Acooperative, or co-op, is just like any other business that buys and sells products and/or provides a service. In the State of Washington, Twisted Strait Fibers is considered a not-for-profit Corporation. The difference between a cooperative and other forms of business is that a cooperative is owned and governed by its members rather than by investors.

Its members are those people who economically benefit from the operation of the cooperative. Profits are re-invested in the co-op or are distributed to its members. Some Cooperatives that you may be familiar with include REI, Puget Consumers Co-op, CHS and Ace Hardware.

Principles of a Cooperative

Cooperatives have been around since the first modern cooperative was founded in England in 1844. There are currently almost 30,000 cooperatives registered in the United States and they all generally operate according so a set of 7 core principles:

  1. Voluntary and Open Membership
    Cooperatives are open to all who are able to use its services and are willing to accept the responsibilities of membership without prejudice to gender, race, religion or politics.
  2. Democratic Member ControlCooperatives are democratically controlled by their members who actively participate in setting policies and making decisions on a one member – one vote basis.
  3. Members Economic ParticipationMembers contribute equally to and democratically control the capital of the Cooperative. Benefits return to members in proportion to the business they conduct with the cooperative rather than on the capital invested.
  4. Autonomous and IndependentCooperatives are autonomous, self-help organizations controlled by their members. If the co-op enters into agreements with other organizations or raises capital from external sources, it is done so based on terms that insure the democratic control by the members and maintains the cooperative’s autonomy.
  5. Education, Training and InformationCooperatives provide education and training for members, elected representatives, managers and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their cooperative. Members also inform the general public about the nature and benefits of cooperatives.
  6. Cooperation among CooperativesCooperatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the cooperative movement by working together through local, national, regional and international structures.
  7. Concern for CommunityWhile focusing on member needs, cooperatives work for the sustainable development of communities through policies and programs accepted by the members.

A co-op is a wonderful way to give consumers a voice and to share wealth more equitably.

Reasons for Cooperative Business Model

Twisted Strait Fibers has chosen the cooperative business model for several reasons.

We wanted to create a business that would help sustain our local fiber producing industry. A full-service fiber processing mill will add value to their raw material and make it more acceptable to consumers. Since we have no investment class of owners to satisfy, we can operate at cost or just above, keeping prices to our members low and improving their profit margin.

Fiber processing equipment is very expensive. By spreading the cost among the members, the burden is shared: many hands can accomplish more than a few. As a cooperative, we will have access to other funding sources not available to more conventional businesses.

Our members will become a built-in, loyal customer base.

The cooperative will continue to exist as long as there is a need for its services and members to manage it. Many similar fiber processing mills have gone out of business because the owners get overwhelmed or tired of the work. Using a cooperative business model this translates into employee turnover rather than shutting down the company.

Finally, a Cooperative creates community in unique ways. To start, there is the community of members who can share ideas, experiences and ways of operating. Second, there is the community in which the Cooperative operates. There are wonderful opportunities to educate all ages of the public about the benefits of natural fiber and how it becomes cloth. There is also an opportunity to partner with our local tourist bureau and provide tours of the mill, bringing more people and money to our area.

A co-op is a wonderful way to give consumers a voice and to share wealth more equitably.