A Fair Trade Pioneer
Minney, who was awarded an MBE in 2009, founded People Tree, one of the first international Fair Trade companies in fashion, in the mid 1990s. "I was just an ordinary green consumer and I liked to buy Fair Trade food," she said. "People Tree is just an extension of my values."
That may be something of an understatement. Before founding the company she had already earned her activist chops founding Global Village, a human rights oriented NGO, in Japan.
Today People Tree works with an in house team of designers creating designs and specification for clothing created by artisans in Asia, Latin America and Africa.
About 90 % of them are women and Minney, who spends several months a year in the field, says, "It’s really exciting how you can see these women begin to walk differently because of their new independence and confidence."
Good green environmental practice seems to go hand in hand with Minney’s concerns for human rights issues and worker empowerment.
For example, one of the key issues facing the fashion industry is the amount of water and the pollution created achieving designer-specified colours. It’s not uncommon in the industry for entire dye lots to be redone several times to achieve the colour required.
People Tree, says Minney, aims to reduce this practice. "We always work with Azo free dyes that meet global organic textile standards.
They actually put oxygen back into the water rather than taking it out. And we use swatches in a lab to test so we’re able to get colours right the first time more often."
Fabrics are sourced from organic, Fair Trade suppliers and while much of the textiles are newly made, bright silk saris are upcycled by a women’s coop in Calcutta. "We use the good bits for summer dresses. Some of these are even selling in supermarkets."
Everything is carefully thought through. For example, clothes for men, women and children are shipped by sea, starting a 4 to 8 week voyage in hot, humid countries. To protect the garments from mould, they have to be packed in plastic.
But, as the websites FAQs explain, "People Tree uses plastic bags that are polypropylene,which is the most environmentally friendly packaging available to our producers in developing countries.
It took us years to get polypropylene bags for Fair Trade products in the countryside, as they were considered a ‘luxury’ – but we are used to fighting for what we believe in."
What’s particularly striking is People Tree’s goal of moving from niche markets to the mainstream. "Gone are the days of buying products through sympathy.
People are going to look at the product first and they’ll buy only if they like it. I want the product to be affordable for teachers, doctors, care workers, people who are involved in social issues."
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