If you would, please briefly introduce yourself: name, favorite city, and a fun fact about yourself.
Name: Melissa Cantor
Favorite City: Istanbul
Fun Fact: My husband and I have the same birthday – inevitably a conversation starter when we check in for a flight or have to show ID for some reason.
When did you become interested in ethical fashion? Was there a particular event or conversation that made you rethink your purchasing habits?
I’ve been interested in sustainability for at least the past decade. That translated into progressively becoming a more proactive and responsible consumer, which in turn led me to pursue an interest in ethical and sustainable fashion about six or seven years ago. It was a gradual journey and a confluence of circumstances much more than a single event.
How did Ethica begin?
My sister and I followed a number of ethical and sustainable fashion brands that we felt transcended the “granola” look that was still the dominant stereotype a few years ago. There was no one place where we could shop all of these brands that we loved, so we created one. The idea of creating our boutique online was most appealing because it allowed us to use the shopping process to raise awareness about these issues within the fashion industry, and also to serve a national and international customer base.
What are your ethical and aesthetic criteria for the shop?
We have underlying criteria for labor conditions and sustainability for everything we sell, and then specific ethical categories under which we group our merchandise (sustainable, trade not aid, handcrafted, made in the usa, and vegan). Aesthetically, we look for pieces that are stylish, wearable, high-quality, comfortable and that won’t date–we look for “special” much more than anything trend-oriented.
How would you describe the Ethica woman?
What’s important to communicate is that she’s a “real” woman with a conscientious bent–someone who is invested in issues larger than herself and tries to do her part, but who also has a life to live, and all of the demands that come with that.
We’ve found that when people first learn about ethical fashion, it’s very appealing, but it can also be overwhelming. What sometimes happens is that they start thinking of it as an all-or-nothing lifestyle–like you’re either an ethical shopper or you’re not. Of course, the reality for all of us is much more nuanced than that, and I think it’s important to take it one step at a time and approach each choice individually. It’s actually one of the things that I admire most about our customers. They have busy lives that don’t revolve around ethical fashion the way mine does, and yet they have still made the time to “buy better” and harness their spending power in a positive way.
You source from a lot of small scale designers, which is great. How do you discover them?
Everywhere – referrals from other designers, trade shows, social media. We get approached a lot through our site or by showrooms, and we always have our eyes peeled when we travel. “Discovering” a new label is one of the most fun parts of what we do, and it’s also one of the biggest reasons that people visit Ethica. It can be challenging to work with designers that are only producing their first or second collection, but quite a few of our designers later get picked up by like-minded shops and the eco-fashion press, even the mainstream press when they do eco-fashion stories, and it’s very rewarding to see that happen and know we had a role in it.
What are your long term goals for the shop?
I hope we can continue to make people excited about ethical and sustainable fashion, and continue to serve this growing community in various ways. As this movement grows and takes shape, there’s also a need to come together and collectively define terms like ethical and sustainable fashion, as well as pursue some common, tangible goals, and I hope we’ll be on the forefront of this.
What are your thoughts on the current state of the fashion industry? Where do you see it headed over the next several years?
From the industry side, there’s no question that the ethical and sustainable fashion space has exploded in the past 12-18 months, and there’s also been a big rise in awareness among consumers, especially here in the U.S. We’ve also been hearing increasingly from celebrities who want to promote sustainable designers, which I think has great potential to help spread the message. Even industry bodies like the CFDA are stepping up their sustainability initiatives.
This sea change has been incredible to witness, but it still represents a tiny fraction of the industry as a whole. The big corporate retailers are really the crux of the problem (and thus, the key to the solution), and for now they’re mostly ignoring the issue or trying to greenwash over it. I happen to think that they will eventually have to change course because what the industry is doing now is simply not something that can be sustained on this planet, but the question is whether that change will take hold in 5, 10 or 20 years, and what the costs will be in the meantime.
What are your favorite ethical brands?
Laura Siegel, Atelier Delphine, Ace & Jig, Litke, Awaveawake, Bhava, Svilu, Pima Doll – there are so many! I could go on and on.