Author Archive

A Changing Market: Fairware’s Success Reflects a Shift Towards Corporate Sustainability Efforts

May 21, 2012

Fairware is pleased to announce that we have been ranked #9 on a list of the top ten fastest growing promotional product distributors in North America by the ASI Counselor Magazine .

We have more than doubled in size over the last 3 years, growing an astonishing 117%. This bit of news is not only an acknowledgement of the hard work we’ve put in, but also recognition of the changing face of business.

According to, distributor revenues increased only 5.89% from 2009 to 2010, with other reports suggesting growth slowed to the single digits from 2009 to 2011.

Our staggering growth in an industry otherwise in a slump reflects a welcome shift towards corporate social responsibility. The market is embracing doing business differently, and it’s refreshing to see that our longstanding commitment to ethical sourcing and sustainable product distribution is becoming a standard.

This positive market response is not only encouraging for us at Fairware, but also for the planet. An interesting report done in 2001 by and Ernst and Young on Trends in Corporate Sustainability mirrors this sentiment. According to the study, this movement towards corporate sustainability efforts is made ever stronger by its resilience during the current recession and recovery.

Fairware is proud to exemplify a flourishing company that limits its impact on the environment. We hope our success inspires other businesses to adopt our commitment to doing business differently. For more information about our corporate social responsibility best practices, please contact Denise Taschereau at

We’re Hiring a New Account Coordinator: Ready to join a great team?

January 27, 2012

Fairware provides socially and environmentally custom branded solutions to North America’s leading sustainable brands. We believe we can change the world through the simple act of buying. If you are looking to join a successful growing company with a great culture, you’ve found us. Check us out at

If you're a changemaker, come work here.

About the job:

The full-time Account Coordinator will work closely with the Senior Sales team to support sales activity from quote preparation through to production. You will coordinate all aspects of the sales cycle ensuring that deadlines are met and clients are happy. You’re the keeper of accounts.


What you’ll be doing:

o   Supporting the sales team preparing quotes and proposals.

o   Preparing sales orders, purchase orders, invoices.

o   Working with artwork proofs, order tracking, shipping.

  • Carrying out general office administration including answering phones, sending samples, filing etc.
  • Assisting with special projects when needed.

o   Participating in daily and weekly, monthly meetings


What skills and experience you’ll bring:

o   Self-confident, very organized and team oriented.

o   Sales and/or customer service experience.

o   Able to work in a fast paced, entrepreneurial environment with deadlines.

o   Master of multi-tasking.

o   Great interpersonal skills both in person and on the phone.

o   Excellent oral and written communication and a good command of the English language.

o   Knowledge and interest in social responsibility; environmental sustainability and sustainable products

o   Comfortable working in Word, Excel and Outlook.

o   Working knowledge of Sales Force, QuickBooks, Photoshop, Illustrator an asset.


How to Apply:

Please send us a one page letter outlining your relevant experience and why you want to work for Fairware – attach it to a resume that captures your related experience and email it to with the words Account Coordinator in the subject line, by February 10, 2012.  No phone calls please. Salary range: $27K-$30K depending on experience.

Good Design and Promo Products – Oxymoron?

May 24, 2011

Font Geek / Flickr mat_honan

I had a rare chance to read an old copy of the Sunday New York Times recently and was struck by an article on a t-shirt design contest at Oberlin College in Ohio. The article touched on something we’ve known all along – gone are the days of sticking your corporate/school logo on something and expecting someone to wear it. Rather than the college name emblazoned on the front of the shirts (boring), stylized and iconic symbols of life on campus are screened to perfection. Hallelujah.

So, what up with the promo product world? A lot of companies and non-profit organizations still seem to think their brand is enough to convince folks to pull their t-shirt over their head more often than all the others in the drawer (or grab their re-usable mug, their tote bag, you get the idea).

But, seriously, when was the last time you put on a t-shirt with something like Deloitte Consulting, Kaiser Permanante or Safeway on the front of it?  I can think of a few cool killers offhand & here is a short list:

1. Brand Police. We’re often presented with brand guidelines in advance of doing work with a client. By and by, the brand guidelines were designed for letterhead and AGM reports. They’re useful for getting the pantone right and for figuring out what the black & white version of a logo is really suppose to look like.  But too often they serve as the final word on creativity – thereby rendering the creative expression of a brand to it’s logo and nothing more. Brand guidelines are party poopers when you want to have a little fun.

2. No Time to Design. Last minute planning means folks aren’t empowered to drift from what they know their boss will approve without blinking. I can’t tell you the number of times we start a conversation rife with creativity only to default to the standard logo in the standard place because the time wasn’t there to get approvals and buy-in to designs that fall outside the box.

