Four former Lands’ End executives have joined forces to create Fair Indigo, a multichannel apparel company with a socially conscious message. Calling itself “style with a conscience,” the company aims to sell midpriced men’s and women’s clothes, along with coffee, tea, and gifts, made by “fair trade” companies — those that pay workers more than the minimal wages of sweatshops.
Fair Indigo mailed 250,000 copies of its 40-page catalog in mid-September, the same time its Website went live. The second drop of 250,000 will arrive in homes in November. On Nov. 1 the company will open its first store, in Madison, WI.
“We’re going after people who care about how their purchases affect society,” says Bill Bass, Fair Indigo’s CEO, who was formerly senior vice president of Lands’ End and vice president/general manager of Sears Direct. In a company study of 624 women ages 30-55, 86% said they care about fair-trade issues.
So far Fair Indigo has partnered with 23 manufacturers, primarily family-owned apparel factories and co-ops in Peru, Costa Rica, and China. But while these companies pay their workers at least roughly twice the local minimum wage and usually provide additional benefits, the goods generally don’t cost Fair Indigo more than would comparable products from non-fair-trade suppliers.
“Cashmere, for example, costs us the same as our competitors,” Bass says. “We’re not dealing with layers of management, and we’re not dealing with the large conglomerates. We’re avoiding those parts of the supply chain, and that frees up money that goes to the workers.”
Besides Bass, the Fair Indigo team’s other Lands’ End alums are Rob Behnke, who is vice president of merchandising of the new company; Elizabeth Ragone, style director; and Don Hughes, chief operating officer.
Plans call for two additional catalog drops in the spring and the opening of four or five stores in cities with a significant portion of socially conscious residents, such as Boulder, CO.