New UW sweatshirt promotes environment, fair trade

Sept. 8, 2008

by John Lucas

A new hoodie now available at University Book Store allows students to show University of Wisconsin style while also promoting eco-friendly and fair trade values.

Fair Indigo, a Middleton firm specializing in fair trade apparel, is behind the new line of licensed UW-Madison hooded sweatshirts made of 100 percent organic certified cotton. The line is manufactured at Franky & Ricky, a fair trade factory located in Arequipa, Peru.

The products appeared on UBS shelves this month, retailing at $49.95.

"We feel really proud of this product," says Robert Behnke, co-founder of Fair Indigo. "The unionized workforce is well-paid and treated very well. The family-run factory is the gold standard for ecology and social certifications, the best we've ever encountered, and we've been in dozens."

The new Fair Indigo hooded sweatshirt is an example of fair trade from start to finish:

  • Its cotton is 100 percent organic, harvested with fair trade standards set by Oro Blanco, a joint effort between fair trade organization Solidaridad and small Peruvian cotton farmers.
  • Only certified non-toxic dyes are used along with certified Eko-Sustainable manufacturing.
  • Finally, the garment is cut and sewn under comfortable conditions at Franky & Ricky, which pays living wages that are collectively negotiated between the workers' union and company.

If successful, the line could be expanded in the future to include sweats, t-shirts and zip-up jackets.

"The story behind this product is so great, we're proud to offer it," says Kevin Phelps, vice president of University Book Store. "The Fair Indigo brand is gaining recognition across the country."

A separate fair trade line of t-shirts developed by Counter Sourcing Inc. and offered for sale last fall has been a fast seller, he adds. Students are interested in pairing attractive UW gear and socially responsible values. Many additional orders have come in online from alumni across the country.

The fair trade movement, which generally promotes fair wages as well as social and environmental production standards, is growing across the nation. Fair trade coffee, chocolate and other products are widely available in the State Street corridor and Fair Indigo has a wide assortment of other fair trade products at its Hilldale Mall retail store.

Expanding local availability of fair trade licensed apparel is the realization of a dream for former Chancellor John Wiley and the university's Labor Licensing Policy Committee, says Dawn Crim, acting special assistant to Chancellor Carolyn "Biddy" Martin for Community Relations.

Although all UW-Madison licensees commit to a Code of Conduct mandating humane standards of production, Fair Indigo's commitments go far above and beyond those requirements.

"The more 'fair trade' items in the market the better for everyone wishing to shop responsibly," she says. "These are hoodies that the entire community can get behind."

Crim adds that it is important for the campus community to see positive developments around UW-Madison and workers' rights spearheaded by the work of the LLPC.

UW-Madison has been a leader among colleges and universities working to curb sweatshop abuses in licensed-apparel manufacturing. The university has been persistent in its leadership on the issue and developed innovative policies, modeled by other universities across the country.

The university has contracts allowing more than 520 companies to make products bearing the university's name or logos. The products are made in approximately 3,300 factories in 47 countries worldwide.