• World Fair Trade Day – Reflections on the Joys of Receiving and Giving by Winner Sarah Wheeler

    I’m definitely a dress person – I even have a ‘dress face’, which, according to my husband, I pull when I’m trying one on. With six beautiful People Tree dresses hanging in my wardrobe I was ecstatic to find I’d won their World Fair Trade Day, which offered the opportunity to acquire even more lovely pieces. However, it was the chance to meet with Safia Minney, Founder and CEO of People Tree, and her wonderful team that proved to be the real prize of the day for me.

    Divine

    As a fundraiser with more than 17 years of experience in the charity sector and a strong interest in environmental, sustainability and Fairtrade issues, I was excited about discovering more about how social enterprises such as People Tree approach the challenges of being fair and sustainable. I also wanted to pose the question, can charities and social enterprises learn from one another, taking the best from their respective business models, in order to bring about even more positive change in the world?

    Having had my mind, and taste-buds, stimulated by a trip to Divine Chocolate’s offices with their Managing Director Sophi Tranchell I was starting to get a sense of the scale of the job involved in setting up a successful social enterprise and the distance still to be travelled. For example, only 21% of chocolate sold in the UK is Fairtrade. If I thought getting Fairtrade chocolate to market was complicated I wasn’t prepared for the journey that Safia and her business have had to undertake over the course of the last 23 years in order to achieve what they have in fashion and accessories.

    I was particularly struck by the impact extreme weather and climate change can have on production and the supply of products. Safia told us about a recent cyclone in Bangladesh that had hit and destroyed the hand-looms used by artisans at Swallows, a Fairtrade group that hand-weave and embroider many of the fabrics used in People Tree garments. Faced with this difficulty many businesses would just switch supplier, but People Tree’s ethos is to build the long-term capacity of their partners and one of the ways they do this is by making long-term commitments to their producers.

    Apart from their wonderful products, this to me is one of the reasons their business model is so successful. But I also think they might be missing an opportunity to deliver even more change for the communities they are working with.

    When Safia recounted this story I couldn’t help but go into fundraiser mode and wonder if they could be scaling up their success by overlaying their business model with a fundraising strategy. One that not only reaches out to their customer base as fans and purchasers of their products but also as supporters of the social, economic and environmental change they are trying to bring about. I know through my own experience of buying items on-line that I rarely add a donation to the People Tree Foundation on my purchase,- I already feel like I’ve ‘done my bit’ in making the purchase. But if the People Tree Foundation were to send me an emergency appeal to get their hand-loom weavers back up and running I’m pretty sure I’d have been pulling my ‘what’s my PayPal password’ face.

    This is of course just one example of how a social enterprise could borrow from charities to deliver greater change. When later mulling over these thoughts in the cocktail bar at the groovy Zetter Hotel, where People Tree were kindly putting us up for the night, I started to think that there must be other opportunities for social enterprises and charities to share what works best in their industries in order to deliver even more beautiful changes in the world. It would be great to be part of that process. ­

  • Fashioning the Future for Organic September

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    Organic September is in full bloom and we teamed up with Lord Peter Melchett of Soil Association and Romy Fraser, founder of Neal’s Yard and Trill Farm to celebrate the importance of all things organic.

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    Fashioning the Future brought together the like-minded people including media and bloggers and the public in an inspirational event to raise awareness of the benefits of organic products, building partnerships and transparent supply chains.

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    Romy Fraser shared her experience on her organic start-ups and the passion that brought her to set up Neal’s Yard and Trill Farm. Romy gave us an interesting account of how one’s childhood environment and upbringing shapes one’s future.  Romy fondly recounted her childhood memories of growing up in a time where children were let out to go and explore the great outdoors nature and come back at tea time.

    This innate curiosity and freedom to explore led to her interest in plants and nature to promote natural remedies and the importance of a holistic natural approach when it comes to health and business.

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     Lord Peter Melchett presented the Soil Association’s new report “Organic Cotton Helps to Feed the World” on organic farming and its positive impact on farmers around the globe. The report highlighted the plight of cotton farmers in India with staggering figures of 270,000 of them having committed suicide since 1995. However, according to the report, organic cotton farmers have more food security, growing an average of six food crops alongside cotton.

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    Safia Minney highlighted People Tree’s efforts in creating a partnership between organic cotton farmers and Fair Trade tailors units, with future plans to bring organic cotton to handweavers in Bangladesh. Safia discussed the challenges that a Fair Trade fashion company faces.

    Lord Peter Melchett’s words of advice rang like an echo to the whole evening: “Buy Organic!” and Julian Burdock’s guitar followed, delighting the audience.

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    We would like to thank Romy Fraser, Lord Peter Melchett of the Soil Association, Julian Burdock and Vintage Roots Organic Wine Company.

    We were delighted to see many old friends as well as make new acquaintances and hope you enjoyed the event as much as we did.  Until next time!

