Jesusa Mamani Pilco, 19, is a garment worker in Callale, a small town nestled in the Andes Mountains in Peru. Her wages help support her family, and she aspires to have her own shop one day.
"My job is to help out my brothers and my mom who's in the mountains so that they can have some money," Pilco said. "My dream is that in a couple of years, I can be ... a great knitter, and also to have my own workshop."
American consumers often know very little about the people who make the clothes they wear every day.
But Pilco's story, told in a video interview, is one of a dozen such tales available to any shopper with a smartphone that comes across garments made by Indigenous Designs.
The Santa Rosa clothing company has developed the "Fair Trace Tool," a mobile phone application that consumers can use to learn where a garment was made, and what living conditions are like for the textile workers in that region. Knitters' stories are told through videos and photos, along with maps and data about the poverty level of a community.
"I just hope that people in some way are moved toward thinking more about how they choose their wardrobe," said Scott Leonard, CEO of Indigenous Designs.
Earlier this year, Indigenous embedded its price tags with QR codes, which can be scanned by a smartphone and direct shoppers to a website with information about the origin of the clothes. But last week, in the wake of the collapse of a garment factory in Bangladesh that killed hundreds of workers, Leonard and Indigenous co-founder Matt Reynolds offered to share their proprietary technology with other companies that are committed to the principles of fair trade.
Leonard called on the garment industry to share in his pledge that "no one should have to suffer and die to produce the clothes we wear," and then posted his company's offer on LinkedIn and other social networks.
"I've gotten hundreds of emails coming back so far, all with positive responses," Leonard said mid-week. "People were asking, 'How can I take the pledge and be part of the industry challenge, and how can you help me with making this platform and this tool readily available?'"
Indigenous Designs worked with Worldways Social Marketing, a Rhode Island company, to develop the Fair Trace Tool app. Indigenous wanted to introduce consumers to the people behind those garments, said Mark Marosits, co-founder of Worldways.
"It was those action verbs, 'meet' and 'see,' that drove our application design," Marosits said. "For anyone that wants to take the next step in transparency, we're going to make it easier by sharing this tool."
To help track the working conditions of its 1,500 artisans working in 200 groups throughout Peru, Indigenous polls them using text messages on cellphones to find out whether they feel safe on the job, and to gauge the state of each worker's financial condition.
The questions, such as 'do you own a refrigerator,' are modeled after the "Progress out of Poverty Index" developed by Grameen Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works to help impoverished people.
Then Indigenous collaborates with partners to compile that data and assess whether the workers are in a good environment.
"We're able to go to that individual worker and ... they can answer the question without their supervisor looking over their shoulder," Leonard said.