Interview with Safia Minney of People Tree
We have long been fans of People Tree . Truly gorgeous Fairtrade organic clothing that doesn’t compromise on style and an inspirational brand founder, Safia Minney, MBE.
So Odylique/Essential Care founder and regular People Tree shopper, Abi sat down with Safia to find out more about how People Tree started, the day to day challenges she faces, and also which Odylique products Safia loves…
Tell me the story of People Tree. What inspired you to start an organic fashion brand?
I started People Tree in Japan in 1991. I was working in advertising, but I began to question the value of creating advertising for products that nobody needed that polluted the planet. I began to ask what if design, creativity and media could be used to change the world?
I was just a green consumer – a human rights activist turned ecologist. I wanted to spend every pound I had in a way that supported the people who most need it and protected the environment. I started People Tree to help other green consumers find products that fit our values. In 2001, People Tree expanded from Tokyo to London.
Rather than being part of the problem, we can be part of the solution. It seems like a very small thing but, choosing a t-shirt or a dress made of organic cotton rather than conventional cotton made through Fair Trade can make a big difference.
By supporting Fair Trade fashion and organic fabrics, we have something clear and positive we can do. Every time you opt to support Fair Trade or organic clothing you are helping to empower farmers, artisans and communities – and importantly putting preserve on the fashion industry to clean up its act.
Are there any particular challenges in creating organic and Fair Trade fashion?
There are a million challenges! Setting up a network that links organic cotton farmers, hand weavers, hand knitters and tailors and training them to produce to internationally accepted quality standards in isolate villages is really tough.
Where you do source the organic cotton for your collection?
People Tree is passionate about organic cotton because it’s good for people and the planet. People Tree’s organic cotton comes from Agrocel in India. Agrocel is a Fair Trade group which supports over 40,000 organic and Fairtrade farmers. People Tree has been worked in close partnership with Agrocel for 12 years.
How does buying fashion made with organic cotton make a big difference?
Agrocel provides Indian cotton farmers with an alternative way of farming cotton. Agrocel farmers have developed natural farming methods and natural pesticides such as chili, neem and garlic to control the pests.
At Agrocel, women are paid the same as men and given paid maternity leave. Farmers receive a pension, health insurance and good medical facilities. Farmers are paid a premium for organic and Fair Trade cotton.
These premiums make a huge difference, funding clean water for drinking and bathing and improving the local schools. The premiums also support a savings scheme for female farmers that trains women in financial literacy, helping them save and plan for the future.
Agrocel farmers work in harmony with their land, from sowing seeds to harvesting. Protecting the land and water ways is labour-intensive, but provides jobs for more people and protects their health in the long term. Organic farming protects the planet by sequestering 1.5 tons of CO2 into the soil each year per acre.
How do you choose the designers you work with?
Over the years we have been privileged to partner with a range of designers, who each bring their unique style to People Tree.
People like Orla Kiely, Zandra Rhodes and Simeon Farrar.
To start a design collaboration, we look for designers whose aesthetic we love and who are interested in natural fibres, organic and Fair Trade. We really partner closely with designers and learn a lot together!
We hear you rather like Odylique, which products are your favourite and why?
Between People Tree Japan and UK, I am often travelling. Organic Avocado 24-Hr Replenishing Cream is perfect for revitalising whilst on the move. Odylique Calendula Balm is a small tub with enormous power. For lips, cuticles, hands, feet, fingers, elbows, toes and more. Organic Mineral Lipstick is great. I aim to only eat organic, Fairtrade and locally produced food – why should what I wear on my lips be any different?
You must lead a busy life, but what do you like doing in your spare time?!
I love cooking and baking organic cakes – I started baking my friend’s birthday cakes when I was 13! I love walking in nature and try to do yoga every morning at home in my living room. My organic cotton farmers taught me that yoga is something you do every day in the morning, by yourself, you don’t have to go to a class. Even 6-8 sun salutations is a good daily discipline to keep fit!