Why Leather?



For years some of our most popular products are our leather bags.  As we have been analyzing what it means to be eco-friendly and how to make large and small decisions that increase sustainability in our business, we have been bringing leather into question.

Two things have come up as we have researched this:

The first is that leather itself is a natural substance.  It breaks down when put into landfills (not as quickly as it would b/c of the tanning process, but faster than synthetics), in many cases it lasts a very long time for use before it is ever discarded.

That being said, the way that leather is processed may bring up some environmental and health questions that need to be considered.  Farming animals, processing them and the chemicals required to tan a hide so it will last can come at great cost to the environment.  The Ethiopian leather that we use IS a byproduct of the meat production industry, which helps.  It is all vegetable dyed but does use a traditional tanning process.

In Ethiopia, leatherwork is a traditional craft and in many places, it is worked in small factories.  Check out THIS sweet post about the story behind the leather factory that sources most of our leather goods.  In this case, the social sustainability and cultural connection to leather work have merit.

Lastly: what is the alternative?  Having a bag that is functional, fashionable and will last a long time is part of living (especially a professional) life.  If the alternative to a leather bag is a plastic bag (most vegan leather on the market is plastic), leather may be more sustainable.  Check out THIS really fascinating article listing some great alternatives to leather (including tree bark leather, mushroom leather and products made from recycled paper!)

So, in the end…it is hard to know.  Owning less, keeping things longer and making educated choices is probably the best decision.  As for us, our preference is leather over synthetic at this point.  But let’s hope for more vegetable sourced products that last,coming to market soon!

Good luck!



Know the Roūte


We frequently get questions about our name, where it comes from, and what it means. As we created the concept, we had the desire to share an idea, as well as create a call to action.
Roūte: The path that each product takes from maker to customer.
Know the Roūte: Understanding the path of each product from the beginning. Knowing when you buy ethically made products, the path is safe, life-giving, and empowering for the maker.
Our concept is simple, and the ability to make change is real.


Our Mission; an article in the Columbia Missourian

In 2008, Mustard Seed Fair Trade Inc. (a nonprofit 501c3) was started by a group of young women in Columbia. Their mission was to sell fairly traded products that provided safe employment for people who wouldn’t otherwise have access to it.

Eight years later, this same organization has changed its name to focus its mission and inspire our community to change the world through purchasing.

“We want so much for each customer that walks in our door to understand that their purchase is keeping young women out of sex trafficking, or saving a child from back breaking labor, or preventing a death in dangerous working conditions. Real hope, real change is happening abroad because of what we are doing here in Columbia,” says Christina Weaver, one of the organization’s founders and current board chair.

In the last year, Mustard Seed Fair Trade Inc. has become Route Inc. There weren’t any organizational or leadership changes but a very real change in brand identity. This change came after months of discussion and difficult consideration.

The board and employees questioned whether “Mustard Seed Fair Trade” was effectively communicating the work that was being done. The decision was unanimous that it was not, and the process began that changed the look and the language of the organization.

Now the marketing is focused on the origin of their products, the path that the products take to get to the shop and the customer. They describe each product as “ethically produced” instead of “fairly traded”. This means that a maker who is paid fair wages makes each piece in safe working conditions.

Each stop on the product’s “route” creates relationships. These relationships, if chosen carefully, can create much needed change. “Extending empathy in the form of pursuing social justice and recognizing the need for change in production practices must extend to what we purchase and who it effects, if we have any hope of seeing an end to the human trafficking, slavery and dangerous working conditions that affect over 50 million individuals around the world,” Weaver says.

The organization has found the name and branding change to be a much more difficult process than expected. The original “Mustard Seed Fair Trade” brand and image is one that so many in Columbia were familiar with.

Their hope is that as they improve their ability to communicate the stories of change that customers create through their purchase that the Route brand will be one people are excited about and that more people will consider purchasing ethically, from Route, whenever they can.

Read the article in the Columbia Missourian here.

Everything is Connected

Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief.

Do justly, now

Love mercy, now.

You are not obligated to complete the work,

but neither are you free to abandon it.

We know we live in a culture that idolizes consumerism. There is always something more to buy. We also know that our buying directly affects those who are involved in making and delivering our product.  Millions of these individuals don’t have a voice in world politics; they live in countries where genocide goes unnoticed, and in conditions that we cannot begin to comprehend.

We know that everything is connected, and as twisted as it is, our dollars cause these problems.  We shop at big box stores, and purchase clothing from H&M and Zara because it’s cute, and cheap, and helps us “fit” into a world and culture that says being presentable means being fashion forward. When we purchase that up-to-the-minute bag from H&M there is a solid chance that bag is entrenched in slavery, unsafe working conditions and abuse.  And don’t be fooled, paying more for an item doesn’t necessarily mean you’re any less culpable. Yet we sometimes still do it (yes, even us in the Route community!), well aware of the systems we are supporting.

We also understand part of being a responsible consumer means buying less stuff.  Our goal is to create a platform where people can not only purchase the latest fashions, but have conversations about how to grow the movement towards purchasing less, and purchasing ethically produced items

Route; A Beginning

Routes are created, paths are crossed, and relationships are made when we purchase goods.  At Route we believe that understanding a product’s journey is equally as important as the product itself. To acknowledge the significance of that journey is to transform a customer into an ally for the makers. By embracing the relationships that their transactions foster, the we can understand how their purchase changes the world.

This relationship means ending slavery and workplace abuse. It means engaging in commerce with an eye towards social justice. It means celebrating the connections between makers and allies and revealing how they are equally different and alike.

Know your route. The journey begins with a purchase from our community. We invite you to share our products, our stories, our lives, and to be changed.