Indigenous Designs: Fair Trade, Organic Clothing

Scott Leonard founded Indigenous Designs over 14 years ago on the backbone of imported fair trade organic clothing. When he told people that was his business he was rebounded with blank stares and expressionless “okay” replies. In a time when organic food was still an unknown he pioneered this do-good business and conitnues to operate strongly today.

In 2007 his fashion line has reached sales of $4 million in revenue with distributors like Whole Foods and the Sundance catalog. His bottom line is increasing rapidly as more and more people are becoming aware and begin to put their consumer dollars where it counts; for their own well-being and a better planet.

The inspiration came from a trip Leonard took to Ecuador in the early 90’s where he met a woman who had a fair trade knitting cooperative. He discovered that they were being paid well below their talented worth due to outdated tools and the inability to access quality fabrics and high-end designs. This kept most of them in a poverty stricken state and Leonard had the idea that would serve them both the better. He decided to help women like these pull out of the hole of poverty and earn himself a profit at the same time.

So Leonard ditched his surf shop and teamed up with a business partner and set off to do good and profit along the way. The business model involved joint ventures with nongovernmental organizations in Ecuador, India, Guatemala and Peru. Via these NGO’s, Indigenous Designs now works with more than 300 knitting cooperatives. These co-ops are labored by women who sew , knit and crochet sweaters, casual wear and accessories for the company. The creative task of Leonard is to match the skills of these knitting cooperatives with the designs created by his team in California.

The design mantra for Indigenous is as follows: “Never let a customer feel like they’re sacrificing quality or fashion sense to be a good global citizen.” Aside from a smart design and quality perspective the company also sources all of their fabrics within 400 miles of each cooperative and all fabrics are created using sustainable and natural materials. These knitting groups are provided with training and the proper materials and equipment to help increase productivity for the business and put more money in their pocket in return. Leonard is the first to admit that shipping and quality control increase the costs of running his business, it is still competitive because he sells to high-end retailers fetching a pretty penny for his fashionable goods. “At the heart of Indigenous is a truly symbiotic relationship,” says Leonard, “one that mutually benefits all three parties: the consumer, the employee, and the planet.” Not to mention putting a profitable twist on his companies bottom line.

Nick Aster is a new media architect and the founder of has grown to become one of the web's leading sources of news and ideas on how business can be used to make the world a better place.

Prior to TriplePundit Nick worked for Mother Jones magazine, successfully re-launching the magazine's online presence. He worked for, managing the technical side of the publication for 3 years and has also been an active consultant for individuals and companies entering the world of micro-publishing. He earned his stripes working for Gawker Media and Moreover Technologies in the early days of blogging.

Nick holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio School of Management and graduated with a BA in History from Washington University in St. Louis.

8 responses

  1. I came across your blog and found it to be very interesting. I have just launched a new apparel company, ‘Brand of the Free’ and thought I would share this information with you.
    The Brand of the Free line of apparel provides authentic American grown and manufactured graphic clothing for men and women. They embody thought provoking graphics to promote conversation about American pride and our environment. The shirts also feature low impact dyes with graphics printed using water based, low impact ink to help preserve the planet. All shirts are manufactured in America with the highest standards in a sweat shop free, fair wage environment.
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  2. At first my reason for searching out organic cotton was medical.
    At only a few weeks old my son developed severe eczema and his pediatrician suggested organic cotton as an alternative to the harsh steroidal creams they wanted to put him on.
    The search for organic clothing was not easy, and just plain expensive, but I knew his baby skin could not take the harsh chemicals used in regular textiles.
    The more research I did, the more I knew our entire family needed to make a change, for us and the planet.
    That was when I founded Peaceful Disorder, and since it is a family adventure, the prices are very reasonable. ($12-$30)
    You will probably see the same products in your local boutique for twice as much, I know I did. But best of all, after about 6 months of wearing organic, our baby has no sign of eczema.

  3. Please send information ….what’syourminimim…we’re a small shop in Big Sur, and love your sweaters, etc…please let us know if we can come see you!…Rachel & Peggy…the Big Sur Garden Gallery…Big Sur…

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