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Phil Shepherd

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Fashion With a Conscience

Posted: 03/21/2012 10:56 am

Photo by Esther Havens


Growing up in Alaska, my family owned some of the first videos stores in the state. In the early 1980s, my family pioneered the way for the future and they were the predecessors to the now soon-to-be-defunct juggernauts, Blockbuster and Hollywood Video. My older brothers, who had a passion for the silver screen, saw the opportunity to help redefine what home entertainment looked like in the "Last Frontier" known as Alaska.

My brothers, who opened these first video stores, were highly influenced by our late grandfather Dallas. In the early 1950s, Dallas sold everything our family owned at that time, including a successful family diner that he and my grandmother ran in the Lower 48, to chase his dream of finding gold. Grandpa loaded up my grandmother, my aunt, and my mom and began the long trek up the ALCAN, headed for Alaska. Though our grandfather never became wealthy from mining gold, in the years to come his mining adventures became very profitable to us through the vivid stories he retold to his family. Grandpa infused in his grandchildren the passion to take risks without the fear of failure.

Surrounded by a family of shrewd entrepreneurs, the desire to create was stamped into my DNA long before I ever escaped the womb. Honestly, I attribute this family trait as the reason for my perpetual fascination with new start-ups and why I, personally, became a church planter.

There seems to be something magical about the entrepreneurial spirit. The entrepreneur is a special breed of humanity who needs to make their mark upon the world; they are driven to introduce that "something" that has yet to be experienced. The only way I know how to describe it is this: that being an entrepreneur is almost like having a sickness -- a feverish, insatiable drive to make the world a better place. In many entrepreneurs, one of the common threads that I see is the ability to not compromise the creative dream they posses. There are always compromises to make that dream happen -- but never are these compromises to the core dream itself.

Take for instance Fangfang Wu. According to Fast Company magazine, Wu, the founder and CEO of the hottest children's clothing line in China right now: "Greenbox." Wu originally said no to Disney when they approached her about designing a clothing line for their new Disney resort launch in Shanghai. Who says no to Disney? Wu did. In a paraphrased summation of Wu's interview, she alluded to the fact that she did not want to lose the identity of "Greenbox" by only having Disney's name on the label of her clothing. After many months of negotiations, Wu and Disney came to an agreement without "Greenbox" losing its identity and the project was set into motion.

Wu's unwavering compromise of her dream for her company makes me think of another fashion company based here Texas: "Good & Fair." Granted, Texas is known more for its good ol' right-wing evangelical boys who dabble poorly in politics than it is for its trend-setting fashion. However, Shelton Green, the founder and CEO of "Good & Fair" clothing thinks that should not be the case.

Shelton, like me, is an Alaskan-grown-Texas-transplant who not only has a dream to put Texas on the map for its fashion, but to change how the world of fashion makes and produces its products.

With an industry that is plagued with unfair paid wages and slave-driven labor, "Good & Fair" seeks to change the ethos of the fashion world by putting out a quality product as a certified fair trade company -- clothing that is slave free.

Before you start envisioning burlap sacks littered with pearl snaps and fugly free shoes sent overseas to kids, let me recalibrate your thinking of what "Good & Fair" clothing is. "Good & Fair" is a high quality fashion line; it is not an ethical knock-off to make you feel better about what you are buying ... this is not contemporary Christian music we are talking about. Shelton, risking everything for his unwavering dream, has created a line of fashion that both looks great and is conscious of the people who have created it.

Shelton, since your background is not fashion, how did you get into the fashion business?

It has been quite a journey into the fashion business. The short answer is passion. Passion got me into the fashion business. But not in the way most people are passionate about fashion, design, and the latest look. I discovered slavery exists today and one of the ways it manifests itself is in fashion. In the worst cases, child and slave labor were used to make the clothes I wear everyday. It was passion to do something about the supply chains that churn out fast fashion, change it and support ethical treatment of cotton famers and garment workers.

Your clothing line is called Good & Fair -- how did you come up with the name of Good & Fair? And what does it mean?

I didn't want a name people had to figure out. I wanted to tell our story right from the start. It's our mission. To do good and be fair. Good to the earth and fair to people. It came from the simple idea no one should be hurt for the sake of our fashion and we should take care of the earth when farming the cotton used in our clothes.

Almost like a page from a personal journal, Good & Fair's website retells of your fast from buying clothes for a year. Fasting, the stopping of something (like not eating chocolate for Lent), is more of a religious or diet concept -- what lead to your decision to the fast from buying clothes for a year?

