For Matt Reynolds, co-founder with partner Scott Leonard of the company Indigenous, talking about fashion comes with a mission statement. He’s unable to talk about the clothing offered through Indigenous, the company he helped found in 1993 after a trip to South America without a passion for our world that comes shining through and peppered throughout a conversation. Matt doesn’t just sell clothes online. He and Scott and all the folks at Indigenous are changing lives in a powerful and multi-faceted way.
Indigenous is committed to selling quality fashionable products, but all that comes with a price, Matt says. “It’s our world and our worth,” he told me and when I pushed him about what that meant it was like I flipped a switch in him to talk about his role on this planet. He became animated and excited to talk about the work of artisan equality, organic consciousness, and how important it is that while we are here living on this world, we have a duty to care for it and the people therein.
Before I could even ask about why this was so important to him he told me some little known facts about the fashion industry. First, that 10,000 people die each year due to pesticides in many industries, fashion among them. Not only from spraying crops in developing countries, but also from breathing it in which is why Indigenous is dedicated to using only organically certified artisan.
“We care, thanks to the green movement, about what we put in our bodies,” Matt told me. “The next movement to come along will be about what we put on our bodies. Things that touch our skin are just as important to be careful of when we’re thinking about our clothing and our health.”
As a dedicated B Corp, Indigenous, as a company, lives by 3 truths:
First, Indigenous lives by the truth of working for organics that protect farmers and the environment. This is something that actually changes lives so Indigenous is careful to use 100% merino wool, organic cotton or alpaca. There are more than 8,000 chemicals used in conventional clothing and fashion is a trillion dollar industry that is responsible as the 2nd largest polluter. (Number 1 is the transportation and energy industry that pollutes with petroleum). Because Matt and Scott noticed this toxic industry with social injustice in things like sweat shops and sex trafficking, they decided to take control of where they purchase artisan materials. Indigenous knows that the largest organ humans have is our skin and it absorbs 87% of what we put on it. Matt also shared that in much of fashion 1/3 pound of pesticides go into the production of one t-shirt. Indigenous aims to do it differently and safely for humans. According to Pesticide Action Network, 10,000 people die each year due to pesticide exposure. Many of them are small rural farmers living in developing countries.
Next, Indigenous lives by the truth of asking questions. Matt says, “I have to ask myself: Is the product you’re wearing made with respect? Is it fair trade? Does it harm people and the planet we live on? Then we don’t do it.” Asking those questions brought about some difficult answers. They found that there are deep inequalities in income and gender of many people living below the poverty line. Since 900 million people on our planet face hunger and 2.7 billion of them have no access to clean cooking facilities, the founders of Indigenous decided to go a route that would make an impact there. Indigenous sells garments that you can be sure came from artisans in the supply chain where people work to ensure they receive a living wage. As a company, Indigenous creates places where artisans have work where there may be no other opportunities.
The final truth they live by is about how to sustain a culture. Indigenous uses artisan made and hand crafted materials because it deals with cultural heritage that is passed down for centuries. When you combine it with fair trade you’re honoring the beautiful craft that’s been in our history for hundreds if not thousands of years. This is especially true for remote areas where they can provide opportunities for income where there may be none. Indigenous keeps this alive in a harmonious way where they can honor the experts of culture. For the many women who create these crafts it is a way to help sustain the passion she has for her culture.
Indigenous understands that when we see the people attached to our fashion, we become involved on an emotional level. For instance, he reminded me of the commercial back in the 1970s for the Keep America Beautiful campaign. If you remember that, it showed a Native American cleaning up the litter on the shoreline. The ending, and I remember this from when I was a child, showed him with a giant tear running down his face at the end. Prior to that, many people weren’t giving much thought to litter. But tapping into those emotions of hurting others when we throw trash out of a moving car or drop wrappers on the ground moved people to action and led the way for other environmental issues like recycling to become important. Likewise, Matt knows that when we’re conscious of the harmful practices that can go into our fashion then we can be better consumers of our world.
As you shop this holiday season, it’s important to consider purchasing fashion products from Indigenous. We should demand that brands take us seriously since, after all, we are the consumer of their products. Companies like Indigenous remind us that we should find good companies that are using certifications, modern technology, and employ a transparency to consumer. Through socially just decisions we can affect change on a much greater scale. We can demand that brands take responsibility. I came to that conclusion by asking him a fairly simple question.
“Why is fair trade important?” I asked Matt.
“Fair trade ensures that Bangladesh doesn’t happen. Fair trade engages the end consumer so people don’t have to die to make the clothes we want to wear.”
**Check out the IndieGoGo project that Indigenous is spearheading called the Fair Trace Tool that allows you to find out where your products come from through groundbreaking technology.
BONUS: Just for us, the folks at Indigenous decided to offer a special discount through Little Pickle Press today! Upon checkout, enter PICKLE and get 30% off any order!