by Anna Galandzij at the Fairtrade Foundation
It is the ethos of fairness and transparency that makes People Tree stand out in the fashion world, but what about their design? It's not always easy to be constantly creative and original. In anticipation of winter cosiness, we are asking Safia Minney, the founder of People Tree and the World Fair Trade Day, to share the inspiration behind People Tree’s autumn/winter collection.
What inspired the Autumn/Winter 2015 collection?
The new People Tree winter collection reflects our love of Fair Trade and sustainable materials and nature with botanical leaves, geological abstracts, winter primrose florals and chirpy graphic owls. There’s a rich colour palette of deep wine, forest green and eclipse navy complimented by softer neutral pastels, classic ivory and jet black. New silhouettes move towards the 1970s trend, but with 1960s restrained details, and include midi skirts, asymmetric hems, and draped twisted belt details. Our new collection shows that ethics and aesthetics can meet!
Three words that describe it are:
‘Asymmetrical, craft and seventies’ (of course, ‘Fair Trade and sustainable!’) Take a look at our website here (www.peopletree.co.uk) and Tweet me @SafiaMinney @PeopleTree your three word description.
Where do you source your cotton from? Why is it important that it is organic?
People Tree sources its cotton from Agrocel, in India, who support over 40,000 organic and Fairtrade farmers in India. People Tree has partnered with Agrocel for over 10 years.
Fairtrade organic cotton is important for the health of both people and the environment. Agrocel works in harmony with their land – they have developed natural farming methods and natural pesticides to control the pests. Farmers use chili, neem, garlic and soap instead of expensive and harmful chemicals, saving the farmers up to 3000 rupees per acre. It also means that they can harvest crops by their cotton and sell the organic food to local markets or use it to feed their families.
How do you build relationships with the farmers and producers?
People Tree works in long term partnership with our producers. Fair Trade means working with the most marginalised farmers and artisans in the World. We give technical training and capacity building, design and we pay fair prices and give long term orders. We run a Market Exposure Programme so that our producer partners can visit Japan and Europe and learn about the market and their customers. Fair Trade and People Tree is about empowering our Fair Trade groups and our customers.
Majority of People Tree’s pieces are made in India and Bangladesh. Could you describe the production process?
In India, People Tree mainly works with Fairtrade organic cotton to produce gorgeous clothing in prints and solid colours. We’re best known for our great organic cotton dresses! Organic cotton is produced without GMO or pesticides, protecting nature and farmers. The clothes are dyed using low impact dyes, free from harmful chemicals and they are made with respect to our planet. It concerns me that many clothes contain traces of harmful azo chemicals, dyes and pesticides, which are frequently used in conventional clothing manufacture.
In Bangladesh the production process of garments largely consists of handweaving. Handweaving is also good for people and the planet. Hand looms are carbon neutral, saving 1 ton of CO2 per hand loom per year and create valuable employment in rural villages at fair wages. We maximise the work that goes into product to promote livelihoods and support the poorest of the poor and show another way of doing fashion is possible.
How have People Tree’s designs evolved over the years?
We have proven that sustainable fashion is stylish. Fair Trade clothing when I first started 20 years ago had a pretty frumpy reputation – hippy hempy, oatmeal open sandal sock wearers - it took me a while to design a product that I was proud to wear. Nowadays People Tree is loved across the world, stocked in 300 stockists across Europe as well as a further 400 in Japan.
People Tree has been a leading Fair Trade fashion brand for nearly 20 years. Have your mission/ direction of the business changed since then?
It’s completely changed! I thought I was mad but it turned out that there were lots of ethical consumers like me.
When I started People Tree I felt that lack of information and awareness stops consumers changing their habits. Nowadays I see ‘greenwash’ and information that is confusing consumers. It is difficult to distinguish between real Fair Trade and sustainable pioneers like Divine and organisations that are dipping into the movement to drive consumption in their business as a whole. I think we need to get really angry about exploitation and irresponsible business practice.
Do you think business practices and global supply chains have improved or worsened over the years?
Definitely, there’s more speed and more subcontracting and a lack of enforcement of laws on miniumum wages, human rights, and environmental laws. The speed and volume of waste is massive compared to before.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to set up a Fair Trade fashion label?
Get experience before in a conventional fashion company. Get friends together and test your concept. You might find being a changemaker in a company is more effecting in changing the world.
Lastly, what is your favourite item in the A/W collection?
I love our People Tree Fairtrade organic roll neck jumpers, in every colour! They are perfect for wearing underneath a strappy dress for an easy look with jeans or Fairtrade organic leggings for winter walks.
Fairtrade Foundation blog readers can receive 15% off full-price People Tree items. Visit peopletree.co.uk and enter the promotional code FTFAW15 until 18th December.