It was very much like that. I was thinking about new years resolutions as 2007 came to a close and 2008 was about to begin. I had all this stuff in my head about supply chains that treated people horribly, stories of people who had survived modern slavery, stats about a third of the world living on less than 2 dollars day (at that time), millions of slaves all over the world, and I simply wanted to take a break from buying things I didn't need, specifically clothes, and rethink the choices I make as a consumer and what those choices mean for the people who make my stuff.

How difficult was the fast from buying clothes for a year? And how did it influence the creation of Good & Fair?

It was a massive factor in starting Good & Fair. During 2008 I would go to my favorite shops and clothing stores. Not able to buy anything, I began to look at labels and noticing where things were made. More education ensued. I looked up brands, production in different countries, and deepening my understanding of child and slave labor abuses.

Can you flesh out for us your initial dream for Good & Fair? Outsourcing to a fair trade manufacturer for the production of Good & Fair products was not part of your original plan. Does your initial dream for Good & Fair still stay with you -- in other words, do you still have that dream?

The big idea I started with was to create my own production facility in Austin, Texas. Lease a warehouse, connect with skilled garment makers, source organic cotton from Texas farms, ship fabric to Austin from around Texas and the US, and start my own clothing company based on a set of principles where people came before profit. One of the things I was most looking forward to doing was training people to sew and give them a job making Good & Fair designs. Connecting with vulnerable local populations and if they wanted to learn how to sew clothes, we would train them. I was mainly thinking about refugees, homeless, and those coming out of various addictions or abusive situations. With everything I have come to understand, I want to make a real difference in the lives of people who are on the margins.

Yes, I still have that dream. I ran into lots of setbacks and into lots walls. I kept adjusting the plan in order to get Good & Fair off the ground. The most straightforward way turned out to be equally beautiful as my original vision. I connected with a fair trade certified farmer cooperative and fair trade garment production in India to make Good & Fair designs. Now we are part of a growing community of ethical fashion using third party certified fair trade production. I actually live blogged my first trip to India where you can see the farms, farmers, workers, and the factory we use.

What is one of the ways you have seen the effects of working with a manufacturer who pays its employees a fair wage?

We have to continue to tell the stories of the lives we are affecting. The children of the cotton famers we partner with get to go to school because Good & Fair and other companies are committed to buying their cotton at a fair trade price. They used the fair trade premium to build a school.

At the present Good & Fair specializes in t-shirts and undergarments for both men and women. What was the thought process behind releasing these particular products, instead of, say, a line of denim jeans?

Ha. If I could go back and tell myself to start with different items of clothing I would. I didn't start with jeans because my fair trade supply chain didn't make denim fabric. There are limitations when a company is committed to only sourcing from suppliers who share your ethical ethos. However, it would have been smarter to start with higher margin items that can complete with the market. It is very hard to compete against the boxer market when we sell one pair for $28. The margins are simply tough when you start with fair trade and organic cotton and production. We are rethinking our product line and where we need to put our energy while designing new fair trade fashion.

Shelton, in your opinion, outside being a fair trade clothing company, what sets apart Good & Fair from the rest of the clothing industry?

Good & Fair exists to change the world of fashion. I want my closet to only be filled with clothing that has not hurt anyone. And I want to offer that same dream to everyone else. Good & Fair is a dream, a vision, and a mission to treat people with dignity, respect, and ultimately, love. We offer a better story, a story that can change everything if we let it. A story that will recalibrate how we think about the things we buy and how our everyday decisions can make a difference in the lives of people all over the world.

Who is Good & Fair clothing marketed to currently? And do you have any plans to expand that market?

Our goal has been to market to people want to join us in telling a better story. The design and style of our tee shirts and ladies hipster undies are geared towards men and women 18-35. The boxers are pretty ageless, just a classic American style boxer. As we begin to think about new items to bring into production we are rethinking our target market. Plus we would love to appeal to consumers purely on the style and design of the clothing with the ethical and do gooder side being a secondary attraction.

What do you believe is the main source of depravity in the fashion industry? And how can we as consumers help change that depravity?

Clothes are artificially cheap. We consumers have become used to the clothing market and we want it cheaper all the time. That sets off a chain of events and clothing companies have to react or they simply lose business. Clothes should cost more because the vast majority of garment workers and cotton farmers should be paid more. You and I are the problem and the solution. Most companies simply want to fulfill customer demand. If there is sufficient consumer demand for ethical fashion the industry will change.

Help support change: visit, purchase, spread the word about Good & Fair products at goodandfairclothing.com

 

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