Ethical clothing line leads to award nomination

In a lot of ways, Shannon Passero’s modus operandi is decidedly old school.

The clothes from her Pure Handknit line are not machine-made. The fabric is spun, dyed, cut and woven by hand. The craftswomen in Thailand who make the clothing are paid more than minimum wage.

It’s called “slow fashion,” and while the process takes time and the salaries and benefits cost more, Passero would not have it any other way.

“We think there really is a way to produce clothes ethically, applying the standard we use here in Canada to the production of our clothes in Thialand,” she said.

Her ethical clothing line of Pure Handknit, along with the more commonplace-produced line called Neon Buddha, have earned Passero a nomination in this year’s Niagara Entrepreneur of the Year Awards.

When she started Pure Handknit 15 years ago, Passero ultimately made the same choice many other North American manufacturers make — move production overseas.

The choice was made for economic reasons. It is cheaper to produce goods in Asia and ship them to North American markets than to produce everything at home.

But Passero had no interest in running a sweatshop. If she was going to make goods in Chiang Mai, Thailand, it would still conduct its labour practices ethically — something that gives her and her customers some peace of mind in an era where concerns about the ethics of foreign-produced goods are common.

“So the employees are paid more than minimum wage. They get health benefits which are more than the country provides, we have maternity and paternity leave,” said Passero, who runs her business from the renovated old Thorold fire hall on Albert St.

She said Pure Handknit started with three employees in Chiang Mai. Her payroll has grown to 4,500 people who produce about 250,000 handmade pieces a year.

Passero said she is thrilled to be recognized by the local awards.

“There are actually not a lot of places for an entrepreneur to be recognized beyond their own business,” she said. “Some of the other people nominated are entrepreneurs I know in my professional and personal life. It’s very exciting.”

For more information about the Niagara Entrepreneur of the Year Awards, go online This year’s awards gala is being held Friday night at the Sheraton on the Falls.

Niagara Falls Review Tuesday, March 4, 2014