My day job is being a clothing designer and the social media marketing manager at Fair Indigo, a company committed to making clothing that is sustainably and fairly made. In this role my responsibilities include, but aren’t limited to, product design and development, website creative, coordinating and executing photo shoots, social media and other marketing, and the occasional blog post.
My degree is from the textile and apparel program in the School of Human Ecology at the University of Wisconsin. During my school days, clothing was usually more about design and beauty—sustainability wasn’t part of the typical conversation. At the time I had a boyfriend who was in environmental studies and he was learning about the impact populations have on one another. This started to mesh with what I was doing academically and got me thinking about sustainability.
Uncovering stats related to how we produce, purchase and discard clothing in our society really opened my eyes and I quickly realized we couldn’t continue on this path. I did my senior thesis on reconstructed clothing and even turned that into a side business for a while—experience that directly weaves into my current role.
I came to Fair Indigo as an intern. The company was started in 2006 by a group of former Lands’ End employees. One of the co-founders, Robert Behnke, had the idea of bringing the philosophy behind fair trade coffee—ethical production—to the world of clothing. He’d spent much of his career traveling to apparel factories around the world and seeing the conditions in which so many people lived and worked. Robert and the other founders were committed to providing a fair wage and safe working conditions for the people who made the clothing.
Today, Fair Indigo is a vertically integrated company. We partner with a Peruvian couple—Javier and Elsa—that grows the cotton we use for all of our products. They, in turn, work with a production resource to process it and knit our fabric. We design and create our clothing in partnership with a Peruvian production team and network of small workshops.
We also run the Fair Indigo Foundation, a non-profit that reinvests money into education in the communities where our clothing is produced. We’ve supported two adopted schools in Peru, one of which has since been recognized by the country’s government and is now a self-sustaining entity.
I’ve had the fortune to be able to visit the areas in Peru where our clothing is made. It’s humbling to see the conditions so many people live in.
In recent years sustainability has become increasingly important to us. We’re always looking for ways to improve our sustainability at every point of the production, shipping and marketing process. For instance, we used to have a storefront; now we have a warehouse. We no longer produce catalogs and all our sales happen online. We switched to compostable poly bags to ship and store our clothing, and we also eliminated hangtags, an unnecessary waste.
We work hard to encourage purchasing in a sustainable way—we’re not “trendy” and believe in creating quality clothing that lasts for a long time. Our goal is to help people understand the value of buying quality once and just what it takes to create a garment. For instance, it’s 15 months from the time a cotton seed is planted until a t-shirt is available on our website and 97 people are part of that process. When you understand those realities, suddenly a $35 t-shirt isn’t so hard to understand.
My most memorable caffeine is the coffee I drink every morning before my four-year-old gets up. It’s a little ritual, the 15 minutes of making my coffee and enjoying it before my day begins.
My current caffeine of choice depends on where I am. At home it’s a Café Fair brand hazelnut coffee with cream. If I’m out I’ll typically splurge and have a latte—something I can’t make as well at home.
My favorite place for caffeine is Crescendo. I know the owner, Cait, and she’s just awesome.
The person I’d love to share a cup of caffeine with is Jody Fossum. Jody was my professor. She used to work at Fair Indigo and helped me get the internship that turned into my career. Jody was such a bubbly, positive presence and so enthusiastic about her students’ ideas. She made such an impact on my life. Jody passed away from breast cancer right before my child was born—I’d really hoped they could meet each other. It was her birthday recently and I’ve been thinking about her a lot.
World problem that could be solved with the right amount of caffeine: If I could solve any problem, it would be to figure out how to make the days longer! I have too many hobbies – from being outdoors to creating or playing my blue guitar – I just wish I could do more of everything in a single day.