People Tree’s Founder Safia Minney is widely regarded as a leader in the Fair Trade movement. We asked her why she started the brand, how People Tree makes decisions about production, and more. Read on and meet this inspiring lady!
1. How did you have the idea to start a true fashion brand?
I got really upset with multinational companies and their exploitation of works in the 1990s and that’s when I started People Tree. I’m just an ‘ethical consumer’ and have always been, even in my early 20s. Back then there weren’t any ethical, Fair Trade or sustainable fashion companies, so I ended up starting one. I started People Tree in Japan in 1991 and next year People Tree is 25 years old!
I’m working with likeminded social entrepreneurs and pioneering businesses around the world to create and mainstream Fair Trade principals and environmental protection in their supply chains, from design to communications. I love working with kindred spirits – people who want to make change happen themselves!
2. How did you come up with the name of your brand?
The name ‘People Tree’ represents the DNA of the company that runs through everything we do. ‘People’ stands for the respect for our Fair Trade partners such as cotton farmers, tailors and artisans through our customers and People Tree staff in Japan and the UK. ‘Tree’ stands for our respect for the planet and the environment. Combined, the name represents people gathering under the tree and sharing powerful and empowering stories to create the change the fashion industry needs so urgently.
3. How do you see the image, the identity of People Tree across seasonal changes?
I grew up with textiles and pottery – my gran was an embroidery designer and summer holidays were surrounded by gorgeous things. I love craft and spend far too much time at vintage sales and second hand stores. I always start new collections with a big clean-up of these unique items that I have accumulated and looking through these pieces there is always something inspirational for the season. People and music influence me hugely too.
4. How would you describe People Tree in three phrases?
People Tree has always been a pioneer in Fair Trade and sustainable fashion. The story of People Tree is about the respect for the people who make it, the customer and the planet. People Tree is equally committed and passionate about both aesthetics and ethics.
5. What inspires you?
My grandmother was inspirational to me as a designer turned social entrepreneur. My father and mother have always believed change is something you build as an individual and as a community! I also consider fashion as a tool and media for politics and change. My other passion is music. Music and fashion, art and politics are all linked and can be very powerful.
6. Who is the woman, the man you have in mind when creating your collections?
Our core customer is into style, ethical, caring and loves vintage, quirky and craft. They both buy good design, quality and style. Our customer believes in the ethics of People Tree and spreading the word about environmentally sustainable fashion.
7. Where do you see yourselves and your company in 5, 10 years?
People Tree clothes in a beautiful boutique near you. Eco concept stores are a growing trend in Europe and going to be in Britain too. My new book ‘Slow Fashion’ will launch in March 2016. It documents the growing international sustainable and ethical fashion movement and looks at the growth of eco concept stores around the world.
People Tree supports more than 4,000 people across the developing world – I’d like to double that! That The True Cost, an eye opening documentary, talks to a new generation of people that care about the garment workers and the environment and teaches us how unhappy and unsustainable materialism makes us – ethical fashion and slow fashion can make our planet happy. That is the only way!
8. You use sustainable materials for your collections. How is the selection and decision-making process for the materials and production sites that you choose to use?
We use plentiful available natural materials, including handmade recycled paper products, products made from jute waste and other environmentally friendly materials, and actively avoiding synthetics and plastics and toxic finishes. We have financed and partnered to build the first Fair Trade supply chain in developing world. People Tree products are designed using traditional skills and technologies. We choose handmade materials that can create employment in rural areas for women, so most of them use hand skills like hand weaving, hand knitting or hand embroidery. All clothes are dyed using low impact dyes, free from harmful azo chemicals, which are frequently used in clothing manufacture. We provide technical training and assistance for artisans and their Fair Trade groups so they can learn to pattern cut, level standards for quality and deliver social impact. And we regularly make 50% advance payments on orders, to help farmers and Fair Trade groups to finance Fair Trade.