More consumers are starting to care about where their clothes came from, who made them, and what impact they have on the environment.
As we continue to confront the realities of our world today -- climate change, excessive waste, our dependency on (and misuse of) plastics -- small retailers are making a difference, one shirt at a time. Niche is a new St. Paul boutique focusing on ethical fashion. We chatted with its owners, Alicia Lacy and Molly Breen, about their new endeavor and what “ethical fashion” means to them in advance of their grand opening party this weekend.
City Pages: Where did the idea for the shop start?
Molly Breen: Our inspiration to go into business together began in the desert. We were on a trip to Palm Springs, and had the realization -- possibly influenced by a very woo-woo sound bath in a parabolic chamber over a geomagnetic field -- that we should do something positive to support women together… We started with our seasonal boutique in Nisswa, and our pop-ups in the Twin Cities. Now we are ready to hang our shingle in St. Paul.
CP: What does "ethical fashion" mean to you?
Breen: Right now, we are focusing on transparent supply chain and zero sweatshops, livable wages, and safe working conditions from all of our manufacturers. Additionally, we are focusing on domestic manufacturing in the U.S., vertical manufacturing (no outsourcing), and small-batch makers who are just beginning to wholesale. We want our clothing to tell a story that is good -- and for good -- from beginning to end.
Alicia Lacy: On a recent call to a vendor, she mentioned that no one has ever asked about the people who manufacture their clothes before. We asked if they are their paid fairly, meaning minimum wage of above in the U.S., and working under safe conditions. She said, "Imagine if this were the norm. It would transform the whole fashion industry!" That was such a powerful reminder to us that there is a story attached to every piece of clothing we wear, and that we are capable of putting pressure on the fashion industry to change.
CP: Why is sustainability in the fashion world important?
Breen: Sustainability and ethical fashion are actually two different lanes. Ethical usually refers to labor practices and sustainability usually refers to environmental awareness and fabric sourcing and manufacturing processes. We would love to be in both lanes, and that's our ultimate goal.
Sustainability is critically important in the garment industry because of the global impact of clothing production. It takes over 700 gallons of water to grow enough cotton to produce a single T-shirt and, worldwide, people throw away over 16 million tons of clothes a year. Although clothing recycling is on the upswing, the sheer volume of clothing tossed into landfills overshadows it.
Lacy: We chose to focus on the ethical part of the process first, because we didn't want to marginalize or exploit women through the process of buying. The sustainability piece is important to us, and we have total faith that it will continue to evolve as we do.
CP: Tell me about a few of the lines you're working with and why you chose them.
Breen: ABLE empowers women, is ethical, and uses vertical manufacturing. Everly is women-owned, ethical, adopted a village in Myanmar, and is working to increase awareness globally for women's rights. Never Fully Dressed is a women-owned, ethical U.K. brand that supports charitable organizations through the sales of their clothing, and started as a small-scale, homespun, pie-in-the-sky vision and has steadily grown. Moth Oddities curated a vintage collection for us that we think blends beautifully with our contemporary lines and extends the ethical mission into thrift and vintage.
CP: What are your favorite trends for spring?
Breen: I'm super thrilled about all of the high-waisted pants and skirts that are on the market now -- what were we thinking with all of that low-rise stuff? I'm a big fan of a high/low aesthetic and I'm loving the blends of street wear and utility with feminine details, like a cinched waist, distressing with structure, and cool stitching and detail. And color! I'm feeling the joy of yellow, for sure. And pattern mixing! I could go on...
Lacy: I'm loving animal prints for spring. And mixing new pieces with vintage wares. One of my favorite looks is animal print skirts paired with vintage tees and sneakers instead of heels. I am also forever committed to the jumpsuit, because it's a little bit retro and it's one-piece dressing, which is totally my jam.
Niche Grand Opening Party
5-10 p.m. Saturday, March 23; 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, March 24
2506 University Ave. W., St. Paul (near Highway 280)