3. Lack of Clear Marketing Objectives/No specific audience. Too often purchasing  promotional products doesn’t come under the same rigor as other marketing spends. Without understanding your audience, intended outcome or call to action, the opportunity to align messaging with a clear outcome is lost. And understanding who your intended audience is can inform design.

In the case of t-shirts, the real challenge for companies is creating a true ‘wearable’ vs. another give-away t-shirt. All of us have a dozen (or more) shirts in our drawer, and all of us wear the same 3-4 over and over. So how do you get someone to pick yours as part of their favorite stash of tees?  You get them with design, people, you get them with design. Here are a few of our favorite and tips:

1. Secret Messages. Consider printing your core messages/logo/branding inside the t-shirt, under the flap of the messenger bag, ect (and use the main real estate for a cool graphic that has a chance of being work again and again). I’m sure the marketers are cringing, but imagine – it’s like a private conversation and reminder to your core customer that you love them every time they pull your shirt over their head. At a minimum, keep it subtle. Think left sleeve not front chest.

2. Be Cheeky. We did a run of t-shirts for a client called Pulse Energy who specialize in building management energy management software. Instead of a basic logo print on the shirts we printed ‘check my pulse’ on the front with a subtle logo hit on rear nape of the shirt.  Fun, especially when worn by their cute, fit staff.

3. Design first, Logo Second. Consider starting with a cool concept or design first and worry about incorporating your logo later. Here is a great execution of that concept by BC Based coffee roaster Saltspring Coffee. They printed a series of coffee molecules on their travel mugs for the true java junkie – their logo is a subtle link in the ‘chain’.

Pantone Mugs. Lovely. / Flickr elizabeth.graeber

There are very few brands cool enough to get away with just being themselves. Pantone is one of them. The “world’s authority on color”  goes so well with your morning coffee – their mugs get picked first, I’m sure of it. For the rest of us, think about design first, your logo second.

A Response to Rick Spence’s Ode to

February 28, 2011


Rick Spence’s recent National Post article on how succeeded in “marketing just one point to triple volumes” was a fascinating look at one of the promotional products industry’s largest players. The single point Branders markets is price. It’s the one thing most experts tell you not to compete on – but alas Branders has owned it and succeeded.  Succeeded in short term financial terms anyways.

The article boasts of extreme cost cutting measures, constant shifts to lower cost production and massive layoffs as tenants of success.  Branders success is pegged on their target customer – ones that scour for low cost and nothing else. While it’s proven successful  – it’s not without risk.

The Branders model doesn’t leave much room for developing deeper connections with your clients, relationships that  ensure their custom  products are a) needed and b) on brand with the campaign or promotion and c) align with their values.

The Branders model runs the risk of amplifying all that is wrong with the promotional product industry. Specifically, the issue of quantity over quality and the issue of more and more useless stuff being handed out, likely destined for landfill. There is an emerging backlash against the industry and the products it creates – recently the State of  California banned the use of promotional products as a cost cutting measure.

Increasingly, our clients are becoming aware of the brand risk using promotional products can pose. Can a price driven  model account for supply chain risks similar to the likes we’ve seen with the recent cadmium laden McDonald’s Shrek Glasses (also reported in the National Post)?

That Branders has succeeded by owning the race to the bottom is nothing new in this industry – what is new is the scale at which they’re doing it (according to industry stats only 4-5% of distributors are over 2.5M a year in sales – Branders does 120M).

We entered this industry with a very different intent – to build relationships with our clients, to ensure that any promotions they do drive real outcomes, reflect their values and don’t’ put their organization at risk. In short, we’re the opposite of Branders. But given that we’ve seen an average annual growth of 86% over the past 5 years – in an industry that has according to industry stats averaged -3% in the past 4 years – it seems there is a place in the world for custom branded products that consider more than price.

Water Bottles from China

November 30, 2010

Flickr / jeremylim

We recently had the opportunity to provide support to our local Tedx event here in Vancouver – by creating custom branded glass water bottles for the participants. They’re cool, they’re useful, and… they’re from China (as noted by @kimli on Delicious Juice Dot Com).

It’s the classic conundrum we face everyday in our business – working on sustainability within a global supply chain (more on our Code of Conduct in dealing with our supply chain at the end of the post).

Our key challenge in sourcing is facing diminishing capacity in local manufacturing. Drink-ware is especially prone to this. For example, we have yet to find a stainless steel water bottle made in North America, there are plenty of plastic bottles made here, just no stainless.

And guess what one of our top selling products is? Yup, stainless water bottles. That said, we’ve never looked for a domestic glass bottle supplier… but thanks to @kimli we will now (we’re always looking for local suppliers to help bring to market).

With drink-ware our main aim is to  get folks to kick the disposable habit (a bad habit as noted in Annie Leonard’s The Story of Bottled Water).  While we keep working on the supply side of things, we’re work with our clients to get folks out of single serve water.

