May 11, 2012

Tips on Starting Up a Sustainable Business. ~ Jill Spiritus

Photo: Compassionate Couture

Top Tips On Starting Up A Sustainable and Dynamic (Fashion) Business

Dynamic: not a word used to usually describe a business that is based on sustainability and ethics. However, when my sister Tracey and I started our small business in September 2011, we were all about promoting living mindfully in the most fun and colorful way possible.

Tip #1:  Be passionate about what you are promoting.

Practice what you preach.  If you don’t believe in the types of goods or services you are providing people, how can you wake up each day and pour your heart and soul into growing your baby/business?

Photo: Olsenhaus.com

My own business, Compassion Couture was founded by an unmet need that Tracey and I discovered in our own daily lives. Being non-meat eaters with a sincere concern for the welfare of the environment and all of the earth’s inhabitants, we found it extremely difficult to satiate our passion for shopping and keep up with the latest fashion trends.

It was particularly hard for us to find handbags and shoes that were not made of leather but were also “eco-friendly” and “fair-wage” or even made through “fair-trade” practices. Most of the non-leather items we found were made cheaply out of non-sustainable materials that fell apart after just one use. Very often we would have to scour the web for hours to find these items and they were limited at best. We figured other women had to be having the same problem as we were.

The idea of Compassion Couture just clicked. “Let’s create a store that we would shop at.”  We brought together brands that incorporated all the elements of a store we were looking for. High quality, fashionable, cruelty-free and eco-friendly handbags, shoes and accessories all found in one place. It makes us feel great to know that we are making “feel-good” fashion more accessible to the public and it keeps us going to know that through our efforts, more people will choose an “ethical” item from our store versus a leather bag at a mainstream department store.

Tip #2:  Ensure the merchandise that you sell is in fact “sustainable.”  Be picky!

We were lucky to have already known a slew of brands that took an active stance in incorporating sustainability into their practices but we had to do some extensive research to find other brands that met our needs. Through online research and actively speaking with the manufacturers we were able to guarantee that our products were eco-friendly in at least one or more ways.

Our brands only get the seal of approval when they ensure us that their products are made out of recycled or organic materials, that their brand personally takes an active stance in reducing carbon emissions and excess waste at their factories, that their goods are produced by fair-wage labor or that they even sustain local economies through fair-trade practices.

Take the up-and-coming brand Love Is Mighty for example. Not only is this brand cruelty-free, but they incorporate “love” into their shoes by sustaining India’s culture. By creating shoes using the fabrics and craftspeople from rural villages that are in peril due to India’s growing construction industry, Love Is Mighty gives artisans the means to provide for their families and sustains thousands of years of Indian traditions.

Love Is Mighty Koel flats

We stumbled across this brand through research, became enamored by their philosophy and their shoes! We carry their Koel flats, which feature intricate hand-weaved bronze wire embroidery of quality rarely found these days. These shoes are luxurious, comfortable and showcase the centuries-old crafts of rural village artisans in India.

Tip #3:  Don’t get discouraged by consumers who don’t understand why sustainable goods are often more expensive than non-sustainable goods.

Be patient to find the exact target consumer you are looking for.  It is a fact that eco-conscious consumers will spend more on products if they feel that the item meets all of their criteria. Also, try to educate the public as much as possible as to the reasons why you have to charge more. They may be more receptive to your answers than you think!

I am not always a believer in “you get what you pay for” but in Compassion Couture’s case, this directly relates. All of our brands use high-quality materials (most are eco-friendly or recycled) and all of our brands also pay fair wages for labor. The fashion industry is infamous for not even paying factory workers minimum wage and even using illegal child labor practices. We pride ourselves in not only supporting animals and the environment but human rights as well.

Tip #4:  Reach mainstream consumers. Mainstream media and events are the key!

Compassion Couture is in start-up mode, so we haven’t exactly conquered this one yet. Our ultimate goal is to educate the public about the harsh realities of the mainstream fashions they are currently buying and get them to switch to cruelty-free and sustainable options. This may take some time, but the eco-movement is definitely a growing market!

More and more media outlets are particularly keen on covering eco-fashion and if you can get your brand placed alongside non-eco-fashion that is a victory. Consumers will get to see first-hand how they can incorporate these pieces into their current wardrobe and affiliate these items as being just as fashionable as their non-eco items.

Also, being an online business, Tracey and I have found much success in showcasing our items at events.  Once consumers see how high-quality and stylish our shoes, bags and accessories are in person, they are amazed. Product pictures on websites just do not do them justice! We have heard more than a few times that our items are just as good, if not better than items they currently buy.

I hope all of these tips help any sustainable start-ups out there or anyone considering starting up an eco-friendly business!


Jill Spiritus is a marketing professional, vegetarian foodie and the co-founder of an e-boutique, living in Long Island, New York.  Based on her own personal experience of finding it difficult to locate items that match up with her values and passion for fashion, she and her sister Tracey launched the e-boutique, Compassion Couture, a 100% vegan and eco-friendly e-boutique that sells fashion-forward and high quality handbags, shoes and accessories.  Being extremely passionate about the welfare of animals as well as keeping up with the latest fashion trends, Jill’s mission is to spread the word that a woman should never have to sacrifice her style for her strong sense of beliefs!





Editor: Seychelles Pitton

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