Fair Trade Certification has migrated from coffee to clothing. One of the first of two companies that the NGO Transfair USA has recently certified as fair trade is Tompkins Point Clothing, a designer of preppy men’s clothing based in Wyckoff, New Jersey.
Scott Leeder, Tompkins Point’s founder, comes from a life far removed from the farms at which the cotton for his company’s clothes is sourced. Raised in New Jersey, Leeder worked on Wall Street for several years. Fate took him to Hyderabad, India, where he accepted an offer to work as a chief financial officer of an organic cotton trading company. Like anyone else who would accept such an offer, he had no idea of what he was getting into, but he grabbed the opportunity anyway.
Once he moved to Hyderabad, Leeder understood the context in which the cotton farmers worked. Despite its images of crowded mega-cities, three-fourths of India’s population still resides in rural areas, which of course means most live off the land. And farming is a tough way of life: most farmers till about 4 acres of land and eke out a living of about US$1 a day.
So Leeder decided he wanted to create a company that would make a difference. The results are intriguing. Tompkins Point manufactures clothing that is very conventional (as a 1980s child, last I checked, the polo shirt really has not changed that much). But the business model shifts from the methods by which apparel manufacturers traditionally source materials, make their clothes, and treats their workers. By sourcing directly from farmers, Tompkins Point bypasses the brokers, allowing the firm to pay them a higher price. The company also:
- Funds the education of all of its Calcutta factory employees’ children through university.
- Provides free health insurance to all employees and their families.
- Pays a 10% bonus to workers at the end of the year, regardless of the factory’s profitability.
- Donates 25% of its profits to the communities at which its clothing is made.
Besides addressing labor issues, Tompkins Point works at being conscious of the local environment. Cotton is notorious as a “thirsty” crop and generally requires much irrigation, and the results show from California to Uzbekistan. The cotton that ends up in Tompkins Point’s shirts is sourced from cotton that relied on rain water.
Currently the shirts are available for purchase online, but Leeder says the company is close to entering agreements with both online and brick-and-mortar retailers.