Take Tedx Vancouver for example, last year FIJI water sponsored the event, and had their product out for grabs. From what I heard organizers got grief about it (refer back to the Story of Bottled Water if you’re still wondering why).

In making products to change behavior, cool helps – if people like the product, they use it  (we thought we’d do glass because it’s unique and different, just like Tedx even though rumor has it that glass has a bigger footprint than steel).

flickr / jeremylin

But I do want to dispel a key myth out there regarding the enviro-impacts of shipping product around the world. A lot of people we talk to assume there must be more emissions getting product from China than getting product from say… Toronto. Being in Vancouver, a port city, allows us to receive product by ocean freight vs. product being trucked across the country. And ocean freight is about 5.5x LESS environmental impact (in terms of efficiency) than the trucks that haul our goods across Canada. Here’s that concept applied to a bottle of wine from our friends at World Changing.

In short, sourcing products is tough and getting more local is an Idea Worth Spreading for sure. Check out our pals @locobc to check out their efforts to promote all things local. Interested in the standards we use in working with our supply chain? Check our Code of Conduct out or check out the work of the Fair Labor Association.

We got great feedback on the bottles – although I’m not sure we’d recommend glass for a venue with concrete floors in the future! Thanks to @kimli for keeping us on our toes.

Bike Lanes Make Me Hornby

October 12, 2010

Here in Vancouver there has been a big push to create a network of separated bike lanes in the city.  While throngs of us are thrilled at the prospect of a city that  builds infrastructure to support bikes, buses, pedestrians and cars – a lot of folks have their knickers in a knot over it. The latest street to get a dedicated bike lane is Hornby Street.

We like to ride our bikes here at Fairware and we like to be safe doing it. So, in the spirit of supporting the latest decision to create a separated bike route in Vancouver’s downtown core, we’re doing a limited run of  “Bike Lanes Make Me Hornby” T-shirts. The tees have the pithy statement and bike stencil on the front, Vision Vancouver logo on the sleeve.

Interested in a t-shirt? We’ll be selling shirts and taking orders at the upcoming Vision Vancouver Pub Night on October 20th,  “The Charles” bar at 136 Cordova St. (Near the Corner of Cordova and Cambie St.) We’ll have shirts ready for pick up at the October 20th event as well as an order form (in the case we run out of our first print run). Or you can contact Tim Chipperfield directly at to place your orders.


100% Organic T-shirt;

Men’s Sm-XL; Women’s Sm-XL;

Cost $15 including tax.

Please include your name; email and size when you contact Tim. Shirts are available for pick up only @ the Vision Offices or at Pub Night on October 20th,  “The Charles” bar at 136 Cordova St (Near the Corner of Cordova and Cambie St.).

Contact Tim Chipperfield directly at to place your orders.

The Panic of PechaKucha

June 24, 2010

Courtescy of @lauraappleton

I recently presented at a PechaKucha event in Vancouver – for those of you who’ve never heard of it, you’ve been missing out. Pecha Kucha started 8 years ago in Japan — loosely translated it means “chit-chat”.  It’s a gathering that happens regularly in over 300 cities around the world – a chance for folks to settle in for a night and listen to local instigators, artists and thought leaders chat about what inspires them.

The Vancouver event is produced by Jane and Steven Cox of Cause and Affect – a dynamic duo if ever there was one  (one of my staff suggested this morning that they may be the coolest married couple in Vancouver). They’ve been doing a brilliant job of packing the house with inspiration for 2 years.

It was an honour to be asked, and for a few days I mused about how cool it was going to be to speak there. Then, the panic set in. There were three distinct elements to the PechaKucha panic…

1. The name. How exactly do you pronounce it? I wanted to tell everyone about it, but never could quite figure out how to say ‘it’. Pe CHA ku CHA? PeCHACHka? Was I going to be chatting about a cool event i was speaking at and not be able to pronounce it right?… that seems like a lame prospect. But alas, I persevered, told everyone I was speaking at PeCHAkuCHA, and learned on the night that I had been pronouncing it wrong all along.

2. The venue. PechaKucha Vancouver started in Vancouver a couple years ago, in a venue that held 200 people. And as Steven Cox shared at this, the 12th event of the series, historically it was low key – the kind of event where it wasn’t uncommon to hear beer bottles rolling down the aisles. I was lucky enough to be asked to speak at a special edition, with a focus on sustainability that was held at the Queen Elizabeth Theater. The Queen E Theater is a place rock stars play and over 2000 people can be seated. Not being a rock star, I found this intimidating.

