In today's world, the term 'fair trade' appears in many places, and seems to mean different things to different people. At Maggie's we use the term real fair trade, and below are a few of the things we mean:
• We work directly with organic cotton and organic wool farmers, guaranteeing them a stable price, and guaranteeing our customers a consistently high quality. Establishing long term relationships with our producers is what we call Real Fair Trade.
• We process and hold the organic cotton and organic wool used in all of our socks. We finance our own dyeing at US dye facilities. All of this allows our US knitters, who make every pair of our socks, to purchase organic yarn in small amounts against our POs. This helps their cash flow immensely. Assisting the financial needs of our knitters and keeping jobs in the USA is what we call Real Fair Trade.
• We place our orders according to the lot size of each producers' equipment. This minimizes waste, and helps production scheduling. Communication with and respect for our vendors is what we call Real Fair Trade.
• We include our sewers and our cutters, not just the "bosses", but the workers, in our design decisions and seam construction. This makes them partners in our vision, helps maximize construction efficiency, and helps them earn more money. Frequent and honest interaction with many employees at our production facilities is what we call Real Fair Trade.
• We have witnessed and experienced first-hand the challenges our farmers face from climate change. We create alternative sources of income for our farming communities and we offer a percentage of our sales and purchases back to a farmer support fund (https://maggiesorganics.com/maggies-gives/). Making financial investments in small family organic farmers is what we call Real Fair Trade.
• We develop our supply chains from the ground up, and we stay with these chains as long as they are able to produce. We do not put suppliers into 'bidding wars' in order to save money. Providing long-term commitments to our partners is what we call Real Fair Trade.
• We get to know many workers at each production facility - not just the owners and bosses. We know when their kids are sick and we hear about their basketball games. We laugh with them, and we have cried with them. Getting onto the production floors of companies we work with is what we call Real Fair Trade.
• We contract directly with our farmers, and pay them a deposit several months before harvest. This deposit covers the cost of their seeds and planting costs, and it means that we share the risk with them if the crop fails. Sharing risks with cooperative farmers is what we call Real Fair Trade.
At Maggie's, our company began with a challenge: was it possible to establish a successful, sustainable business while protecting the limited resources of the planet, and while respecting and dignifying each worker at every stage of production?
We never called it "fair trade" or "ethical business" or "quadruple bottom line" or certainly not "holier than thou." We just came to work each day and asked questions about everything: How much the farmer who grew the cotton was paid? Why were sewers remunerated by the piece and not by the hour? What was in that effluent water running out of the dye plant? Why did we need to source a machine in Asia when there was a slower one that was more energy-efficient built in Haw River, North Carolina?
And each time the responses to those questions forced us to make tough decisions, we dug deep and answered based on what we thought was the truth.
This is just the way we choose to do business and it truly appeals to our sense of logic: of course we want to treat the soil and the farmers well - we want them to keep providing us with the best quality cotton. Why wouldn't we want sewers who had a vested interest in more than just the seam they sew, but in the entire pair of Leggings they produce for us? Our Leggings are a better quality that way.
And then we started getting 'vetted' by all these third party certifiers and standards-bearers. Some of them, we thought, were silly and superficial. We'd pay lots of money to get some seal, but it really didn't change anything. It didn't cause us to improve our way of doing business. It didn't get our farmers or workers better wages or working conditions. In fact, our suppliers found these certifications to be cumbersome distractions. If we already paid them the fair trade price for their cotton, why were we spending all the money just to have someone say that we were? If we thought their product was worth more money, why not just raise their prices instead of creating a social premium and suggesting how they spend it? If every company that applies receives certification, then what really makes it special? And if the "seal" takes a % of every sale of a product that bears its name, then where is the real incentive to improve the lives of the makers of these products?
So after all the examining and all of the various symbols, we have pretty much come back to square one: We still run our business and make our daily decisions in the same way we always have, and we try to be as transparent as possible about each step of each supply chain. And we have come to call what we do Real Fair Trade.
• Dedication to the supply chains we develop over years is what we call real fair trade.
• Working with suppliers to constantly improve quality without raising prices is what we call real fair trade.
• Constantly listening and learning from our suppliers as well as our customers is what we call real fair trade.
• Seeking out producers as close to home as possible, and working with them to develop lower impact processes is what we call real fair trade.
• Responding to what farmers say they need instead of purchasing what will look good in PR photos is what we call real fair trade.
• Working with our supply chains on continuous improvement in quality, the environment, and living conditions is what we call real fair trade.