Our Story

 
Maggie’s Organics has been making high-quality durable and affordable socks and apparel out of organic fibers since 1992. We began quite by accident, when an organic corn farmer in Texas taught us the truth behind conventional cotton.

Founder Bená Burda was working with the farmer to improve the quality of his blue corn crop for the tortilla chips she was marketing at the time. The farmer decided that adding cotton into his three year organic crop rotation would improve his corn yields. His experiment worked, and also provided him with 200 acres of certified organic cotton, which he expected Bená to sell! After researching cotton, and learning that this one crop is grown on 3-5% of the world’s cultivated land, and yet uses nearly 10% of the world’s pesticides and 25% of the world’s insecticides, we committed ourselves to utilizing these 200 acres of organic cotton to tell the real story behind conventional cotton clothing… Maggie’s Organics was born.

But how to get the word out about this newly discovered environmental calamity? Given our history marketing organic foods, it was natural for us to turn to all of our friends who were natural food entrepreneurs. So we showed up at the 1992 Natural Products Expo (then called the Natural FOODS Expo) with a wall of socks behind us. Food retailers with an existing consumer base concerned about the environment were not exactly eager to sell socks, but we were persistent. And our retailers were and still are both creative and adaptive. After getting our socks placed in stores throughout the US, Maggie’s began to expand our line to include tee shirts and polo shirts, logowear for organic food companies, and as a result began to learn about the very convoluted and confusing apparel production cycle.

It was overwhelming, and we made more mistakes than we thought were possible. Natural dyes that faded in the sun – we called them ‘mood shirts’ (if you didn’t like the color, go outside for a few hours). polos that we were proud to say shrunk only 14% – because it was all in the length and not in the width, we promoted the midriff look at trade shows that year. Women’s scoop tops that we marketed as wearing well day-into-evening because they started the day on your shoulders and were off-shoulder by the end of the day. Still, we persevered, studied hard, and continued to improve year after year. Our customers continued to support us, somehow feeling the special energy in our products.

As we expanded our product offering, we learned first-hand about the working conditions in textile plants while dealing with two ongoing problems: late orders and poor quality. All of our contracts were in the US, where the apparel industry was already working under-capacity due to off-shore competition. Yet we could not get an order for 10,000 basic tee shirts shipped on time. We began to spend more time in our contract factories, trying to figure out why these problems recurred. This is when we learned who actually sews the clothes that we all buy: poor and often under-educated workers, mostly women, paid by the piece. They choose to stay at the same repetitive jobs for years in order to become more efficient, so they can make enough money to feed their families, which in turn wreaks havoc on both their bodies and their minds. Most important of all, we realized that worker s in apparel chains are completely disenfranchised from the customers who wear their clothes as well as the companies whose labels they sew.

We began to ask ourselves how we could consider Maggie’s an environmentally responsible company while engaging in such an irresponsible supply chain. We had to find a better way. This is when we met Jubilee House Community, a community development organization that had operated in Nicaragua for over a decade helping victims of natural disasters. JHC worked to find employment for those in need and had access to many workers, both skilled and unskilled. We offered JHC a challenge: If they could create a facility where every worker had a vested interest in our success, and had a way to determine their own success, we would turn all of our sewing contracts over to them. They suggested a worker –ownership model, and together we created a 100% worker-owned sewing cooperative in Nicaragua called the Fair Trade Zone. This experience has inspired us to continue pursuing other cooperative projects and to develop relationships with contractors who honor workers’ rights.

Today, Maggie’s Organics has developed three separate supply chains that produce all of our products: socks, legwear, and apparel. All of our socks are made by 5 family-owned mills in North Carolina. We are very proud of the fact that every pair of socks we have made in our 18 years has been made in the USA. Our tights and legwear are produced in GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standards) certified facilities in Peru, from cotton grown by cooperative farmers in the Canete Valley. Our new apparel line of Hoodies, Dresses, Wraps, Scarves, Pants, Tanks, Camisoles, and Men’s Shirts is from our Central American supply chain, described below. Each supply chain we use is committed to providing a quality Maggie’s product that is produced with fair working conditions and practices and, as always, all of our cotton and wool is 100% certified organic.

We have spent the past few years developing our Central American supply chain in order to provide top quality certified organic cotton apparel that we are able to sell at affordable prices. This supply chain begins in Nicaragua, where we have helped to revive a devastated cotton industry and to convert it to organic farming methods. The grower groups and co-ops we work with in Nicaragua provide livelihoods for over 1200 people. All of them harvest their cotton by hand and use a specific variety of cotton seed called Melba, which was developed by Nicaraguans to work best in the Nicaraguan climate. Yields have increased each year, and farmers earn over twice what they would for conventional cotton.

