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Incredible day @ People Tree: my interview with Safia Minney!

During my last visit in London I had the chance to meet Safia Minney, founder and CEO of People Tree. At first sight I understood why she has received so many international awards as best social entrepreneur!
We talked about the first years of People Tree which started as Global Village, an environmental campaigning NGO, founded in 1991 in Japan by Safia and then launched in Uk in 2001.

FRR: Why People Tree can be considered as a “responsible fashion company”?
SM: “People Tree was founded 20 years ago in Japan as a 100% Fair Trade company with the aim of improving conditions in factories with the objective of maximizing the employment of the people involved in the activity. People Tree uses organic cotton, a better fabric both for the environment and the farmers. As a social company People Tree takes all the decisions using the triple bottom line approach: the social principle requires that everyone be treated fairly and equitably. The economic principle requires the adequate production of resources so that society can maintain a reasonable standard of living, and the environmental principle asserts that society protects its environmental resources.”

FRR: Could you briefly describe the production process?

SM: “At People Tree we have 2 main collections: manufacturing takes about 4-5 months. About 4000 artisans are involved in the production of hand woven, hand knitted and hand embroidered fabrics.”
As written in the website hand weaving uses nine times more labour than material produced on a power loom. That's nine times more people provided with an income they can use to feed their families and send their kids to school. People Tree's partner Artisan Hut in Bangladesh works with 250 producers. They earn up to double what they would earn in the conventional garment sector – allowing them to escape poverty. What's more, hand looms don't use electric power – which keeps running costs down -and they don't suffer from power cuts, so they can be sited in small towns and villages, where the weavers' families live. So they can stay together rather than move to overcrowded cities to work alone. Knitting is also a powerful tool for economic change: at People Tree, they use it to provide underprivileged people all over the world with the income to escape from poverty. In Nepal and Peru and India People Tree works with over 1500 artisans. They hand knit and crochet natural fibres such as merino, alpaca, cotton and wool. In Peru, the knitters hand spin and hand knit organic alpaca, and pass these skills down to their children. And, Kumbeshwar Technical School (KTS) provides training and employment opportunities to disadvantaged people in Nepal, at the same time as using the profits from Fair trade to run a school for 260 kids. Artisans in India and Bangladesh have passed embroidery skills down through generations. People Tree uses this rare talent to produce beautiful garments like the anya dress and shirt dress (which use a traditional embroidery style called nakshi kantha, a technique use originally to stitch together old saris into quilt).

FRR: Where can we find People Tree products?
SM: “People Tree can be found in more than 300 stockists in Uk and more than 50 in Europe.”
In Italy for example People Tree can be found at Particelle Complementari in Spazio Frida.
The two “flagship stores” are online: one in Japan, the other in Europe. All the collections can be bought directly online.

FRR: Which are the tools you use to communicate the sustainability to the customers?
SM: “People Tree promotes the products in the stores using POS material, leaflets, displays and 3 times per year through a catalogue. In the last years we started to communicate also through emotional videos such as the one of Bombolulu Workshops showing the artisans work and the final fashion show in the Bombolulu cultural center of Mombasa, Kenya.
Collaborations with celebrities are important for us: until now People Tree has worked with designers such as Zakee Shariff, Orla Kiely, Karen Nicol, Vivienne Westwood. We also created a successful collection with Emma Watson for Spring Summer 2011.
We proved that Fairtrade can be also high-fashion: in 2007 People Tree had a wonderful article on Vogue Japan.
Interacting with the government and the industry trying to stimulate consumer awareness is important as well: we try to do it through study meetings both in Japan and Uk.”

FRR: What about social media?
SM: “Having a direct relationship with the people that like People Tree is key: this is why People Tree has a Facebook page where all the interviews to People Tree, interesting links and events are published.”
For example you will find a post on the article published on The Ecologist on “how to give your wardrobe a green-over”!
“Then we have a You Tube page where all the videos are published
I also write posts on my blog and write tweets on Twitter: you can follow me @SafiaMinney.”

FRR: What are the main challenges of your social business?
SM: “In a social business you need to face the challenges of growing while being able to finance orders to producers in advance (usually 50%). The Fair Trade way of thinking and behaving gives priorities to the people and planet stakeholders (i.e. triple bottom line approach): investing in training to the workers, infrastructure developments are day-by-day issues to manage.
When thinking about external investors that want to become shareholders we want to be careful and accept only shareholders that share the same values. In order to help the cash-flow we issued bonds both in Uk and Japan: we have received about 700.000 pounds from individuals that want to help People Tree making beautiful garment and beautiful change happening somewhere in the world!”

After the talk I had the lucky chance to visit their London offices and feel the spirit of working for a cause in People Tree.

Watch the videos:
A talk with Safia...

...and finally a tour in the London offices of People Tree!

Here I am in the People Tree showroom with Beniamino, PR manager


  1. Hi Francesca - nice post! Are you back in Milan now? Jo

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