. . . Or else people and the planet pay the price. The conversation continues – social, environmental, and economic opportunities in sustainable fashion are feeding the shift on infrastructure, consumption, and disposal of fashion.
I do think we need to redefine what we view as “cost” to include the environmental cost and the cost of human lives. Cost is not only about the dollar amount. – Sica Schmitz, Founder, Bead & Reel, An Ethical Boutique.
Sica Schmitz, founder/owner, of Bead & Reel, an ethical boutique, is one of the progressive retailers who ‘walk the talk’. This 100% vegan company is a leading example of sustainable practices not only in their procurement of product, but also in their day to day operation.
EDGE interviewed Sica and we talked about the importance of a sustainable fashion business and the changing perceptions of it being ‘fashionable’. She is particularly passionate about the empowerment of women – the visionaries, founders, and the makers – and the power the ultimate buyer/user has. And that power is all about the story! The consumer embraces the story of a well-traveled ethical and Eco-friendly product. Why not? A sustainable product adds value, purpose, and reduces the carbon footprint.
Sica founded Bead & Reel out of necessity. With a design background [costume and fashion designer], she had a hard time finding fashionable product that met her vegan and humanitarian values.
One of the attributes of Bead & Reel is to ‘Give Back’ a portion of their proceeds. She recently teamed up with The Peace Exchange to raise money benefiting the women of The Peace Exchange’s non-profit sewing centers in the Congo. I attended the Fair Trade Fashion Show fundraiser and was impressed with a well curated show of quality-detailed, wearable, and stylistic outfits.
My interview with Sica:
Hill: Sica, how gratifying is it to go from a costume designer to the owner of an ethical boutique store? Two different worlds of creating, but could have some similarities. As a costume designer you defined the character and created a believable illusion through costume design. Any parallels to merchandising your shop?
Schmitz: Coming from a background in costume design, I have always viewed clothing as a vehicle for storytelling. What we wear has such power to shape what we want to say about ourselves and what others perceive about us. I started Bead & Reel out of desire to help tell a different story about myself and others, a story that is empowering to those who make and wear our clothes. All the brands and styles I choose at Bead & Reel are chosen to help tell stories about respect for others, respect for the environment, and respect for oneself.
Hill: What are your criteria in buying merchandise for your store, your process in hand-picking designers and how you find them?
Schmitz: It’s a slow and thoughtful process. The first criteria for any item that will be included at Bead & Reel is that it must exclude any animal products or by products (including leather, wool, silk, down, or bone). Terrible things happen to animals within the fashion industry and that is not part of my story nor the story at Bead & Reel, and with so many more innovative alternatives, it’s not even necessary! Beyond that, ethical manufacturing is required – whether it’s through Fair Trade, Made in USA, or other kinds of 3rd party and legal oversight. We emphasize Eco-friendly materials (organic, recycled, and up-cycled) and brands that give back. We also focus on promoting female founders, since women are significantly underrepresented in leadership within fashion. And finally, I look for a variety of styles to flatter different kinds of bodies and women.
I am grateful to have reached a point with Bead & Reel where designers and brands regularly submit themselves for inclusion in our store, and while many of them do not make the cut due to missing a piece of our rigorous criteria, I don’t have to look far to find amazing companies and styles I am thrilled to share with our customers.
Hill: In pricing, do you find the “ethical fashion” story gives more price value to the product? In other words, is there a premium to sustainable product and is the consumer receptive to this?
Schmitz: I think there is a misconception that ethical fashion is expensive – we carry things like organic, fair trade tank tops that are $13! And while our more elaborate styles with more intricate cuts or details may be more expensive than what you find at fast fashion brands, I do think we need to redefine what we view as “cost” to include the environmental cost and the cost of human lives. Cost is not only about the dollar amount.
Hill: Well said.
Schmitz: I view ethical fashion as an investment – sometimes it might cost slightly more upfront, however, when something lasts for years, doesn’t fall apart after a few wears, and gives me great joy and peace of mind, it saves me time, money, and heartache in the long run. So, for me, ethical fashion is simply a smart financial decision as well.
Hill: The public and the fashion industry have a long way to go in shifting the demand away from unsustainable consumption to a business model that will thrive in a much needed sustainable environment and, at the same time, offer fashionable clothing. I’d like to hear your thoughts on the shifting perception from the consumer on sustainable clothing as fashionable.
Schmitz: This is so accurately said. As someone on the inside of sustainable fashion, I see fashionable, wearable, desirable styles all the time, however, most are coming from small brands and small boutiques like my own who aren’t yet reaching mass markets. This is part of why co-hosting our Fair Trade Fashion Show is so important to me, to help this shift in perception by showcasing the fashionable side of sustainable fashion that isn’t generally known.
Hill: EDGE did a series on emerging designers from Africa. My conversation with these designers was inspiring. They are philanthropic and advocates for empowering women and children and participate in their government’s involvement in building awareness and infrastructure to the communities. My understanding is that you are finding a similar outcome in your partnership with The Peace Exchange – that empowers, educates, and improves the livelihood of all those found within the value chain. Talk to us about how fashion can be a tool in empowering women.
Schmitz: I am grateful to be able to partner with so many amazing brands and non-profits both in Africa and across the world who are doing so many inspiring things to create change.
Over 80% of global garment workers are women, so if garment workers are being exploited, what we are really talking about is women being exploited. On the other side of this, if garment workers are being respected and empowered, women are being respected and empowered. Women invest almost double back into their families and communities compared to men, so when women are thriving, everyone else is thriving too.
Beyond just the women who make our clothes, I think fashion can be (and should be) a tool to empower the women who buy it as well. Right there is a huge lack of credibility and transparency in the fashion industry, which means that women aren’t easily able to make smart, informed decisions about what kinds of policies and practices they are supporting. Women deserve to have access to information that allows them to best express their story about who they are and what they value. And that’s what I am trying to do every day at Bead & Reel.
Congratulations, Sica, on your 2nd annual Fair Trade Fashion Event and EDGE wishes you continued success with Bead & Reel.
The entire industry supply chain is working towards making ethical and environmental changes in building a sustainable system. What are you doing to De-carbonize, slow fashion consumption, and implement fair trade practices?
Photography [except image of Sica Schmitz]: Cindy Ceballos, student, The Art Institute of California – Hollywood.