The True Cost saw its international release on Friday the 29th of May. The film which takes a scrutinising look at the current state of the fashion industry spends a great deal reflecting on People Tree, one of the only producers to positively feature. The True Cost team took a minute to sit down with People Tree CEO Safia Minney for a talk on all things Fair Trade.

Tell me about your company, People Tree.

At People Tree we put people and the planet central to everything we do as a business. We are a 100% Fair Trade certified business and the first clothing company in the world to guarantee Fair Trade and environmental production practice throughout the supply chain. We work to the ten Fair Trade Standards (LINK). We started the first Fair Trade and organic cotton supply chain nearly 20 years ago and are the first company to have certified clothing made in the developing world. Campaigning for a better trading system that delivers human rights and environmental innovation in production is the DNA of People Tree.

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Safia Minney, founder and CEO of People Tree, initiated World Fair Trade Day over ten years ago. This is now endorsed by WFTO members, Fair Trade Foundation and the Fair Trade Town and cities network.
Being a social business, designing products that put natural, organic fabrics and materials and the workers and their skills and technology central to the design and production process is a challenge – but as People Tree has proved the model works we expect other larger companies to be able to do the right thing too! The People Tree team and customers are deeply committed to empowering the poor, protecting the environment and changing the kind of world we live in. People Tree has 1000 stockists around the world and an E-commerce website in England, Japan and soon in Germany where customers buy online.

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Join us – Be the change. Shop like the world and our future matters !

What led you to start the company?
I’m just an ‘ethical consumer’ and have always been, even at 20! I don’t want to spend my money and support big business that exploits people and the environment. I started People Tree in Japan in 1991, next year People Tree is 25 years old. I think trade and business can be used for good social enterprise.

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I was recognised in 2005 as one of the Worlds outstanding Social Entrepreneurs by the World Economic Forum before I knew what one was. I believe that a hybrid of business and charity to deliver financial, social and environmental benefits. Good business and economic practice can pull people out of poverty and innovate and generate new environmentally benign production methods and supply chains.
This together with increased customer awareness and action can transform our bankrupt, unsustainable economic system into a restorative economy.

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Democracy
What’s more I believe the secrets of sustainability and well-being in society lie with the farmers and workers in the developing world – with the people – not in the Ivory towers of big corporations and the establishment who are dangerously out of touch.

What inspires you both personally and as a team?
The smiles of the workers: farmers, artisans and tailors. The power of people in solving problems and working in long term partnership.

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Where do you get your design inspiration from?

At People Tree we get our design inspiration from the incredible designs and traditional craft skills in the places that we produce. We also look at the market, what our customer likes, and we look at major fashion trends too. We love organic and natural textile at People Tree – if we want a new fabric we may invest for 5 years to develop a new fabric!

We use traditional technologies and skills in a contemporary way. We give our Fair Trade groups a lot of training in product development, tailoring, quality management systems and more. In this way we are able to design 100% sustainable and Fair Trade products.
5. How have you built relationships with your producers and suppliers?

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Many Fair Trade groups get in touch with me because they know of People Trees reputation working with artisans and design over the last 20 years. We are also well known for our commitment to getting the story out to the public and campaigning for change. Suppliers see working with People Tree as the kite mark of Fair Trade, which is very sweet and makes me grateful for the patient and dedicated work our team has done with Fair Trade groups over the years!

Why do you think the clothing industry is so crucial to the future wellbeing of our world?
Clothing is fashion. Fashion is linked to culture and music and arts. Fast fashion has lead this rapidly downhill. Fair Trade and sustainable fashion can empower the poor, being about social and environmental justice and transform our economy and societal well- being. Fashion as we know it must stop.

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What is the unseen impact of fashion today?

Tragic cost of human life and injury and exploitation. Also the cost to the planet of pollution and water use is rupturing our future.

Do you think business practices and global supply chains have improved or worsened over the years?
Business practices have worsened over the years. Consumerism has reached a cruel momentum speed of a raving car out of control. Fashion companies are trading faster, harder and using the lack of legislation, transparency, lack of consumer awareness and a growing unskilled population of young women in the developing world as disposable as the clothes they make. The fashion business model is broken and we urgently to find alternatives.

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With increased global connectivity how do you think we can catalyse real change in the industry?

We have to support emerging ethical fashion companies through online shopping and by spreading their campaigns, films and articles through our personal digital networks. We have to put pressure targeting first the big fashion businesses to hold them accountable. There are many great independent fashion auditing initiatives like Soil Association, WFTO, FLO, Fairwear, and ranking websites that we can tap into and use our shopping as a vote for responsible fashion. We can also jam at fashion companies through social media if collectively we decide that we don’t accept what they are doing. When People Tree launched the Rag Rage campaign to push for compensation and safe factory conditions for garment factory workers after the Rana Plaza building collapse, together with other organisations around the world, over a million people signed up to change the industry. Undoubtedly this helped launch the Bangladesh Safety Accord, but we need to keep the pressure up!

What other things need to happen to see that kind of change take place?

I’d like to see a VAT break for businesses that make the majority of their products to Fair Trade and environmentally friendly standards, this would make them more affordable and help increase market share and help them invest into more pioneering practice.

I’d like our first world governments to take responsibility for their nation’s business practice overseas. This would start with Company Directors being accountable for claims within their supply chains – if their workers are injured or are killed or if they don’t meet environmental laws in the production of their goods they are held accountable. A modern day “Global Village”.

If you could say one thing to consumers what would it be?

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It’s cool to care!

You graciously invited us to follow you around the world with our cameras. As we approach the release, what is your hope for the impact of this film?

I hope that the film is more than just a foot in the door but that it strides over a fashion industry and economic system that is about to pop. That it inspires and motivates people to care about each other and our irreplaceable earth. (This is one battle we need to win for the sake of humanity!)