I missed the first press release (not that I would have gone shopping):
A luxury e-tailer of Scottish goods announced that it started selling Fair Isle sweaters from Shetland on a fair trade basis last month. The story only seems to have been picked up by the Herald today (that link will expire quickly).
Interestingly, it’s not a native who brought the fair trade concept to Scottish knitting:
Teresa Fritschi, the American-born managing director of Thistle and Broom, is promoting the work using a Fairtrade model in an effort to retain the integrity of the product.
“Today, what the consumer is generally buying is a Fair Isle style knock-off that’s machine knit.
“To the uneducated Fair Isle is simply a style of knitting, but this is one of Scotland’s most unique pieces of intellectual property.”
… Mrs Bowie, originally from Whalsay but now living in Lochinver, Sutherland, has been knitting since she was four and is about to turn 78. She said: “I’ve only made one jumper for the project so far so I am very much a beginner.
“I was more or less doing it for family and friends, but I did some for the Romanian children, through the charity shop, so there was something new for them to wear that wasn’t just cast-offs.
“However, it wasn’t really worthwhile knitting to sell because you didn’t get enough for it. The wool is so expensive to buy. I never dreamed it would ever be sold in America. It feels good, and both Rosabell and I are on the net.”(from the Herald, May 14 2007, “Knitters turn to Fairtrade in bid to save their tradition”)
The crime of it is that these talented women were still being paid about 50 pence an hour until we launched our Fair Isle Knitting Project. Now 2/3‚Äôs of our retail price and all shipping costs go directly into the knitters‚Äô bank account when Thistle & Broom receives an order. (from the T&B website)
I suspect that “fair trade” is generally unstandardized with respect to apparel: it looks like most items that are fair trade certified are mostly food products and cotton. The UK labelling initiative does not list apparel, either. (There may be older efforts, but does “fair trade” as a concept today apply to co-operatives or other systems set up by the producers themselves to sell and distribute their work directly?) But it looks like the rates paid to knitters by T&B qualify as fair: you can see from shopping around on the site that a knitter would therefore make just over 230 GBP for knitting Mountains & Glens, or more than $450 US. It’s unclear who deducts the cost of materials from their share, or whether the knitter identified on the T&B site (in the case of this particular sweater, Agnes Bowie) is the one actually doing the knitting: at such improved compensation, perhaps one knitter could subcontract out the work if there was a lot to be done.
The newspaper reports says that to date, Mrs Bowie has filled one order. I wonder how popular it will be; the pricing results is a rather restricted market. I’d love to buy some of the jewelry, but I can’t afford it, not by a long shot (the knotwork bracelets are nice, but I’d far prefer the Scots pine cuff, a mere 625 GBP). And alas, I’m too short for the riding habit, just under 1000 GBP.
For the rest of us, though, there’s a benchmark. If someone wants you to knit a Fair Isle pullover, the going fair rate is upwards from $600.