With the help of the Jubilee House Community, who coordinates all the growers, we have been able to develop worker-owned cooperatives for the next two stages of production - the ginning of fiber and the spinning of yarn. The yarn then heads to Costa Rica where CIA Textiles dyes and finishes the yarn into different fabrics. This is also where the fabric is cut and sewn into our finished garments. CIA Textiles was founded 60 years ago by a Jewish immigrant from Poland who was sent by his family at age 14 to escape the Nazi invasion. His vision and compassion set the ground work for workers’ rights with a democratic workers’ association, paying above average wages, and instituting many special work programs.

Maggie’s Organics is intricately involved with each step of production of our organic cotton apparel, from the farming of the cotton to the finished garment. Our goal is to connect the workers who make our products with the consumers who wear them.

Recently, we have begun to work with independent monitoring organizations that now offer 3rd party verification programs that certify the working conditions and labor conditions in our supply chain. Our Central American supply chain is the first to have been certified to these standards.

In early 2010, the entire supply chain was Certified Fair Labor™ through the Fair Labor Practices and Community Benefits by Scientific Certification Systems. Every stage of production was certified to this new standard – the growers, cotton gin, spinner, knitter, dyer, cutter, sewer, and screen-printer as well as our office and warehouses at Maggie’s. Certification to this standard covers equitable hiring and employment; safe workplace conditions; worker and family access to health; education, and transportation services; local and regional impacts; community engagement; and demonstrated economic stability.

Additionally, this same supply chain in Central America is now licensed to sell Fair Trade Certified™ organic cotton apparel. This new pilot program through Fair Trade USA certifies working conditions for the growers of our organic cotton, knitters and dyers of our fabric, and cutters and sewers of our garments. It guarantees that we pay the established fair trade price for our cotton, and that each grower and worker receives an additional cash premium designed to be used for social programs in their communities.

At Maggie’s Organics, we are proud of what we have accomplished with every worker in our supply chains and we are honored with the partnerships we have developed. We are persistently searching for ways to grow and expand our efforts. In 2011, we plan to have our knitters in North Carolina utilizing organic cotton yarn from our Nicaraguan farmers for our socks. We are continuing to build a vertical supply chain that is 100% worker-owned. We are also helping the Nicaraguan farmers supply organic cotton fiber to Peru. As we have grown over the past 18 years, we have found ourselves looking for more opportunities, not just for Maggie’s, but also for our supply chain partners.

Maggie’s Organics mission since the beginning has been to produce and provide comfortable, durable, affordable, and beautiful articles of apparel and accessories made from materials that restore, sustain, and enhance resources, including human, from which they are made. We are inspired by our fulfillment of that mission, and are humbled by how much further we have to go. And through it all we are honestly awed by our customers – distributors, retailers and consumers – by their commitment, by their support, and by their constant challenges to improve.
 

Our Qualities

Values We Believe In:

 

 

Get to Know Us

 
 
 
What inspires you?
Really, it's meeting with the folks who handle each step of our production - sharing stories, brainstorming, hearing about their struggles and telling ours. We work with so many unsung pioneers, and I'm very proud that we are a part of it all.
 
What is your favorite part about creating your products?
Getting to know the people behind each step of our production chains - the cotton farmers in Nicaragua, the couple that makes our "mantra" socks, who built their company back after a disasterous fire in 2005.
 
What is the toughest part of your day?
Knowing that I have spread myself too thin, and feeling like I don't have the time to reflect on my decisions.
 
What was the best day in company history?
The first day I opened a box of newly sewn organic cotton Camisoles made by our first worker-owned cooperative was pretty special. Everyone told us it couldn't be done, and the quality was top-notch.
 
What was the biggest decision you ever had to make?
Whew - it seems these get bigger each day. We had to lay 2 people off back in 2008 when the economy turned. That was huge for me, and very difficult. But we are consistently deciding how much raw cotton to pre-purchase, and those decisions are huge as we are making promises to many people, and I know we have to deliver.
 
Where do you see yourselves in 5 years?
I would love to have our company sold to our employees, have it continuing to thrive, and use my time to support and work with others trying to start entities that have similar ideals.
 
Our Favorite Song
"Smile" by Charlie Chaplin
 
Our Favorite Vacation Spot
right now a campground on the Lake Michigan dunes in my beautiful home state
 
Our Favorite Product Besides Our Own
I'm back to using a lot of Dr. Bronner's soap and cannot get enough of them.
 
Our Favorite Quote
"There is an honor in business that is the fine gold of it; that reckons with every man justly; that loves light; that regards kindness and fairness more highly than goods or prices or profits." - Longfellow
 
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