Elias spends about three months a year on the road. She, her husband Chad Snell, and her mother travel to countries like India, Ecuador, Peru, and Mexico to meet their suppliers. "We insist on visiting the factories, the workshops, and the areas where the clothing is being produced," she says. They talk to the business owners (seventy-five percent of whom are female) and to employees and also look for signs of exploitation: "Is the facility clean? Do they have good facilities and running water? Management is not going to pay their workers unfairly and then maintain nice standards-the conditions and quality of their workspace tell a lot about how workers are being paid." Elias won't be pinned down on what the workers earn, knowing the numbers will seem small by American standards, but insists it's a "living wage" that's higher than other jobs pay in those areas.
Elias is a petite brunette with expressive eyes (she models clothes on the stores' website). Sitting in a cubbyhole in the back of the business office, behind a desk with a couple of small sculptured gourds on it, she is friendly but brisk, eager to get back to work. That's how she is-waking up after knee surgery two years ago, she immediately called the store to make sure everything was running smoothly.