Safia Minney of People Tree

"I’m interested in the triple bottom line – people, planet, profit. A product has to not only work in terms of customer quality and satisfaction, but also environmentally and in human terms."

Safia MinneySafia Minney is the founder of People Tree, the environmental fashion label, and Global Village, an NGO that supports Fair Trade producer groups. She is globally recognised as one of the world’s leading advocates for Fair Trade and organic textiles.

I started working at 17 for Creative Review. It was a very exciting job, but I quickly felt disillusioned at how the marketing industry was promoting the overconsumption of unhealthy products. A number of my colleagues felt the same way, so we started a social marketing agency. It was fascinating and inspiring to use positive communications to raise awareness about issues I felt were important.

When I was 25 I went to Japan. For a while I worked at Body Shop – lots of customers asked questions about green consumerism and social issues, and this inspired me to find out much more.

I started to publish listings of Fair Trade and organic goods. There were very few of these goods in Japan at the time, so I sought out the people who were making goods in an environmentally and socially responsible way. The idea was to help people find these products, so they could buy them and use their money to create positive social change.

We began to sell farmers’ products at events. This business became People Tree in 1995. In the early days it was me with a baby strapped to me and lots of volunteers.

It takes five to seven years to help a producer group develop a marketable Fair Trade product. Investment is needed both in the design and production, and also ensuring it will be something that will be bought. Global Village, supported by the People Tree Foundation, provides the support and expertise that producer groups in the developing world need to develop a successful product.

People Tree is a social business. We do what other fashion companies don’t. It’s considered counter-intuitive to have a ninemonth lead time on clothes, buy cotton 18 months before you need it, or invest in skills five years before they might produce a product you are able to sell.

I’m interested in the triple bottom line – people, planet, profit. A product has to not only work in terms of customer quality and satisfaction, but also environmentally and in human terms.

It’s been frustrating that the development agenda has too often concentrated solely on the human side, and not on environmental impacts. To marry these two issues, I successfully lobbied to include environmental standards in the Fair Trade certification some years ago. This is why we went down the organic route, becoming the first business to certify cotton in the developing world to Soil Association and GOTS standards. We want to create a product with high environmental and social integrity.

Fast fashion is difficult to resist – I hope this is changing though. People are becoming much more interested in buying good style and quality that will last, rather than something that will fall apart after a couple of washes.

The biggest lesson life has taught me is the importance of working in collaboration with people and organisations that share the same values as you.

Not a great deal keeps me awake at night. Fair Trade terms require a 50% advance payment to suppliers, which produces a huge cash flow challenge – so worrying about this is the only thing that stops me sleeping.

To find out more about People Tree visit www.peopletree.co.uk



Bookmark and Share




Meet more heroes...

Bob Kennard of Graig Producers in Wales
"Organic is a fiendishly complex message to get over to the consumer when compared with single message foods, such as local, fair trade and free-range yet it has many of the answers to our current difficulties with food production."
Rhiannon Rowley of Abaca in Carmarthenshire
"I am passionately committed to manufacturing in Wales and to using as much Welsh organic wool as we possibly can."
Abi and Margaret Weeds of Essential Care in Suffolk
"We'd like to continue breaking the boundaries in creating unsurpassed quality organic, ethical health & beauty products, so even more people can enjoy their benefits and lead a healthier, safer lifestyle."
Will Best of Manor Farm in Dorset
"I see a future in which world agriculture is based on organic principles. It may not be fully organic as we understand it, but it will be scientifically sound and sustainable."
Paul Richards of herbfarmacy in Herefordshire
"We learned as we went along and all believed the organic approach to be the only way forward that respects the planet we live on."
Dr Mariano Spiezia of Inlight organic skincare
"Organic status has been my choice to guarantee to our customers that we are using the best ingredients in order to create products without any harmful chemicals to promote health and wellbeing, safeguarding the environment."
Jonathan Smith of Scilly Organics in the Isles of Scilly
"Many things in our life need to be more localised, and it must start with food. There are some fantastic examples of local food working, but it needs to become much more widespread to put the heart back into communities."
Henry Edmunds of Cholderton Estate in Wiltshire
"We have achieved a balance between the demands of modern highly competitive agriculture and the preservation of the countryside."
Simon Bennett of Riverside Organics in Cheshire
"So many people have no idea what 'organic' means, or they think it is fancy! If they knew how food was produced most people would choose organic."
Dale Orr of Churchtown Farm in County Down
"I decided that organic farming was the only way I wanted to farm because it is sustainable and gives due consideration to animal welfare and the environment."