An Interview with Founder, Kathleen Wright
As a fashion fair trade advocate, I was particularly intrigued by the textiles company, Piece & Co. when I stumbled upon their work in a collaboration with Banana Republic. I quickly recognized their role in reimaging conventional forms of production. Piece & Co. is a manufacturer that produces textiles that are both sustainable and ethical, and does so by sourcing from communities around the world. I had the pleasure of interviewing the founder, Kathleen Wright, who informed me more in-depth on the trials and rewards of bringing fair trade, ethical fabrics to the global market.
Wright was sure to emphasize that Piece & Co. has a business-to-business approach, so their textiles are not marketed directly to the consumer, but more with brands who wish to collaborate in fabric design. This allows Piece & Co. to produce higher volumes, have consistent orders, and see a tangible impact.
I followed up by asking Wright how collaborations initiate, and she reminded me about the increased interest in corporate social responsibility for virtually every business. Even the least suspecting brands are in search of ways to bring a more responsible product to the market, or provide a positive social impact report at the end of their fiscal year. With that said, brands will go to Piece & Co. because they see the importance of bringing a fair-trade product to the market, but even more importantly, they believe their target customer will respond well to an ethical, feel-good purchase.
When purchasing a product that is developed with Piece & Co. textiles, there are a plethora of reasons to appreciate it beyond apparent quality. There is an extremely rigged, three-part vetting process that upholds their fair-trade guidelines. When vetting artisans work, they look to see if their product is viable, asking whether or not it will resonate in the Western market. Second, the means of production have to adhere to their social impact criteria, which covers women’s empowerment, health and safety regulations, environmental regulations, etc. Lastly, they look to see if the artisan community has the ambition and drive to source for the Western market because there is an inevitable tighter production timeline. The vetting process in its entirety is radically transparent and today Piece & Co. works with 5,000 artisans and small businesses across 16 countries, all of which uphold the social and environmental requirements.
When talking to Wright, the enthusiasm for her business was like music to my ears. Her drive to empower women, and her keenness to expand her understanding of how products are produced and their impact on the environment, came from a place of genuine warmth. She did admit that when she first began, Piece & Co. was founded on the “human side”, caring primarily for the women and their welfare. As her business expanded, she developed an equal amount of concern for the environment, and saw that the two actually go hand-in-hand; when you foster the well-being of the human hands who produce goods, you can simultaneously foster the well-being of the environment.
To close my exchange with Wright, I could not help for ask for words of advice for a student pursuing a career in the sustainability world. Her response was both mollifying and constructive. Her first words of guidance where to educate yourself, stay aware of social impact, and discover businesses and organizations that you wish to support. Her second piece of advice resonated the most, which was not to develop a fear of stepping into the profit world, some of Piece & Co.’s biggest advocates are profit companies. Many of us who obsess over the injustices that coincide with fast fashion put on blinders, and try to confine ourselves in a bubble of sustainability. But, there is undeniable merit in working for profit companies because that is where particular skills can develop. Wright reiterated that if you have the passion for fair trade and sustainability, it does not die. When you veer off into a different direction, you can bring that passion into work and still be proactive in creative ways, because you can work anywhere and still have an impact. Last but not least, Wright left me with a quote that anyone trying to grow in their career, or even in their personal life, needs to remember, “Have patience with yourself, focus on the fact that you’re learning.”