A Collective Creative Process

I do not consider myself a creative person, and certainly not artistic in anyway.  I DESPERATELY need the help of photographers, writers and designers to help create our brand.  Each individual person has their own personal creative process.  Some sit in a quiet room, some play loud music, others prefer to be outside.  It’s usually a space, sometimes a time of day and may or may not include caffeine or certain foods.  The creative process seems to require this lovely combination of physical, mental and emotional details to really flow.

Until recently I’ve learned about this only second hand.  We started doing model photo shoots a few years ago, it is so much fun to find beautiful places in our city and reveal an entire clothing line to the photographer and models in beautiful spaces.  Model shoots are the first time I have experienced diving into the creative process.  What I love most about our shoots, is that it’s the creative process happening in community.  A communal creativity.  When it works, it is easily the most inspiring and energizing experience I have ever had.

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We spent the morning laughing, exploring, talking, creating and making beautiful photography.  Through the process we felt connected, uplifted and in general walked away saying over and over again “that was so much fun”.  IMG_8563

How do you create?  When and where and with whom?

Route is about not just purchasing consciously, but living consciously.  Being aware and watching for those precious moments of connection with other humans, enjoying and valuing and sharing life with them.  I LOVE that the route of connection today for us was a communal creativity.  SO FUN.

Happy creating.

Much love,

Christina

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Power of Interns

This semester, we have had four marketing interns working at Route. They have had two specific projects that they have been working on. The first was the True Cost film screening that we did in the store. They had lots of fun planning the event, and getting the store theater-ready!

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The second project they have been working on is the launch of our first original Route product, the “Empowered” t-shirt line. They designed the tshirt with their own original art, found an ethically made t-shirt designer, and had the shirts printed. We now carry the shirts in-store and online, and are so excited for people to wear our creation!

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Interview with Route founder: Christina Weaver

Recently, our founder and current board director, Christina Weaver was interviewed by the ethical blog, She Changes Everything. Read a portion of the interview, below.

September 21, 2016

Heather Young

There really are so many talented, crazy inspirational people and companies doing amazing things in the world. And we love hearing from the women who have the passion and commitment to do business in this space. That’s what the SHE Spotlight is all about! They have unique insights on the world and on sustainable, healthy, ethical (SHE) living that we’re always excited to share with you!

We recently had the chance to connect with Route founder and board director, Christina Weaver.

She passionately believes that many of us don’t know the impossibly complicated process that it takes for each product we use in every day life to get to us. More importantly, if we did know, we would purchase in such a way that the “route” our products take to get to us would be consistent with our values and therefore less harmful to the people who make them and the environment. You won’t view the supply chain the same way after reading her interview. Enjoy!

What does your name mean and how did you choose it?

Christina: The name “route” came to us in a moment and I don’t think we could have ever predicted how much it has come to mean. At the time, I (Christina) was doing a talk to a group of university students about the importance of “unveiling the supply chain.” If we really knew the harmful effects that purchasing cheap, fast fashion causes; I’d like to think that we would at least think twice before we purchased. So Route is that, committing ourselves to revealing the “route” and making it one that brings only positive effects to everyone along that product’s path, from maker to consumer. Route is also about telling the incredible stories of hope and resilience that come out of the lives and work of everyone who touches each of our products.

We absolutely love that your focus on the makers and the partner groups goes beyond a singular focus on fair wages! Tell us a little more about what this means for your company and why it is important.

Christina: We believe that holistically supporting communities and individuals in relationship is what brings lasting hope and change. Our goal is to see sustainable or long-lasting change where there was great strife. In our opinion, that has to come through employment, so by selling we are creating jobs in safe working conditions for makers paid livable or fair wages. But when poverty has been a norm for generations, communities often need more support (in dignifying and empowering ways).  So we buy from businesses or other nonprofits who are committed long term to communities. Each of the business’s consider the needs of their employees and work to meet those needs. Sometimes that’s counseling, housing support, connecting makers with other groups, creating community, childcare, education, the list goes on…

You are passionate about supporting products and projects that truly give back. How does that change your business model? How do you vet your companies?

Christina: Vetting our companies is about being in relationship with them, researching the areas of the world they are supplying from and when we can, visiting their sites (although that doesn’t happen as much as we wish it did). We do sell lots of products that are fair trade certified, but our goal is to tell the full story of each product, so we don’t tend to communicate certification as much the work that is being done and how.

We try and spend lots of time (sometimes months) in phone conversations, emailing, receiving photos and hearing or reading maker’s stories before we choose to purchase. It is so important that from the maker’s perspective, they are being respected and employed the way that they need to be, and receiving what they need to not only be respectfully employed but to support their families (remember from Half the Sky: 80% of a women’s income goes to provide for her family and community). Also, if we sell to a women in the U.S., telling her that her purchase is supporting women (this happens SO frequently in our industry), that’s not a small statement. And it should be true.

