Fashionistas can now see beyond clothing labels for the first time with the Fair Trace Tool™ developed by fair trade fashion company INDIGENOUS. This new tool, in the form of a QR code on hang tags, offers transparency throughout the garment’s supply chain including a glimpse of the artisans who made it and the product’s social impact. The content is delivered in text, video and animated map format.

INDIGENOUS was founded on the principle that great design starts with workers being paid fair wages in a safe working environment. “No one should suffer or die to make clothing,” says Scott Leonard, Co-founder and CEO of INDIGENOUS. “Just the opposite — they and their families should prosper. That’s how it is with our supply chain. That’s how it can be with others. Let’s not make this harder than it is. And let’s not wait. Lives are at stake.”

The company’s popular knit fashions are now in more than 500 stores. INDIGENOUS also produces garments for the socially responsible apparel brand, Eileen Fisher. The supply chain now includes over 1,600 artisan knitters in some of South America’s poorest regions. The Fair Trace Tool™ offers customers a rare and wonderful window to the rich heritage and culture of the local indigenous people who are prospering together with the brand.

Though the tool is proprietary, the company is happy to share. “The INDIGENOUS model is readily replicable,” says Matt Reynolds, Co-founder and President of INDIGENOUS. “While it represents a distinctive competitive advantage, INDIGENOUS is ready to share it to help save lives and promote the well-being of artisans and garment workers everywhere.”

While many brands use public relations to tout themselves as sustainable, often the clothing is produced by indentured workers in miserable and unsafe conditions, known as “sweat shops.” The April 24, 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza building, just outside of Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital city, killed over 1,100 garment workers. Then on December 1, seven people died and others were injured in a fire that destroyed a garment factory and its cardboard dormitory, which housed workers in the Italian town of Prato, Tuscany.

Heather White, global labor expert and founder of Verite, which monitors global working conditions, commends INDIGENOUS for improving the lives of workers in the company’s supply chain. “All over the world, workers are paying the price for the clothes we wear. Environmental cost is also not factored into our purchases. The Fair Trace Tool™ offers consumers an opportunity to better align their belief systems with the purchases they make.”

INDIGENOUS sets prices that make safety, benefits and fair wages achievable. The company uses innovative SMS and voice technology to survey workers about their economic, social and workplace well-being. This allows feedback and opinions to be shared privately and confidentially.

The continued implementation of The Fair Trace Tool™ within INDIGENOUS’ supply chain is exciting for the company, its customers and the apparel industry as a whole. In their last 2013 round of surveying the tool provided INDIGENOUS with a new dataset that facilitates internal analysis about the company’s social impact and progress over time. The data shows that most artisans in the INDIGENOUS supply chain are now living above the poverty line. The percentage of those who are at risk has fallen since 2011. Also, the majority of artisans continue to feel satisfied by their job. “These results are something we are very proud of,” says Matt Reynolds. 

Through these efforts, and rigorous environmentally responsible standards, the founders can guarantee a sustainable product to their customers and trust this to influence purchase decisions and brand loyalty. They will share their best practices and supply chain transparency tools with any fashion brand that is committed and willing to stand up and take this pledge: No one will suffer or die to make our clothes. Instead, they will prosper. “This is a call to action for you (the fashion industry) to stand up and be heard,” says Scott Leonard.

Matthew Reynolds is the President & Co-Founder of Indigenous Designs. He has been a pioneer in the areas of fair trade, organics, environmental practice and the sustainability movement.