Patagonia x Supertex Make a Case for Fair Trade

Fair Trade certification is a key aspect of social compliance at Supertex Group, a Patagonia manufacturing partner in Colombia.

October is designated National Fair Trade month and Patagonia’s partnership with its Colombian factory Supertex serves as a prime example of how investing in Fair Trade offers a wide range of social and eco benefits.

Supertex makes Patagonia fleeces and Capilene baselayer products. What started as a cut & sew only factory for Patagonia 15 years ago evolved over the years into a full package service for Patagonia’s Reno, NV facility and then became direct shipping to all Patagonia distribution centers worldwide. Throughout the relationship, Supertex has kept pace with Patagonia’s sustainability developments advancing use of recycled material in fabric as well as recycled zippers, labels, hangtags and now, polybags, too.

Supertex has also made strides by upgrading efficiencies in its factories to reduce its carbon footprint and keep the planet safe, according to Adriana Duque, business unit director, Supertex Group. These achievements resulted in Supertex being the first apparel manufacture to be certified Fair Trade in the hemisphere.

“This is a huge accomplishment,” says Cara Chacon, Patagonia’s VP social and environmental responsibility, who describes the company’s level collaboration with Supertex as “stellar.” She adds, “Supertex is a very supportive partner and from a socially and environmentally responsible perspective, every time we source out of a new factory there is a rigorous audit and process to go through, and Supertex has been one of our highest performing partners in all areas.”

How the companies’ collaborative Fair Trade program extends beyond factory production and workforce to also benefit the community at large and was a topic of a webinar discussion earlier this month hosted by OR Online Education and trade group ProColumbia about sustainable development and ethical practices within the Colombian industry.

Here’s how the program works: For every Patagonia garment that Supertex makes, Patagonia pays a 1.5 percent premium on top of what it normally pays the factory. That money goes directly to a bank account workers control. A Fair Trade committee democratically elected by employees, works together to decide and how and when the funds are dispersed. Money has been spent to support platforms such as grocery kits, scholarships for school children, and bicycles for workers to use for commuting or recreation. Recently funds provided food baskets in response to the COVID pandemic.

“The beauty of the program is that workers decide what is best for the factory community,” says Chacon. Another important dividend according to both Chacon and Duque, is that the workers — men and women — learn finance literacy and leadership skills and experience the role of representing their peers.

“At Supertex management believes in the value of social and environmental responsibility and we’ve seen how sustainability can bring big change to the community,” Duque states.

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