Known for their environmental responsibility, Patagonia is also focused on taking their social responsibility to next level.
For Spring ’17, Patagonia is releasing a line of men’s, women’s and kid’s boardshorts and swimsuits that have been entirely sewn in Fair Trade USA certified factories. The company says it is a "world first" to have an entire line of boardshorts and swimsuits produced in Fair Trade factories.
Patagonia has helped two factories through the certification process to help these factories become Fair Trade Certified for sewing.
Now that the factories are certified, Patagonia says other surf and apparel brands can choose to make Fair Trade Certified boardshorts and swimsuits in those factories as well, by simply paying the additional Fair Trade premiums.
By Spring 2017 more than 25% of the brand’s styles, including all swimwear, will be Fair Trade Certified.
We spoke with Jason McCaffrey, Patagonia’s Director of Surf, to learn more about this initiative.
How long was the process during which Patagonia helped these factories become certified?
Jason McCaffrey: We first started talking about Fair Trade swimwear in May of 2014 and started investigating the possibility of making all of our boardshorts in Fair Trade Certified factories in June of 2015.
We received final confirmation that our factory would participate and go through the process of becoming Fair Trade sometime around April 2016.
What are the qualifications for a factory to become certified, and how did Patagonia help in this process?
Jason McCaffrey: Fair Trade is a robust certification with hundreds of standards that a factory must show they can meet. The process of becoming a Fair Trade Certified factory is one that takes time and effort, but Patagonia’s SER team and Fair Trade USA work with the factory to get them on-boarded into the program.
The factory is an active participant and must agree to devote the time and resources to getting certified. We are proud to have suppliers that recognize the benefits of Fair Trade and are willing to work with us to achieve this.
Why did Patagonia choose to start this initiative with boardshorts and swimsuits?
Jason McCaffrey: We began to offer clothing styles made in Fair Trade sewing factories in Fall 2014, and since then it has been our goal to add as many factories as possible. We wanted to lead the way toward better treatment of workers who make our gear. This program raises the standard of living and wages for the workers making our products, takes our social responsibility program to the next level, and hopefully inspires other brands to act.
The on-boarding process takes a while, but it was a very natural progression to add our swimwear and boardshort factories into this program.
Is the goal for all Patagonia products to be sewn in Fair Trade USA certified factories? If so, what is the timeline for this?
Jason McCaffrey: Our goal is to continue increasing the number of Fair Trade styles in as many product categories as possible with factories that make good Fair Trade candidates. We have received great support from our leadership team, designers, developers and sourcing to make this happen, so we are optimistic that the program will continue to thrive.
Another goal is to influence other businesses to make fair working conditions and fair wages a priority, so when we see other brands sign on to make products in Fair Trade Certified factories that is another measure of success for our Fair Trade program.
How does this affect the retail price points of the Spring 2017 boardshort and swimwear line?
Jason McCaffrey: Our S17 swimwear and boardshorts prices haven’t changed because of Fair Trade. We believe we have a fair market price for our high quality, durable boardshorts and swimsuits, and we offer an Ironclad Guarantee.
The prices range from $55 to $75 for women’s swim separates and $119-$129 for women’s one-piece swimsuits.
Our women’s swimsuit prices increased because we moved to 100% recycled fabric which is more expensive and we are using digital printing which is much more expensive, but creates far less waste.
How does Patagonia ensure the additional premiums they pay go to directly benefit the employees of the factories?
Jason McCaffrey: The premium is paid directly into a workers fund and the workers, not factory management, decide on how to spend the money. The workers come up with ideas, which are then put to a worker committee group vote.
Some examples on how the money can be used are: school scholarships, private health insurance, community development projects or a cash bonus payout.
We have already seen workers in our factories vote to spend the money on a daycare center, market vouchers for food and essential items, hygiene and health trainings, and cash out as a bonus.
Since the launch of our first Fair Trade products in Fall ‘14 through April 30, 2016, Patagonia has given more than $430,000 in premiums to more than 7,000 workers.