Fair Trade Wages + Organic Cotton: The Peru Project

How did we start our Peru project?
In 2005, we discovered the cashmere-soft yarn with an organic/fair trade story. Could the knitters make our designs? As a test we started with fifty units of an Eileen classic—a simple box top. It sold out. From there our relationship with the Peruvian workers deepened, with fair trade organic cotton sweaters starring in our ads and monthly looks.

Why is organic cotton important?
Conventional cotton is one of the most toxic crops in the world. It requires intensive use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. By contrast, organic cotton is grown in balance with nature. Healthy soil and healthy plants attract fewer pests. Harmful insects are trapped rather than sprayed; companion crops attract beneficial bugs.

What is fair trade?
Fair trade not only means that workers receive a living wage but that employers make social investments in communities. In Peru, we've seen schools built, workers trained and the cultural identity respected and preserved. Fair trade also calls for a safe, healthy and participatory work environment.

How are the sweaters made?
Some are knit in a light-filled factory that is located in the highland area where our workers live; others are knit in home workshops outfitted with one or more knitting machines. Family members and neighbors take turns knitting. One home workshop will specialize in handlooming sleeves or panels, another in linking parts of a sweater together. This alternative system was developed specifically to preserve family and community relationships.

What is the future?
An entrepreneurial spirit fuels this project. Rooms are added on so that more machines can be operated. Because this growth happens within the context of fair trade, it creates a new paradigm. Success means investment in schools and communities; it creates a dynamic of giving back and pulling together.

Our Peru Project is part of a company-wide commitment to make fair trade Peruvian knits an increasingly important part of our collections.

Watch our Peru Chronicles video