3. The format. The night (according to the PechaKucha website)  “…rests on a presentation format that is based on a simple idea: 20 images x 20 seconds. It’s a format that makes presentations concise, and keeps things moving at a rapid pace.” Sounds good, unless of course you’re the one having to speak, without notes, to said slides, that zip by, on cue, every 20 seconds whether you want them to or not.

The night came and went – and I spoke for 6 minutes and 40 seconds exactly.  I managed to suck up my nerves and tell the story of how I ended up going from earning a masters degree in environmental management to being an accidental entrepreneur. It was such a great experience, I was so inspired by the folks around me, and in what seemed like a mere moment it was done.

I did it. And so did 13 others that night, all staring down their own demons of PechaKucha panic to inspire the crowd to green our city and walk the talk.

You can check out my presentation here.

10 Tips for Setting up a Merchandise Program for your NGO

April 21, 2010


We often get calls from non-profits wanting to get branded products (“merchandise”) to sell as fundraisers. It’s a great idea in theory, but like most things in life, reality can be cruel. We’ve crafted a list of 10 things to consider before launching into a merchandise program to help smooth the bumps along the way.

These points are designed for organizations considering merchandise sales – either directed at end consumers (retail style sales) or directed at internal buyers (e.g. setting up a bulk purchasing program for your different chapters or departments).

You might not have all the answers to the questions posed below – BUT between your organization and the merchandising partner you choose, make sure you  have all the answers or you’re bound to hit a few hurdles along the way.

1. Define the Purpose of the Program

  • Identify the primary and secondary purpose of the program. For example, is the program designed to generate revenue, build brand awareness, build your contact list, or to consolidate purchasing to pass on savings to your end buyers?
  • Caution: Many organizations start out with visions of their merchandise program being a significant revenue generator for their organization – and are often disappointed at the results. Some good planning will help set realistic targets and ID secondary benefits at the outset so you can meet the outcomes you set.

2. Create a Business Case

  • Do the math. Sounds simple but it’s a critical step that many people miss. If you purchase a t-shirt for $8.00 and sell it for $20.00 you make $12.00, right? Actually, no, you don’t. You need to account for the time put into setting up the program, design time for graphics, time or $ spent ‘picking and packing’ (getting a product packed and shipped), hosting fees if the store is online, etc. Understand that the time for a return on investment may be longer than expected.
  • Assess your systems. Do you have an online merchant account to accept payment? Do you know the tax laws as they relate to selling merchandise or accepting donations on a website? Think through the details, sweat the small stuff.


Walmart Green Business Summit and Springwise

February 11, 2010

Photo by galaygobi

It has been one of those weeks that feels like months worth of stuff happened in.

We finalized the program details for AVEDA’s 2010 Earth Month campaign (this year we’re supplying them with stainless steel water bottles and recycled steel dogtags) – a program we love for a client we adore. They raise millions over the course of their campaign and we donate 10% of our sales to Global Greengrants Fund as part of our contribution to their campaign.

The week has been extra crazy following a February 4th posting on SPRINGWISE. What’s Springwise you ask? Springwise is a “global network of 8,000+ trendspotters that scan the globe for smart new business ideas, delivering instant inspiration to entrepreneurial minds”. One of their spotters spotted us and wrote a great post on our products.  SO WHAT?

We had a 600% increase in traffic to our website that day and a %1100 percent increase this week. We have also had half a dozen media requests from places like Dubai, Rio and Montreal, quote requests from all over the world and a partnership request from a major agency in the US.  All hail social media.

I spent yesterday at the Walmart Green Business Summit in Vancouver with over 350 executives from around North America. The day started with a rallying cry from David Suzuki – with my favorite moment being when he talked about rampant consumption and note “it’s what fuels Walmart for godsakes”. Once folks were good and rattled the day went on with case studies from major brands on the challenges. If you want a more detailed summary on the day check out Green Briefs for the press conference announcements, the website launches, etc.

Shanghai’d – Day 4 New Sewing Factory

January 7, 2010

Suggestion box for worker complaints

Day 4 found me at a new bag sewing facility we plan on working with near Shanghai. It’s run by Jorden Rosenberg, a Canadian guy (from Forest Hill Collegiate, like a # of the guys I seem to be meeting here) and it was great to see the Chinese and Canadian flags flying high at the entrance of his facility. I planned my trip to both check out his products and facility and meet the auditor from Openview, who we had arranged to audit the facility.

Jordan runs a great factory and difference between this facility and the one at Huaitai was immediately noticeable. The scale of the operation is much larger but the sophistication of their production processes was of a different standard. In addition to the bag workshop Jordan also runs Motherwear, a women’s maternity wear online retailer (check it out for fabulous bamboo and other products) and manages production for that line in his facility.

The facility was well laid out, with clear signage vis a vis fire safety and first aid. The attention to detail on the quality control front was impressive and they were working for major brands from all over North America and Europe. (more…)

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