Partner Spotlight: An Interview with Katie of Elegantees

My ideal top is one I can move around in without showing skin, needs no special bra, and one I don’t regret wearing three hours into work. It needs to make me look great and be versatile enough to fit with different jewelry and bottom sets. In addition to being captivating, versatile, and comfortable, I’d also like my top to save women’s lives.

Almost sounds too good to be true. Enter Elegantees.

Let us reintroduce you to the beautiful cotton clothing designed for the everyday woman who is socially conscious and loves to look good. This October I had the opportunity to speak with the founder of Elegantees, Katie Martinez, to get an idea of how she came up with this genius company and how it works.  We talked style and the holiday rush and what that means to her company.

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Tell us more about the concept behind the beauty in your more conservative fashion pieces. How does your clothing reflect the models and the everyday consumer purchasing Elegantees?

I designed Elegantees because shopping was hard. I needed tops that were pretty and comfortable, and with proper coverage. Having spent my life both on a farm in Iowa, and in the Fashion District of New York City, I’ve seen two extremes in the way women dress. A common approach is to avoid fashion altogether and wear the same tee and jeans or leggings daily. The other extreme is to place so much emphasis on fashion that it becomes an identity. Elegantees is for the woman who seeks to find a balance between fashion and life, with a tee that looks like more than a tee.

Our aim is to break away from the unrealistic standards of beauty. I believe that ideal beauty is an expression of something that comes from the inside. When a woman takes care of herself, and others with kindness, she’s at the height of beauty. True beauty is in being clothed in strength and dignity.

What does it mean to your business when people choose to do their holiday shopping with you? Specifically, what will it mean this 2017 season?

It means a lot! Holiday shopping sustains our operations, and provides for my family and our nonprofit partner. Revenue from the Elegantees sewing center funds rescue operations at one of the border stations at Nepal-India. Each border station rescues two to three thousand victims each year. The sewing center provides full time work for 17 people, most of them are women. I want to hire 3 more seamstresses by end of this year. If we hit a certain number in sales, it will happen. We are normally slower in the summer months, so being able to set aside that cash reserve as savings will ensure nobody gets laid off.

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Katie with her beautiful daughter in Elegantees!

Holiday shopping is not just about gift giving for the new and growing companies that Route partners with.  Your purchase from them can make huge and lasting growth happen in their business – often in the form of more employment for people who need it the most.

We have LOVED getting to know Katie and her staff as we have worked with them and watched their growth.  Consider including an Elegantees purchase in your holiday gift giving to help make their goals and dreams for their company come true!

Happy Ethical Shopping!

Love,

Liz, Christina and the Route Team

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Resources We Rely On

I got into a great conversation this weekend with a friend about how to know which companies we buy from are ethical or not AND what harm we are causing with our purchasing. A fitting question as we celebrate Independence Day this week.

Continue reading “Resources We Rely On”

Maker Story; Sonya

Greenola Style shared with us a story of one of their makers, Sonya:

“Sonya, from our Tikas Women’s Cooperative,Tikas, is one of our newest cooperatives that we helped form. We first met Sonya, her sister Vasilia, and Beatrice (all pictured in the team shot on the left, below) through a Catholic organization in Bolivia. At the time they were handcrafting greeting cards in which they sold in local communities without great success. After much relationship building and understanding their needs and personal goals, we learned that all their husbands work quite hard to support their families but were still struggling with the financial demands.

These three women needed to work, but were finding it hard to balance finding work and seeing their children off to school.  In Bolivia children attend only a half day of school making it hard on caregivers to find profitable work. Also their schools are  often many miles away and due to safety concerns the mothers take the public transportation and/or walk the many miles with their children.

Unfortunately the small profit from selling greeting cards was not enough.  Upon scoping the raw material markets, GREENOLA learned that there is an abundance of raw seeds available. With that, we decided to create jewelry recycling these seeds into fashion forward designs. This process was also an easy skill to teach. Starting with these three women, we have been able to grow this project into a community project. Sonya, Vasilia, and Beatrice have welcomed their cousins, friends, and neighbors into the project and now help employ more than 20 women in their community. With this project, the women of the community in which they reside (Buena Vista) have pulled together to form a women’s group that comes together for much more than working on this project. They have gotten their community church involved, created programs for their children, rallied to have public transportation run to their community, and so much more.

Sonya is quite the woman. In addition to contributing financially to her household, she has taken on guardianship of her nephew raising him as her own. This last year we learned that she has been having stomach problems challenging her ability to eat, function, and live a healthy life. With our on the ground partner, SolidarityBridge.org we have been able to provide Sonya the healthcare she needs to work on this challenge and improve her quality of life.”

Greenola Team

 

We are so excited to support organizations like Greenola who take the time to get to know their artisans, as well as makers like Sonya who are determined and hardworking.  Over and over again we hear the stories and see the statistics that when women are employed the money that they make goes to support their families and then their communities.  Sonya is one of thousands of stories of women who are changing their communities because of their employment!

Tonle: Eco-friendly meets Socially Conscious

Almost a year ago I texted some friends and ask them to help me hunt for clothing that was ethically sourced, we were really wanting to see pieces that were classic, well priced and were easily styled with other simple, functional pieces that we already owned.

Minutes later my friend Kate texted me this photo from an Instagram post and I did a happy dance!

 

After spending time reading about Tonle and Rachel Faller, their fearless leader, we were so excited to reach out, learn more about their work and goals and bring their clothing into our product selection.

