When I bought my first clergy shirt a decade ago, I selected a neckband plain front blouse in an easy-care blend (time to iron was a luxury this seminarian didn't have) from the C.M. Almy Company. Over the next few years, I bought several of this style. I even branched out and bought neckband blouses and shells in 100% cotton and a dressy polyester crepe de chine. I could count on fit and quality every time. The customer service was excellent, too. In fact, the whole blouse buying experience was so good that I took it for granted until I decided to support my denomination's publishing house by buying blouses through them.
Never mess with a good thing, right? Well, there's a reason that statement is true. First of all, it was hard initially to find neckband blouses for women; I don't wear tab collars. I bought a crepe de chine blouse on sale, and it was a disaster. The fit was just wrong, plain wrong. Then a new line of blouses was marketed, a supposed upscale model with a neckband option. Delighted, I purchased one. Again, the fit was all wrong, the collar didn't lay exactly right, and I just felt plain dowdy in it.
The two blouses purchased in an attempt to be supportive are long gone. My decade-old trusty black blends are still going strong. They're looking a little worn, but hey after ten years of almost daily use they're entitled to be a little tired.
Last summer I needed a new blouse for a wedding. It would be hot and the potential for roasting under my alb was pretty high, so I decided to order a sleeveless black shell from Almy. Again, the process was smooth, and the customer service impeccable. But still, it's just a blouse, right?
Well, no it isn't JUST a blouse. I found out recently that it's a pretty JUST blouse. Let me explain. When I began my "Just Living" experience this year, I decided to seek out a source for fair trade certified clergy blouses. I found a couple of sources in the UK but was having no luck finding anything stateside. Since carbon footprints are also part of the equation, I thought it would be better if I could find a more local source. I e-mailed Almy's customer service department, and much to my surprise within 24 hours, I had a response--from the company president Stephen Fendler.
I was pretty impressed that the company president would take the time to respond to a country pastor in the middle of the prairie asking some random question. I was even more impressed by his answer:
We would consider fair trade sourcing of clergy shirts if the products involved offer some style, fabric or other benefit to our customers that we cannot produce effectively in our own shop. We applaud the goals of the fair trade movement, but I have to say that our first concern is for people in the Pittsfield, Maine area where we make virtually all of our products. We are working hard to keep our team of skilled and dedicated workers together through what has been a very tough time we think it's in the long term best interests of our people, our communities and our customers!
I was so impressed, in fact, that I went to the web site and read the company's history. This is a family business--five generations--with a rich tradition and almost 200 associates.A small player by global standards, I am quite sure that Almy plays a significant role in the economy and life of Pittsfield, Maine, which according to the 2000 Census was home to just over 4,200 people. More impressive yet are the mission, vision, and principles printed beneath the history. Click here to read more about C.M. Almy Company.
Fendler responded to my request for more information as I tried to understand the complicated journey of the blouses that I wear, and in the process I learned quite a bit about the challenges faced by small businesses and the care and concern with which this particular company approaches its management and production. Yes, what I thought was a relatively simple purchase is indeed about much more than just a blouse.
What have been your experiences with purchasing something and learning about its journey to your possession? Have you discovered anything about justice, fair trade, or corporate values? If so, please share.