Safia Minney is an English business woman and author. She is the founder and CEO of People Tree, a Fair Trade and environmentally conscious fashion label. She is also a well noted spokesperson on fair trade and ethical fashion. She helped start the World Fair Trade Day which she still runs the secretariat from her Japanese office. Additionally, she co-wrote the book, Naked Fashion.
Safia started her career in marketing and publishing. She worked for Creative Review magazine for 4 years where she developed an eye for visual content and a passion for promoting social and environmental awareness and action through advertising and communications. After backpacking alone for 3 months between Bali and Myanmar, Safia created her own communications consultant company. She used her experience to help NGOs build their profiles. In 1990, Safia and her husband, James, moved to Tokyo for his job as a banker. During this time, she studied Japanese before working for a publishing company and eventually the Body Shop.
When she first arrived in Japan, she was astounded how little the Japanese people knew about the environment. As a result, she started Global Village, an environmental campaigning and educational network which focuses on all aspects of sustainable living. Working with two university students from Yokohama University, Safia began producing and publishing a small free leaflet that provided consumers with environmental and organic listings – the ‘green’ information she believed people needed. Before long Safia had four full-time staff members - working from her home in order to carry out the growing activities of Global Village. In 1996 Global Village became a member of IFAT the International Fair Trade Association. Global Village operated from Safia’s home for nine years, gradually occupying more and more space. By 2000 it had grown to 17 staff members trying to coordinate catalogue production, sales to 500 shops, events and campaigns and it was time to take a commercial office space.
At age 25, Safia had an epiphany to start her own business from her Global Village network. She recalled, "I remember standing in a thunderstorm in Roppongi, the centre city of Tokyo, surrounded by these huge buildings and this corporate-driven city, but also by this huge force of nature, the thunder storm. It was a moment of awakening for me realizing the magnitude of the juggernaut of consumer society which was rolling forward. It had to be stopped. I had to make a choice between living a comfortable lifestyle or trying a different type of economic model." Finer, Nadia; Finer, Emily (2011). More to Life Than Shoes: How to Kick-Start Your Career and Change Your Life.It was this thought that was the foundation of her own fashion label that would use the fashion business as a tool to empower people from poverty stricken countries to improve their lives through providing them skills and reinvesting in their communities.
In 1991, Safia founded People Tree in Tokyo. Her first collection of clothing was made in coordination with Bangladeshi women who provided them with hand woven material which was pigmented by natural dyes. These items were sold by catalogue and featured an array of product including handbags, clothing, and clogs. Nicholls, Alex; Opal, Charlotte (2005). Fair Trade: Market-Driven Ethical Consumption. The initial start up was incredibly hard. Safia once said, " When I started out, I wasn't very realistic on how difficult it would be to make People Tree work. We were investing in labour-intensive process while the industry was going in the other direction: mass-manufactured fashion, using synthetics instead of natural materials. We were dealing with very disadvantage people in remote places, and the business costs were huge. It was a massive undertaking, but it needed to be done." Finer, Nadia; Finer, Emily (2011). More to Life Than Shoes: How to Kick-Start Your Career and Change Your Life.
In 1995 Fair Trade Company was formed as a limited company and a shop was opened in the fashionable Jiyugaoka district, in Tokyo. In 1997 Safia Minney added a Fair Trade Fashion Collection, using eco-textiles, including organic cotton, to the products sold by Fair Trade Company, and the first People Tree collection was launched. People Tree was working closely with textile artisan groups to help them meet environmental standards and develop their market potential, with two full-time designers at People Tree.
In 1999, People Tree's business expanded to England where the brand formed a partnership with Co-operative Group. By 2004, the company expanded into 20 different countries and turned over $1.79 million.Nicholls, Alex; Opal, Charlotte (2005). Fair Trade: Market-Driven Ethical Consumption.
Safia is British born in 1964 to a Swiss mother and Mauritian father. She grew up in a Caucasian middle class suburb in England. She left school at 17 and moved to London where she worked in publishing and marketing. At 22, she visited South East Asia for 3 months. It was during this time she cultivated a passion for the environment and politics.
Safia married her husband James Minney in 1989. A year later the couple moved to Tokyo from London. James is a co-founder and current COO of People Tree. The couple reside in London with their three children.
In September 2004 Safia Minney was selected as one of the world’s most “Outstanding Social Entrepreneurs” by the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship.
This was the fourth consecutive year that the SCHWAB FOUNDATION FOR SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP selected the world’s foremost social entrepreneurs: practical, results-oriented innovators who set in motion a process whereby the poor become agents of change and self-determination. Social entrepreneurs use business and innovative revenue models to stimulate social inclusion.
In April 2005, Eastern Eye Newspaper presented Safia with the Community Award at the annual Asian Business Awards, in recognition of her work with Asian Producer Communities.
In 2006, Safia was named Social Entrepreneur of the Year in the Edge Upstart Awards and was shortlisted for the Triodos Bank Social Entrepreneur Award and the CBI’s First Women Awards.
In June 2009 Safia was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in The Queen's Birthday 2009 Honours List.