Tonle works in Cambodia with small groups of weavers to supply their fabric and carefully trains their tailor’s to create their clothing in zero-waste facilities (They actually boil down their little bits of remnant fabric and make it into paper used for tags and packaging!).  They do a great job working with their employees over long periods of time and celebrating their promotion when it’s earned.  Meet Dara, their most recent employee to be promoted to Sewing Team Leader!

You can find photos and some bios of each of Tonle’s makers here.

From first hand experience we know how hard it can be to commit to a group of people, to train them, carefully treat them with respect and produce products that are consistent and high quality.  Rachel and her team manages this with humility and care.

In their effort to make their production holistically eco-friendly they consider natural processes and traditional craft as much as possible.  This gorgeous image below shows several fabrics in the coloring process next to the materials used to create the dye.

Learn more about their dying, packaging and production practices here.

Tonle has proven that economically and social conscious fashion is possible, through hard word and dedication they are creating a line that we hope will become a model for countless other clothing manufacturers.

We are so proud to be promoting and selling their beautiful clothing!

These Tonle pieces are currently up on the online shop and we have a larger selection in the Columbia shop.

The Maera Shift Dress

The Kayla Tulip Dress

Photo Credit: Tonle Design

Ethical Fashion; The Challenge & The Solution

At Route a new season means new products. The goal is always to purchase and design pieces that will come together to form a beautiful collection and make a significant impact. There are so many factors that go into our purchasing, not the least of which is price. We work hard to keep our price point affordable, while still provided lasting impact to our makers.  At the center of our passion for what we do is a desire to both get the word out about how products are made and create routes of access for individuals to purchase ethically.

It is possible to be incredibly well dressed in an entirely ethically produced wardrobe with a robust if not endless budget, but so few of us are able to purchase without a budget.

We believe the growth of ethical purchasing should continue, more people should have access to products they can afford and therefore the option to purchase ethically. There are so many ways to creatively organize the production chain so that safe working conditions and fair wages are sustainable AND the retail price of a product is reasonable.

We are excited to introduce a series of comfortable and versatile dresses to our online store this season. These simple pieces are exactly what we want to be selling.

As they come in, please give us feedback on whether or not you are getting enough information about them, do they look like something you’d want to wear? How would you style them? Can’t wait to share more, for now don’t forget that your purchase makes ethical fashion possible!

Photo: Sugar Bean Photography

Introducing; Mingle Sets

Mingle Sets delicate Gold Necklaces

We’ve finally “officially” put the Mingle Sets up online and we are so excited. For the last couple of months we’ve partnered with an organization here in St Louis, Forai, that trains and employs refugee women. They meet once a month, and then the women are able to do the rest of the work at their own pace and schedule from the comfort of their own home.

We developed the Mingle Line because we love delicate everyday jewelry and have struggled finding it in ethically produced channels. We put our heads together and came up with the Mingle Sets. Bought separately, but can be worn together for a layered look or by themselves for a simple everyday look. Keep checking back–we’ll be adding more pieces!

For now, these are online only but there’s always free shipping to the Route shop in Columbia. Shop the Abigail Mingle.

Mingle Sets Route Forai

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!

30 Second Style Ethical Style

So often those few precious moments we dress ourselves in the morning are completely determined on how we feel. We want to feel comfortable and look good without having to put too much thought into it.

Our philosophy is basics, neutrals, and things that can be thrown together quickly and still look perfectly put together. Black jeans, bulky cardigan, boots and one of our long necklaces, done. A floral dress and sandals paired with our delicate gold jewelry, classic. No time to do your hair? No problem, the messy bun and dangly earrings will save you every time. Our goal…simple pieces that go with every outfit in your closet and can be easily combined. Added bonus: ethically made. No effort, you just know that whatever you grab creates a great finishing touch.

From delicate layered necklaces to lightweight tiered earrings and a cute leather tote, pile it on and forget about fussing with the rest, nearly everything that we carry on the Route site can be mixed and matched for effortless pairing.

Women en Route: Liz

We met Liz over coffee and tea in her kitchen on a cozy, rainy day with her dog, Olaf. Liz currently works as an emergency room nurse in the city of St. Louis, and also happens to be on the Route board!
Route: What are you currently struggling with?
Questioning the value of employee loyalty is something I am struggling with at the moment. Loyalty was ingrained into my psyche by my mother. “Do your job to the best of your ability, go above and beyond, always be honest” my mother said. As of late I’ve had experiences that make me question whether my employer holds my value to the place where that hold theirs. What am I worth to my employer, am I a dime a dozen? And if the true answer is that I am of little worth, do I continue my level of loyalty regardless? Should I base my work decisions on my selfish gains or the betterment of the business? At a certain point character comes into question and integrity will guide my actions. Perhaps there is a middle ground.
Route: Where do you find your peace?
I find my peace at night lying in bed with my pit-bull Olaf curled next to me, my tea on my coffee stand, and reading material in hand. My competing place of peace is my neighborhood park early in the mornings. Nature has a way of bringing me out of my thoughts and back to the realization I am but a blade of grass in this large fleeting world. I have much to learn and life isn’t all about me.
 dog
Our time with Liz has taught us how to cherish conversation and enjoy quiet moments.  Her confident and caring personality inspires us to enjoy each relationship more.  Her passion for righting wrong and pursuing change keeps us focused everyday.
Thanks, Liz, we are inspired by you!!
xoRoute
P.S. Liz recently started a blog about thoughts on global issues, specifically tailored to women and ethical fashion. Check it out here.