EAVESDROPPER INTERVIEW: Shelton Green, Good & Fair Clothing

Hello, eavesdroppers. I (Jennifer) am going to get a little mushy before sharing our interview today, and I hope Tolly doesn’t mind too much.

There are just way too many reasons to fall in love with Austin – the food, Barton Springs, the music, you name it. But aside from the all the outdoorsy, musical, and delicious things, I continue to fall in love with the creative and do-good folks in this town.

A few weeks ago I met a fella who totally fit the bill of “nice Austinite who’s cool and bright and wants to make the world a better place.”

That sounds about right. Shelton Green of Good & Fair Clothing designs and sells your basic t-shirts and undies. If I had to wear anything for the rest of my life, a good pair of boy shorts and a cozy V-neck would no doubt be two of my top picks. Don’t get me wrong – I still love fashion and clothes, but to never have to think twice about where my clothing comes from is another thing.

Shelton took a similar approach in 2008, which led him to start Good & Fair. What started as a yearlong break from buying clothes altogether, while studying clothing production in the developing world, turned into a business idea to bring shirts and underwear to the states — directly from Fair Trade cotton farmers and clothing factories in India.

Austin Eavesdropper partners with a huge Fair Trade retailer here in town, so we’re already big fans of garments and products that are good and … well, fair. But I wanted to know more about Shelton’s basic tees and undies and how he started a Fair Trade clothing line from scratch.

So, Shelton – your background is in politics. How did you learn about Fair Trade and what inspired you to get involved?

That’s right. For 10 years I worked in Texas politics as a staffer and a lobbyist. I took time off from politics to rethink how I wanted to work and what vocation means for me. I started by launching a coaster campaign in Austin to educate people about human trafficking. We traveled around Texas sharing coasters with stories of freed slaves printed on them. We raised $6,000 to print 80,000 coasters, but I still wanted to do something more – something that would naturally connect with people.

I learned about Fair Trade after encountering Trade as One, a Fair Trade retailer that connects consumers in the west with artisans in the developing world to make goods. The idea of supply chains and how things are made really struck me, along with how we buy things from the developing world.

That’s when I decided to take a year off from buying clothing, to give myself a break from the consumer culture and let my brain and heart think about who’s making my clothes, how they’re treated, and, if I had some sort of choice, how I’d want them to be treated. I began looking for other companies that were more intentional about who makes their clothes. Turns out, there aren’t a lot of people out there making a statement about where their clothing comes from.

You didn’t buy clothing for a whole year? I’d die! How was that experience?

It was freeing. It was a time to reflect on how exactly the clothes I wore were made. It was also a way to untangle myself from the marketing around clothing, status, and identity. We, speaking as consumers, are just bombarded with messages all the time about how wearing the right thing will change your life, get you the right job, or win the attention of the people we admire. We’re told a story that simply isn’t true. It was nice to break away from that story.

You connected with a Fair Trade farmer’s cooperative and factory in India to produce the cotton and clothing for Good & Fair. How was your trip to India and what was that experience like? How did that influence your mission and business?

I wanted to see all the moving parts of the supply chain I was thinking about using. I met the people face to face and shared meals with them and their families, who grow the cotton we use and who make the clothing we sell. The trip itself was tough; I experienced a lot of culture shock. I scheduled the trip myself with only the knowledge from a few books I read about India and how to do business there.

You mentioned that Good & Fair is part of a new Fair Trade factory program with Fair Trade USA. What does that mean, and what’s the difference between “factory” and “cooperative” Fair Trade?

The factory at the end of the Good & Fair supply chain is Fair Trade certified, which is a new thing in the Fair Trade world. My company is part of a pilot program with Fair Trade USA, who is the certifying body for my supply chain. Certifying clothing production on a factory scale is very new, but it’s an exciting thing to be a part of. It’s also a bit unnerving sometimes. We are still learning and watching closely to make sure the program delivers what Fair Trade promises. We have to be vigilant and stay on top of suppliers and working conditions.

What’s next for Good & Fair, the clothing line and the business model?

Expanding our product offering is the next big thing. We have a line of scarves set to come out this fall, if everything goes according to plan. I’m very excited about it. As for the business model, I am not sure what’s next. Our model is wholesale, and we partner with retail boutiques and chains (hopefully) to carry our line. It allows Good & Fair to stay away from extraneous costs and focus on the supply chain and quality products.

What about Austin? How does this wonderful and creative city inspire your business and mission?

It’s hard to get our story out there. People don’t always share the same sort belief or aspirations for what one is doing and what one’s true motives might be. But that’s also one of the things I love about Austin. It’s that same questioning ethos that drove me to question the legitimacy of conventional clothing production. And to find a better way.

Thanks so much, Shelton!

PHOTOS // Esther Havens