In the realm of fair trade, ethically produced clothing items, there are actually a lot of companies with a lot of offerings. However, when you do a little bit of digging, you may find that some of these companies do not have as “fair trade and ethical” a set of standards as others. In other words, they’re only just barely getting started or tacking into an ethical production method and they still have a long way to go to reach full fair trade status, or they might actually be faking it. While a start in the right direction is a good thing, and companies that are taking these steps toward full fair trade, it still leaves a gap and opportunity for those that are all in with both feet to be commended.
This is not the case with Maggie’s Organics. They are the real deal! Full fair trade, ethical and sustainable production of some fantastic organic products – seriously, some of these amazing companies are turning this barefoot girl into a full-on sock lover!
I had a chance to chat on the phone with Amie from Maggie’s Organics – I really love phone interviews! It’s so great to hear an actual person’s voice and passion behind what they’re saying and to have a chance to interact together. Here’s what she had to say about what makes their company stand out in their product of some amazing products, and her answer for just how does a co-op farm work.
What was the inspiration behind the beginning of Maggie’s Organics?
In the ‘90s, our president and founder Bene Burda worked in the nautral food industry that made organic corn tortilla chips. She noticed her blue corn chips were turning more grey. Her organic farmer said he knew how to fix it, and when he added cotton to his crop rotation, it did really well! Now they had 200 acres of organic cotton!
She and her partner realized that no one was doing anything with organic cotton at the time. After determining the steps they would need to take to get it from cotton to cloth, they decided socks would be the best route to go.
So they showed up at a food show with socks to sell, made from organic cotton! It was a hit and really took off from there.
Where are your workers from and the cotton grown?
We have 2 sources – for all the socks made in the US, the cotton is sourced from a group of co-op farmers in Nicaragua. We have been buying cotton for the past 5 years after taking time to set them up. On these farms, cotton is rotated with sesame and another crop every three years. They also make some great coffee! Our leggings and camis are from Peru and our co-op farmers in the Chincha region.
In fair trade we hear a lot about “co-op farms”. What exactly is a Co-op and how does it work?
The idea behind the co-op model is every worker has a stake and is vested in the success of whatever entity it is. There are different levels of co-ops – farmers in Nicaragua work through a group called Coprexnic – the central organization works with individiaul family farmers directly providing tools, support, etc, pulling resources together and making more advancement. They take the cotton to one location and Coprexnic sells it for them.
Check out this video about one of the co-op farms Maggie’s Organics is working with:
How are the families of the workers affected/helped by being involved with a coop connected with Maggies Organics?
Maggie’s Organics pre-pays the farmers before they plant the seed. This means that if the crop doesn’t do well, we are sharing the risk. It’s an amazing way to plant faith in our workers that we are in this with them and are willing to do what it takes to help them succeed.
(From Maggie’s website:)
We purchase our organic cotton directly from over 2000 cooperative farmers in Nicaragua, making $400 prepayments each June for every 1000 lbs. of organic cotton we need for the following year. Our investments cover approximately half of the farmers’ annual cultivation costs. In December when the crop is harvested, Maggie’s pays the entire balance, at prices often higher than the established fair trade price. In this way we share our farmers’ risks, and we guarantee our customers a steady supply of great quality organic cotton.
Sharing risks and staying the course with cooperative farmers is what
we call real fair trade.
A lot of the workers’ kids are going to school now, which is huge, because in Nicaragua school is a luxury. They are also able to afford bicycles now to ride to town (video clips), etc. etc.
I SO appreciate how Maggie’s Organics is committed to being transparent in their fair trade practices. What is it about providing Fair Trade options that motivates you to go the extra mile in being real?
It’s just the right thing to do!
Years ago we worked with Free2Work.org to do a study funded by the Department of Statistics on apparel industry trends, every process having to do with labour and each step within a supply chain. We received the highest ranking from any other company (report available here).
We recently became a member of The Fair Trade Federation which, in the past, wasn’t open to companies making products in the US because they focused previously more on at risk areas. But the FTF is starting to receive more recognition for the US. It’s just as important for companies manufacturing items in the US to adopt fair trade practices as in other parts of the world.
How have you been most impacted by being involved in a Fair Trade, ethical and sustainable product company?
Personally I’ve always been someone who has sought out fair trade options. But having worked at Maggie’s and truly seeing the amount of depth that people go to to do things right and how it affects the people that I work with is tremendous. I call up my vendor in North Carolina who makes my socks and we’re best friends now because they’re just as committed to this product as I am. I always thought I was into fair trade, then as I learned more about it, the process, co-ops, opportunities and forever impact, it really opened my eyes. It’s a breath of fresh air to be a part of a company that really does care and has been doing it for over 20 years. It really just feels like home!
What would you say to encourage others that the possible added cost as a customer purchasing fair trade items is worth it?
Our biggest goal in this is to be as transparent as we can. We would like for the people who wear our products to know who’s making it. How many hands had to touch something involved in the process? It really makes people think about it. There’s actually love and care put behind it all along the way.
Be sure to check out Maggie’s Organics website! They have loads of great products, all organically grown and ethically produced – below is just a small sampling of their offerings: