Lately I’ve been feeling tension in my work as an ethical fashion entrepreneur: How do I balance promoting slow fashion, minimalism, and mindful consumption, with the sales I need to sustain my business? Am I just contributing to more “stuff” out there in the world?
It’s an interesting conundrum. I launched IMBY with the intention of being a brand that focuses, 100%, on mindfulness. The mindfulness extends to both the way the clothes are made, and how we are choosing to add things to our closets. With a mission of helping consumers build lean, responsible capsule wardrobes of only items they truly love, I often find myself asking and advising customers: Will you wear this often? Do you feel yourself in it? And, most importantly, do you need another black t-shirt?
Sometimes they say no, and I am happy. I am happy they are taking the time to shop responsibly, and avoiding buying an item that is destined for landfill because they never will wear it. I am happy because my goal, despite being a retailer, is never to force a sale upon someone. I want every item someone buys from IMBY to be an item they love, a closet hero, one they can’t wait to wear and wear often.
And then I have to pay my bills.
And it seems like a whole lot easier to be in a business where I am pushing things on people that don’t need them, turning out a profit quickly. But that’s not a business, or a World, I believe in.
When sales are slow, I often wonder: Is it because people aren’t interested, or is it because my mission is working? Are my customers out there, loving my products, and mindfully waiting a period of time before purchasing? Or perhaps they decided that despite loving it, they just don’t need another item in their mindfully-curated wardrobe?
I am not alone in this.
I have spoken to several other slow fashion retailers and designers that feel the same— How can we provide our customers with products that last, span seasons, and minimize impact? How can we be the antidote to fast fashion— cheap, low quality clothes that follow micro-trends, churning out new designs weekly, often disregarding the rights of the people who make them and the planet they sell on? How can we create or sell items that are closet workhorses, that our customers just need one of? And in doing so, how can we sustain our businesses?
One of my goals with IMBY is to sell mostly seasonless items that can mix and match and serve a variety of closet needs. I don’t sell micro trends, and I don’t sell clothes that are hard to wear. I try to stick to basics that last throughout seasons and years, still curating new items each season to serve new and repeating customers. That’s how we build closet heroes. That’s how we build wardrobes we love, believe in, and speak to us as individuals.
I also look to other brands and retailers for inspiration. Brands like Jamie and the Jones, who this year decided to become seasonless. They even have a project where you can get swatches of their color ways and evaluate which is right for you— allowing customers to find a garment they love and suits them well. And their products are beautifully designed and made, leading their customers to cherish these items for many seasons to come.
I have also been inspired by bloggers I have worked with who have stayed true to their mission of having a lean closet, and not being distracted by the temptation of free things, despite the opportunity to make money off promoting slow, well-made products. We live in a world where there is so much pressure to monetize, to build a brand, to grow.
For me, it all comes back to mindfulness. I believe mindful consumption is the key to changing the fashion industry.
In order to promote slow fashion, we need to mindfully support small retailers and designers so they can stay in business. Mindfully purchasing items you love and will share with your friends because the garment is beautifully made, not because a celebrity wore it, is how we will change this field together.
I want to stay in business, not just because retail may eventually be profitable for me, but because I want to offer an alternative to fast fashion brands. I want to be a brand that truly understands my customers, their needs, and supports them in building a closet that facilitates getting dressed quickly and beautifully. I want to bring awareness to minimalism, to asking tough questions about production and quality of clothes. I want individuals to feel the way I did when I transitioned from buying lots of cheap junk to just a few high quality, well-made, comfy clothes from small-makers whose stories I can tell. And I know I am not alone in this.
My solution: transparency, honesty, building an engaged following.
I’m helping my customers understand how difficult it is from a retailer’s perspective as well as a consumer’s perspective to promote minimalism.
I’m providing content and resources, like The M List, our curated guide about reducing physical and emotional clutter, for my customers to help them make their own minimalist and mindful decisions, and live a more mindful life.
Changing the Dialogue
Fashion is likely not going anywhere in the near future. It’s a necessity (for most of us) to get dressed every day. Changing the dialogue around want and need, around responsible buying, and by allowing ourselves to buy less and buy better is how we will change the industry.
Sara Weinreb is the Founder of IMBY, which curates capsule wardrobe essentials, helping busy, on-the-go women get dressed effortlessly with responsibly-made clothing. With a background in supporting hundreds of entrepreneurs in building businesses that make a positive impact, Sara launched IMBY as a frustrated consumer wanting to find a simple way to shop for a minimal wardrobe comprised of responsibly made clothing. With one foot in the tech scene and other in the ethical fashion space, Sara also consults to social entrepreneurs and small business owners, facilitates design thinking workshops, is co-founder of the Ethical Fashion Retailers Network, and serves as the entrepreneur in residence at AlleyWatch, the pulse of NYC’s startup and tech.