Not only that, but with a retail model, we are taking that customer’s investment in our products, paying for what we purchased, and if we can keep overhead low enough, buying more! That means each purchase multiplies the impact that one customer is able to make. Our business model is set up with that in mind: we take whatever money we are given and multiply the education to our customers and the impact that we can make in our maker’s communities.

Photo: “Mata Traders and World Finds work in countries with high numbers of child labor, intentionally employing women who have never worked before so that they can receive the income brought in by their children and their children can go to school. Done. What are these women producing? Beautiful pieces that are fashion forward, that we love to sell and wear,” shares Christina Weaver.

There’s a slight stigma around “ethical” products. But you break the mold with very fashion-forward, BEAUTIFUL pieces! Can you tell us more about your commitment to finding fashionable products to promote?

Christina: This is so hard for us! In our opinion, we owe it to the makers to do everything we can to make their job long term and sustainable. The only way that that is possible is if we are selling pieces that people want to buy and therefore, our customers return to us, not just because their purchase has impact but because they look and feel amazing in every piece of jewelry, clothing, or accessory that we carry. But unfortunately, we have to hunt so hard for this.

Furthermore, more and more women in the United States are talking about creating a conscious closet (a concept we love and at Route we have all started the journey towards). We often don’t have time to purchase second hand, tailor clothing or make our own clothes. By carefully selecting pieces Route’s goal is to be able to give women the option of purchasing a wardrobe from us that they can really be proud of wearing and look AMAZING in.  So, we are picky and are ALWAYS hunting for new sources for our collection.

(Photo: Shown, Christina, co-founder, Route)

Thank you S.H.E!!!

Read the rest of the interview on the SHE blog, here: http://bit.ly/2d2Jeir

Overdressed on Overproduction

At this point we all know well that the garment industry as it currently exists is largely about pumping out quantity (at varying levels of quality) cheap and fast.

As I continued reading Overdressed, Cline spends a significant portion of the book retelling her travels and experiences visiting both factories and middle men in a variety of countries.  What is so interesting is that she has no access to the sweat shops or buildings with poor working conditions, the factories that she visits are for the most part positive workplaces that are at least (from the worker’s perspective) supplying their worker’s needs.

I loved this portion of the book because it reveals just how complicated the whole situation is.  Here are some of the issues she runs into on her journey:

1. Cultural norms and values effect worker’s perceptions and opinions of their working conditions.  In the factory she visited in China, the hours that employees work and the conditions that workers live in may seem inappropriate to Westerners, but were sufficient and acceptable to the makers that she met with.

2. “Sewing should be a good job; it should be a great job” – Even the factories with the highest technology require people who are experienced and knowledgeable about sewing.  Beyond that, sewing as a profession is rewarding, communal and can be so much fun.

3. “The Race to the Bottom”as controlled by customer’s insistence on the cheapest fashionable clothing has dictated and driven manufacturing, pushing manufacturing out of countries with higher minimum wages or where workers require better compensation or treatment.

4. China is not the ultimate perpetrator of workplace abuse.  Over the last 5 to 10 years workers in China have increased their savvy, entire generations of people moving out of the country into cities are better educated and more fashionable themselves.  Factories have the highest technology, provide housing, food and often other job benefits.  However, producing in China is becoming more expensive (a 10-30% increase yearly) and several designers and retailers have moved production to less expensive countries.

5. Whether or not consumers like it, we may have hit rock bottom with clothing prices and it is highly possible that regardless of ethical fashion movements, clothing prices are on the rise because as manufacturing has now been in countries for almost a generation, cost of living is increasing, wages are increasing and workers are requiring more (as they should be).

 

I am excited and overwhelmed by all of this information.  As consumers the veil needs to be lifted on the production chain and primarily the factories that are producing our clothing.  Not only out of concern for the people making them but the environmental impact is important.   What dyes are being used on our clothing, how much air and water pollution is being caused?

Did you know that when you pay more for a piece, you aren’t necessarily getting a higher quality?  How do we learn fabrics and clothing again so that when we purchase we aren’t purchasing just a brand, but also a well made piece of clothing.  (Could you pick a french seam out of a line up?)

I think it is absolutely possible for us to look at tags and just from the information given know more.  We can know that if it was made in China, it’s likely a higher quality piece and working conditions were possibly slightly higher than other countries, however, there was likely no concern for environmental impact in production.  In Bangladesh or Vietnam it’s all bad.  In the U.S., what does “Made in the U.S.A.” may or may not mean that it is ethically made, more homework may be involved.

                         

 

Where does our journey to an ethical wardrobe begin?  I think in the tags of the clothing we already own….

