmentalist in the room, I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you that when you buy something, you’re also taking on the task of disposing of it (responsibly or not) when you’re done with it."
Do you agree?
This 12 minute video contains some interviews with women in the garment industry in Cambodia. The link between prostitution and garment work is incredible. One woman said she would rather go back to prostitution because the pay and conditions are better.
We see this theme regularly now... big name brands that have inconsistent corporate ethics. They post on their websites the high standards of ethics, and expectations of suppliers, but then are caught repeatedly with unethical practices. These might include forced labor, child labor, unsafe conditions, disrespect, and such low wages that the women need to work at night on the streets to make ends meet.
Don't forget the good news...
YOU CAN DO SOMETHING ABOUT THIS!
Buy less and buy fair trade & ethical products. We can live with less and make our dollars count.
When the demand changes, the market will respond.
Have y'all seen these "hauls" on youtube lately? People go buy tons of clothes (or it's given to them) and then they gab about them in a video. It's mostly cheap, fast fashion.
Well I'm saying it's time to Haul OUT! You know why! You know you can be living with less, saving money, making uncomplicated decisions in the morning, doing simpler laundry, enjoying more space in the closet, and most importantly (in my semi-professional opinion), you will find yourself buying new things with more intention. A new garment has to meet your raised standards to be worthy of your purchase and deserving of a place in your wardrobe.
Get in your closet and GET RID of the things you no longer wear! Give them to a friend, host a clothing swap, donate locally. And pack away the out-of-season items to save yourself some time and stress in the mornings.
My sweet friend Becky let me in her closet recently for a Haul OUT. Becky was nervous about letting go of things and generally what someone else thought of her wardrobe! She was also convinced that she needed more clothes for fall.
*For the record, Becky always looks cute. She knows what colors look good on her, and has a simple, easy style for the casual, stay-at-home SuperMom.
First, we pulled out everything that DOES NOT FIT, and the things that she rarely wears.
Statistic: Women in America have an average of over $500 worth of UNWORN clothing in their closets. Article here.
The things that are a little too tight should be donated. However, if you're honestly working on losing a few pounds, go ahead and store ONLY your favorites in a SMALL box. If they don't fit next year, you need to donate the whole box. THE WHOLE BOX.
Next, we narrowed down to about 15 tops and 8 pants/shorts to wear this fall. It's hot for a few more months here in San Antonio, so we have a few fall-colored tanks & tees, a few pairs of shorts, a few pairs of pants, a few cardigans/hoodies, and a couple jackets. Her modest collection of scarves will help her keep some variety in her look.
She also had a few nice things (a dress or two and a nicer top) that she almost never wears because she felt like they were too dressy for everyday-wear. She agreed to try out wearing them in her normal rotation, especially when she has a lunch date with hubby or a teacher meeting at school. Wear the nice stuff while it's in style! Enjoy your nice things!!
All spring/summer tops and shorts were packed away in a tub. If you're hesitant to do this (like I was), you must try it. Your decisions in the morning will be quicker and easier, and it will be exciting to have a "new" set of clothes to get into in the spring. Do it.
Finally, everything is hung up. The decisions each morning are easier when all of your options are right there in front of you, and it keeps most of the wrinkles out. Hang up your clothes.
Wins of the day:
Becky had a pile to donate and a few things to sell. Win!
We also found a few things we could alter for a quick, cheap update. I helped her sew on black straps to a casual strapless dress, and we took in a couple inches on the lower leg of some jeans to "skinny" them up. Double win!
Becky was thinking she needed a few more things to complete her fall/winter wardrobe, but we discovered that there really was plenty to choose from right there. She gets to save that money now. Triple win!