You could say that JA began several years ago around a small table in a restaurant in Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala. IHF volunteers (and future JA founders) Ryan McAnnally-Linz and Heidi Jutsum sat with a local leader discussing the daunting obstacles that they faced as they worked with the IHF’s partner group of artisans to raise incomes through handicraft production. As Ryan and Heidi explained that their attempts to connect the artisans with fair trade outlets in the US had without exception failed because retailers already had too many suppliers, the local man nodded along. Then, suddenly, he perked up. Reflecting on his recent visit to Haverford College in Pennsylvania, he said, “I noticed that all the students at Haverford walk around wearing t-shirts and sweatshirts with ‘Haverford’ written on them. Why don’t we have the women here embroider things like that and put a bird beside it!” Thus was born the idea that would become Just Apparel.
Ryan and Heidi spent much of the next twenty months planning and fundraising in order to put that idea into action. They arrived in Santiago in August 2007 to start JA in earnest. The first team of JA partner artisans was formed in September, and following several weeks of training, JA began accepting orders in October. It has been growing ever since.
In the years since that fateful conversation, the bird has migrated a bit (it now forms the inspiration behind our logo), but the concept has remained the same — fair trade works best when it not only treats producers justly, but also fits the tastes of consumers.