We’ve been talking a bit around my dining table (our online team’s frequent work place of choice) about this and wondering where our current wardrobe stands on an ethical scale of 1-10. YIKES.  A “come to Jesus” may be brewing for our closets.  More to come…

Happy shopping,

Christina

Photo Cred: NYT and Hercampus.com

Follow the Route

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At Route, we are fascinated by the power of the supply chain.  Who is involved with getting a product from maker to customer?  What is a product made of?  What type of facility?  In what part of the world?  We often say that ethical fashion can end slavery, child labor and so many other problems with current production practices.

How?  In our opinion, you have to KNOW THE ROUTE.

How that connection is made, the link between maker, partner group, Route and our customer, can create lasting solutions to heartbreaking problems like slavery, child labor or dangerous working conditions.  Part of our job is to tell those stories, to show you the Route and how it is protecting and saving and revolutionizing production.

After months of working we have come up with ways to visually represent this exciting relationship.  We are excited to announce the Follow the Route tab attached to each of our products.  We’ve linked maps that show the Route and a quick story of each partner group and their world changing work.

Enjoy!  Keep asking questions and when you know the Route you can purchase to change the world.

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Featuring; Pop-Up Shops!

Pop up shops have been such a fun way for us to interact with the St. Louis community. We’ve done a mix of home parties, as well as pop up shops at festivals and event spaces.

This week, we’ll be at Pure Barre in Ladue on Friday afternoon (we’re talking free/donation based dance class, wine, and beautiful jewelry and clothing from Route!), and then the Tower Grove farmer’s market on Saturday morning. Events are always fun, being able to share the Route story and engage with the world.

Do you have an event you’d like us to be at, or know someone that wants us to do a trunk show in their home? Let us know!

 

Introducing; Elegantees

We were so excited to discover an incredible organization making well designed basics. Based in Nepal, Elegantees works with talented women, teaching them to sew if they don’t already have the skill, and provide counseling and healing.
Here is a note directly from the Elegantees Team:
“We are happy to share photos of two of our sewers in particular. Gita and Binita have become our “poster artisans” as they’ve been with us the longest and feel fully restored! They also have everything resolved with their traffickers, that we can share their faces and their names. Gita and Binita autograph many of the hang tags as well so customers can connect with them through their purchase.
Both of them were victims of sex trafficking until they were rescued at the Nepali-Indian border where their traffickers had them in route to the Middle East. Once they were rescued, they received counseling and healing from our nonprofit partner. During the process, they learned how to sew. Today they are able to sew with Elegantees for a living and are finding more joy in life. They are forever overcomers.”
We are so excited to be carrying Elegantees basics, including this ruffled peplum tank that looks perfect with the pencil skirts from Synergy. Watch for pieces on sale via instagram in the coming weeks and styled in our Spring Lookbook!

Featuring; Greenola

Greenola Team Route

We have been deeply touched by the authenticity and humility of the Greenola team.  They don’t claim to be perfect and acknowledge that they are on a journey to facilitate ethical production while holistically supporting communities.

Their vision is to empower makers around the world through design training, community building, and health services. In 2009 they started in Bolivia with 12 makers and since then they have grown to Kenya and India with over 75 makers.  In Bolivia, they have sent artisans to local universities for design classes and have been able to train leadership positions within the cooperatives.

Creating systems beyond employment is a priority for the Greenola team.  They provide access to healthcare to all of the makers including free eyeglass.  They also work to help them open businesses in their own communities.  Working alongside the makers, they strive to understand each individual’s potential, personal goals and visions for the community.  With years of invested work they are seeing tremendous and lasting impact, as well as the pleasure of making life long friends and colleagues.

Greenola Earrings

The Next Step On Our Journey….Hello Holidays

The beginning of November is the deep breathe before the parties and the shopping and the family and the crazy. At Route, we know the holiday time of year so well, we work hard to prepare for it and we breathe. We do what we can to create space in our time and our thoughts to remember why we are here, what we are doing and why it is significant. Selling anything can feel like selling your soul, pushing products, encouraging people to spend money on items they may or may not need. Balancing simplicity with social expectations-what we may want and what we may need. Longing to give generously and hoping deeply that the gift will be just right, appreciated and communicate our love.

The holidays are a step for us, a step in the direction of world change – we sell more in the next two months than the rest of the year combined. We work hard to choose what we will offer wisely, to maximize impact and to communicate clearly that giving a gift from Route is also giving hope and sustainable change. We want to have pieces that you want to give. Pieces that are beautiful and well made, that you would be proud to wear and carry. So please, buy more! In doing so, know that we are proud to sell to you, to stand behind each beautiful piece and are confident that the purchase you make will bring happiness, joy and everything that we work so hard to remember during this season.

Breath with us, and remember the change, then celebrate the difference we are making together!