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  • Two years on… after the Baldia Town factory fire

    While standing outside the factory ruin, an elderly lady walked by. When she saw us looking at the building she came up and took my arm. Despite not understanding a word she said, she needed no translation. With tears in her eyes, the sorrow on her face said it all. My colleague translated later, not a day goes by that she doesn’t think of those poor souls who died in the factory, such a tragedy.

    Two years ago today 11 September 2012, a garment factory in Pakistan’s capital Karachi caught fire and 259 garment workers died, the story much the same as before – a factory making garments for a cheap European brand.

    Jeans outside the factory four months after the fire

    I realise how hard it can be to identify with the seeming endless tragic stories we hear daily in the news, and how easy it is to tune out, it’s overwhelming, not encouraged by a sense of helplessness ‘Well, what can I do to change that?’. It’s easy and understandable to be somewhat defeatist.

    In January 2013 I travelled to Karachi with the Clean Clothes Campaign and Labour Behind the Label to meet the families of those who had been effected by this unnecessary tragedy.

    While interviewing the families, I realised that the difference between being a defeated consumer versus an engaged consumer may well be the difference in these families receiving £25 compensation or proper compensation. Here, on whole, it was the difference between £0 and £1 million, and even so, two years later, these families have still not received full compensation.

    I have yet to see a garment factory tragedy where the brand sourcing took initiative to engage with victims and their families. In fact, for the most part brands don’t even engage when approached by worker representatives, international NGOs and hard evidence. They do however engage when there is public outcry, and this is why it so important not to disengage, because sometimes it is the only avenue of justice for injured workers and effected families for decent compensation.

    But why as consumers, should we bother engaging?

    Burnt out factory, Baldia, Pakistan

    Burnt out factory, Baldia, Pakistan

    For me it is because, I interviewed a 14 year old girl who looked out her window one evening to see the factory her parents worked in up in flames. Rushing to the factory with her neighbour, amongst the hysteria, she then spent days trawling through 259 dead burnt disfigured bodies searching for both her parents. She found the body of her father and not her mother. Four months after the tragedy, her grandmother had been given £40 compensation for the body of her father, but nothing for the missing body of her mother. This compensation is the difference between Aruba dropping out of school to work to support her younger brother and sister 11 and 7, or continuing in education. At 14, already facing the grief of losing her two parents, she has now catapulted to adulthood, what does this future hold for her? In 2013, the brand sourcing at Ali Enterprises net sales amounted to £1.25 billion. To listen to Aruba’s story first hand is not only heart breaking, but the sense of injustice is infuriating. That no one involved has come forward to offer her support. Not the brand, not the factory owner nor the certifying body that had issued the ‘social compliance’ certificate just two weeks beforehand.

    It is because, Syed spoke with vacant eyes of losing five of his six beautiful children. Four daughters and one son, the youngest 17 the oldest 25.

    And it is because I sat opposite Shazia at 21, just a year or two younger then myself, who looked at me in disbelief and asked:

    “We have sons and daughters and sisters who died in the factory fire, but nobody cries for us. Why? Because we are from the working class, and not the elite class. That’s why. We have no value. But we have hearts, not only rich people have hearts, we also have hearts and feelings. But nobody helps us.”

    Family of the victims

    Family of the victims

    Her brother was working in the factory, he was identified by DNA testing. When they received his body, his head, both hands were missing and parts of his legs were missing. Her brother in law also died in the fire.

    When Shazia asked me, why people did not care about their tragedy, it really hit home for me, I had no answer, and I felt a bit ashamed, ashamed that sometimes I’m ‘too busy’ to engage.

    When it comes to civil wars and natural disasters, there is often little we can do but support aid NGOs. But when it comes to fashion supply chains, there is everything we can do, because business relies on consumer demand.  We can lend our names to petitions, we can publicly question and hold business to account via social media, and we can buy better. To make a profit of £1.25 billion takes a lot of customers, and that is just one company of many, if we each put a small bit of energy into supporting organisations like the Clean Clothes Campaign, and shopping better, one purchase at a time you might be surprised what a difference it will make.

    Today, my thoughts are with the victims and families of the Ali Enterprise fire.

    For more information: http://www.cleanclothes.org/news/2014/09/11/two-years-after-fatal-fire-kik-still-has-to-pay-up

    To read about who makes People Tree’s clothes click here.

    Clare Nally is People Tree’s Fair Trade and Sustainable Supply Chain Coordinator. She has a Masters in International Human Rights Law from the Irish Centre of Human Rights, NUIG and has spent a year working with the Dublin branch of the Clean Clothes Campaign, an international alliance of organisations set up to improve working conditions in the global garment manufacturing industry.

    Photographs courtesy of Khalid Mahmood

  • FASHIONING THE FUTURE

    Fashioning the Future - People Tree Event for Organic September

    At People Tree we believe passionately in organic cotton. Over 60% of People Tree’s collection is made with 100% Fairtrade organic certified cotton.

