Our Story – Fair Trade In Action

Our Story – Fair Trade In Action

Free Trade isn’t Free

Red Oxx supports a variety of corporate responsibility programs. You can’t fix the whole world, you just have to fix the little part you come in contact with. Look for opportunities to fix the little parts that you can.


For example: we use a uncommon commodity on all of our bags I call the Monkey Fist Zip Knot. These handy hand-tied Zip Knots are attached to all our bag’s zipper pulls. They attribute to ease-of-use opening and closing our extra large Vislon YKK Zippers. They look sharp, last forever, and make for quite a Fair Trade story.


Originally, our first batch of zip knots came to us via California. When that pile began to dwindle, I found myself in search of a solution.

A little research revealed the knots were hand-tied in a obscure village in Guatemala. This small village is located deep in the Guatemalan mountains. Years ago I traveled to Guatemala and I visited this village.

    "I saw they were living in a squalor. I was astonished their standard of living was below par to say the least, barely at the subsistence level. Imagine this type of living and working environment in one of the poorest countries in the world."

Immediately we renegotiated the contract price for the Monkey’s Fist and offered the villagers what they were worth.

After examining the situation in Guatemala, we decided to invest in a new clean and dry workshop where they could tie our Monkey’s Fists in comfort. Our workers would have a nice place to work and cook lunch while they’re tying knots.
Meet the Monkey Fist Zip Knotters
Meet the Monkey Fist Zip Knotters

After a clean workspace, the next major need I could see was proper sanitation. There was not a flush toilet around. We decided to invest in a flush toilet and a shower for the workers there. Consequently it was their first flush toilet experience. With the sinks, the toilet, and the nice clean workspace overall sanitation health has greatly improved. Their standard of living started to climb. Just little things like a radio, books, money to pay school tuition fees, which are paid out-of-pocket in counties like Guatemala can make a huge difference.


This effort has made a major impact when I travel there to make sure my people are getting paid what they’re worth. Our Fair Trade experience has been something that we’re proud of.

Therefore, it was quite a surprise when they approached us for a micro loan to build a Molinillo. Molinillo is Spanish for corn grinding mill. Typically they are the central hub of village life. Women gather and grind corn every two or three days to keep it fresh.

It’s more of a social program to own a business like this and provide for a community. It was quite a shock they were going entrepreneurial. They became inspired to go out and start their own business. Having a little bit of capital from tying our Monkey’s Fists has allowed them to dream big. It’s grown to be a store, living quarters, a laundry facility, and a flush toilet all rolled into one.


My other project that I’m proud of has been the Mossi Nets project in Africa. Mossi Nets, local slang for mosquito nets, help keep deadly malaria at bay in Africa.
Red Oxx President Perry helps put on a Little Dress for Africa

Red Oxx President Perry helps put on a Little Dress for Africa

    "As a bonus, the project keeps dollars local when we purchase the nets, which are made nearby. I assure you that’s a lot different from just writing a check to some faceless non-profit and not seeing the results of your donation in action."

While there, medically trained members of the Billings’ Rotary Club do a spot health check, hand out nets and also new T-shirts for the boys and hand-made in Montana dresses for the girls. We ended up going to some quite remote locations. Bringing them some healthcare has become a little ray of sunshine in the natives lives.


Our latest project has been to revitalize the decrepit north end of Billings Downtown. One time flourishing with local small businesses, many packed up and moved to the west end.

Red Oxx Factory #8
Red Oxx Factory #8


Recycled timber, vintage military containers and natural lighting were the focal points of our efforts at urban renewal. Our new factory is energy efficient, featuring modern technology. The original plan was to recycle shipping containers for the front and back section of the building. The EPA crushed that idea so I looked around for a suitable building to renovate. Luckily I found one nearby. Built in 1953 as a ball bearing warehouse, Factory #8 is now home to our manufacturing operations located a block from our brick and mortar store.


Mazabuka is a small town in Zambia known as the "sweetest place on earth." The idea behind starting our overseer corporation Mazabuka L.L.C. was to take a blighted area of downtown Billings, using a property that sits in a district that is known as the B.I.R.D., (Billings Industrial Revitalization District) and doing something unique with it. And so our own Mazabuka morphed into our Event Lawn.

Poster for OxxFest III
Poster for OxxFest III

For several years we rented out the two houses on the corner and when our Minister of Information moved to Bozeman, we vacated the houses, tore his down, and renovated the other home into an Art Gallery.

From there I set eyes upon the corner gravel parking lot and set about adding some green to the grey wasteland next to our retail store. Two summers of sweaty labor, and President Perry and I built our very own local event lawn.

Home to several Oxx Fests, our annual end-of-summer customer appreciation celebration, with music, food trucks, and art vendors hawking their goods the Event Lawn is a focal point of art and greenery in the neighborhood. The city accommodated our efforts at improvement by adding sidewalks and street lights. Local business associates continue to make improvements to their businesses and the entire north end is finally looking up.

Cheers, Jim Markel CEO

In the next installment of Our Story, Jim discusses marketing on the infant Internet and how over the years it helped to mold, shape and build the Brand.

Reading next

Our Story – Origins of the Oxx
Tell Us What You Think – Customer Product Reviews

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