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.
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.
You’re competing with fast fashion and mass market bargain prices. How do you explain your pricing structure to someone who’s breaking the addiction to cheap impulse buys?
Christina: This is tricky, we do everything we can to keep prices down. We are yet to sell a clothing or jewelry piece for over a $100. We’ve recently read about the concept of “slow fast-fashion” and I think that best fits us.
For our customers, going from fast fashion to slow fashion is a process and isn’t going to happen overnight, so we ask them to spend more, but not extremely more than they otherwise would. In return, we commit to hunting down the highest-quality, highest-impact, most-fashion-forward pieces we can find. So that even if they spend $35, it’s on a piece that fits a slow-fashion description (can be worn with multiple things, if treated well will last a long time, is classic enough to not go out of style quickly), but hopefully, that piece didn’t break the bank for them.
It is so easy to forget the true benefits of ethical fashion when we don’t experience the hardships and true living conditions every day. Can you talk about your travels and how they continue to inform your company’s choices and passion?
Christina: Being with, talking with and getting to know our makers is a deep passion that we carry. Most of us have spent at least some time in slums, with children coming out of trafficking, with makers who have come out of horrible situations. We recently started carrying a beautiful line of jewelry made in Istanbul. Our online director was there a few weeks ago and with all the horrifying things happening in Turkey, we feel so honored to provide a small, but hopefully consistent degree of help to people who are in the middle of chaos they can’t control. When you are there, the reality has a very different feel and it flavors your work and how you tell the stories.
Wherever we are, abroad or home, being in relationship with the women we serve, being in their homes, eating with them, letting our children play together creates intersections between our stories and gives us the opportunity to not just serve them, but learn and be served by them.
You are able to see socially-conscious business from the inside out. What are some key markers we all can look for in companies that are truly “doing it right” and not for marketing purposes?
Christina: Passion and pride in their makers is one defining factor in every organization we work with. They LOVE their people, and are committed long term to their well-being. We want to see the companies that are sourcing the products (our partner groups) employing natives into leadership, spending large quantities of time in country (if they are based in a developed country) and showing cultural sensitivity when they can. But those things are hard to weed out from a quick read of a website. Always you can catch the passion and pride in their makers from a quick once over.
The second piece is the process; how did the product get to you. If it is confusing or muddled or you are not sure how it passed hands, always email and ask questions.
Lastly, don’t be fooled by companies that give out of their earnings (I might get in trouble for this). It’s a great thing, I am not necessarily bashing the Tom’s model. But, empowerment is about direct, safe and lasting employment in the making of the product (and some companies do both, which is great). Ethical production makes products expensive and is often hard on the bottom line, so companies are sometimes more likely to give out of their earnings as an alternative and continue to find the least expensive production methods possible. Just don’t be fooled by that. Just because they have a mission and give when you purchase does not necessarily mean that the product you are buying is made in safe working conditions by makers paid fair wages.
What are your favorite sustainable healthy ethical (SHE) brands you use?
Christina: So of the brands that we don’t sell (because we retail), Everlane: I love their innovative model and pricing (although their fit isn’t always what I want, but I am obnoxiously picky).
Rent the Runway: because renting instead of purchasing is another approach to wearing ethically and their website makes shopping/renting so much fun.
Shea Moisture: (I love that you can buy them at Target) has been doing this longer than anyone, we are a curly haired family, so their products make my life easy.
Pact: because ethically made undies that look good and last forever are worth every penny.
Lush: my kids can’t get enough of this amazing product they have called “Fun,” it is truly so much fun and their almond milk moisturizer makes me so happy!
Boden: although their style is quite British and doesn’t always work with my other pieces, their quality and commitment to ethical production is worth ordering from across the pond. I have a LONG list of pieces that I’d love to own from lines like Study, Nisolo, Slumlove, People Tree, Mat and Nat, Soko, Dogeared, Kristinit, and the list goes on. But, less is more and so I try to stick with what I can afford and what I have.
What's each of your favorite healthy guilty pleasure when the going gets tough?
Christina: Right now because it is summer and so hot, my little treat is fresh fruit icies everyday in the blender with lime or lemon juice and whatever other fruit we have on hand (and occasionally something a little stronger thrown in), it’s simple and delicious and energizing.
Mostly, in our community, we feed off each other’s grit. We remind each other that more often than not “the only way out is through” and each of us are at the core mission motivated, understanding, positive and hard working. When the going gets tough, we lean on each other!
How can our readers best link arms and cheer you on??
Christina: Spread the word and comment on social media. We are committed to retailing for others because then our partner groups can focus on production, design and the makers. Let people know that we (and a few others, not many) exist and that we are hunting so you don’t have to! We also want to hear from people, do they like what they see, what questions do they have, are we giving enough info about where products are coming from, etc.
Always shop your values,