    To celebrate Organic September 2014, on the evening of the 10th 6.30pm – 8.30pm People Tree is hosting a panel discussion to highlight the social and environmental benefits of organic farming.

    The panellists in include Romy Fraser, OBE, Founder of Neal’s Yard Remedies and most recently Trill Farm, Lord Peter Melchett Policy Director of The Soil Association, and Safia Minney, MBE, People Tree Founder and CEO.

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    Lord Peter Melchett, Policy Director Soil Association

    The Soil Association, a UK organic food and farming organisation, will launch their ‘Can Organic Cotton Feed the World?’ – the latest report on organic cotton farmers.

    Romy Fraser, OBE, Founder of Neal’s Yard Remedies and Trill Farm

    Romy Fraser discusses her pioneering work in building organic supply chains, the challenges and opportunities around organic agriculture and in educating a new generation.

    Safia Minney, MBE, Founder and CEO People Tree

    Safia Minney will be discussing how People Tree launched the first Soil Association certified Global Organic Textile Standard product manufactured in the developing world, ten years ago and what impact this has had on the people and planet.

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    BOTTLE NECK BLUES

    From 8.30pm – 10.00pm People Tree will celebrate Organic September with live music and organic drinks.

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    Join Julian Burdock for his futuristic one man show. It’s a mix of good ole bootstomping blues, soul jazz electronica, live looping and samples as well interpretations of popular songs.

    Venue and Timings

    The Rag Factory 16-18 Heneage St, London E1 5LJ.

    6.30pm – 8.30pm Fashioning the Future

    8.30pm – 10.00pm Music by Julian Burdock, organic bottle neck blues.

    Any questions: events@peopletree.co.uk

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  • The Eco Man

    AW14Dalston_0187#Model & People Tree Ambassador, Dean Newcombe talks about being fair trade in a man’s world:

    PT: Are men slower than women to adopt ethics, Fair Trade and sustainable lifestyles?

    Dean: I lead a charitable organisation that is more than 70% ladies, and only 2 really active members are men. Women are more compassionate than guys, so it’s not a surprise to me that they do a better job than us men when it comes to shopping Fair Trade. Perhaps men can’t see so well the long term benefits of Fair Trade as women do. It’s not like carrying a bag, or opening a door, the gentleman traditions where there is instant gratification. Fair Trade takes patience and a lot of vision I think.

    PT: What do you think is the easiest way to get men to change?

    Dean: Fashion is one of the few industries led by females. I would like to think that it would become ‘cool’ to be seen in Fair Trade clothing. As soon as men know that women will be impressed by this, I see a huge shift. We are simple creatures really. I of course already do think it’s cool to be seen wearing Fair Trade and love it when I connect with people doing similar things and with similar interests.

    PT: How can men buy Fair Trade & still be stylish?

    Dean: When I decided I would no longer buy anything that wasn’t what I considered ‘ethical’, I must admit, it was pretty tough. A few years later though, having learned a lot and with so many more choices coming every year, it’s very easy to be ethical, Fair Trade and stylish! It’s no secret that People Tree is my secret weapon with nearly half of my wardrobe dedicated to their items, but I also love finding vintage or second hand stuff. Very few things are made like they were in the generations before mine. Furniture, home-wear, clothes – I love durable and classic items of the past! Recently I bought boots from a cool French brand called Veja, some cologne from Herban Cowboy and sunglasses from Colin Leslie. Almost anything I need now, I can find ethically. Especially when it comes to fashion!

    PT: What else do you do to be green?

    Dean: Apart from what I buy, I also try my best to be aware of what I eat and to be mindful of the environment. Picking as much as I can from organic sources and opting for grass-fed naturally raised meats. I recycle, of course! No reason for any of us not to do that very well these days. Also I buy local if I can and I’m aware of air miles.

    PT: Is it a compromise or frustrating? How do you keep yourself motivated?

    Dean: It can be frustrating only buying ethical and so limiting your choices, but I think of it more as a challenge and know it’s better than the alternative. I never stop dreaming of the world that I want to live in. That won’t come through mindless buying and ignoring many of the world’s problems we all face today.

    PT: What is your impression of Fair Trade and People Tree’s work on the ground in Bangladesh?

    Dean: I always loved the idea of Fair Trade, but having the opportunity to see it personally in northern parts of Bangladesh made it real for me. It’s exciting to actually watch someone making the garment that you will wear. You carry that feeling every time you wear that shirt. That’s really special. Your clothing has added value from that special meaning.

    PT: Why did you become a People Tree Ambassador?

    Dean: I’m so happy to be an Ambassador for People Tree. I have loved this company ever since I first knew about them. I believe in their mission. To know and do nothing is almost as bad as being part of the problem, so I am trying to do my bit. Perhaps as a model and actor, I can just make my small difference towards a better, fairer world.

    Shop People Tree Menswear here.