Safia Minney of People Tree
"I’m interested in the triple bottom line – people, planet, profit. A product has to not only work in terms of customer quality and satisfaction, but also environmentally and in human terms."
Safia Minney is the founder of People Tree, the environmental fashion label, and Global Village, an NGO that supports Fair Trade producer groups. She is globally recognised as one of the world’s leading advocates for Fair Trade and organic textiles.
I started working at 17 for Creative Review. It was a very exciting job, but I quickly felt disillusioned at how the marketing industry was promoting the overconsumption of unhealthy products. A number of my colleagues felt the same way, so we started a social marketing agency. It was fascinating and inspiring to use positive communications to raise awareness about issues I felt were important.
When I was 25 I went to Japan. For a while I worked at Body Shop – lots of customers asked questions about green consumerism and social issues, and this inspired me to find out much more.
I started to publish listings of Fair Trade and organic goods. There were very few of these goods in Japan at the time, so I sought out the people who were making goods in an environmentally and socially responsible way. The idea was to help people find these products, so they could buy them and use their money to create positive social change.
We began to sell farmers’ products at events. This business became People Tree in 1995. In the early days it was me with a baby strapped to me and lots of volunteers.
It takes five to seven years to help a producer group develop a marketable Fair Trade product. Investment is needed both in the design and production, and also ensuring it will be something that will be bought. Global Village, supported by the People Tree Foundation, provides the support and expertise that producer groups in the developing world need to develop a successful product.
People Tree is a social business. We do what other fashion companies don’t. It’s considered counter-intuitive to have a ninemonth lead time on clothes, buy cotton 18 months before you need it, or invest in skills five years before they might produce a product you are able to sell.
I’m interested in the triple bottom line – people, planet, profit. A product has to not only work in terms of customer quality and satisfaction, but also environmentally and in human terms.
It’s been frustrating that the development agenda has too often concentrated solely on the human side, and not on environmental impacts. To marry these two issues, I successfully lobbied to include environmental standards in the Fair Trade certification some years ago. This is why we went down the organic route, becoming the first business to certify cotton in the developing world to Soil Association and GOTS standards. We want to create a product with high environmental and social integrity.
Fast fashion is difficult to resist – I hope this is changing though. People are becoming much more interested in buying good style and quality that will last, rather than something that will fall apart after a couple of washes.
The biggest lesson life has taught me is the importance of working in collaboration with people and organisations that share the same values as you.
Not a great deal keeps me awake at night. Fair Trade terms require a 50% advance payment to suppliers, which produces a huge cash flow challenge – so worrying about this is the only thing that stops me sleeping.
To find out more about People Tree visit www.peopletree.co.uk