Grey A-Line Dress || c/o Gaia Couture
Retailer; Low-impact dyes, ethical sourcing and labor
Pom Beanie || Free People
*not ethically produced
Earrings || c/o Hovey Lee Jewelry
Handmade, ecojewelry, consciously sourced and produced in Los Angeles, California
Oversized Watercolor Scarf || c/o Trades of Hope (rep Carissa Simmons)
Handmade, fair trade products empowering women out of poverty
Fingerless Glovelettes || g/ Anthropologie (similar here)
Handmade by a women's group in Nepal
Tights || g/ Urban Outfitters
*not ethically produced
Brown Leather Boots || Clarks
*not ethically produced
What is the first thing you think of when you hear the word Portland? What I think of is vegan-living, beanie sporting, forest exploring, environment respecting young men and women. Okideokie, so this winter I introduced this grey dress to my wardrobe. It's super versatile, modest, and is made of recycled fibers. I actually wore it for a bunch of DRESSember posts back in December. Today I am pleased to be interviewing the Oregon based ecofashion retailer, GAIA Couture, where I found this dress. In interviewing them, I hope to capture a better insight on what the persona of the conscious consumer from Oregon, and the retailers look like! Here we go...
Interivew with Joy Marinello, Owner of GAIA Couture
Hello! How is it in Oregon? How did Gaia Couture decide to open where it did?
Greetings you! (Yes I have a day job in addition to owning and working for Gaia Couture. It’s a busy life!)
Why did I open Gaia Couture in Portland, Oregon? I have a mad passion for Portland which is the most free spirited and creative city I’ve ever lived in. In Portland I’m surrounded by people who care about the environment and who put people and the earth before profits, and I knew if our eco fashion boutique could thrive anywhere in the world, it would be here. There are also a lot of designers and artistic people here in Portland and I love the idea of watchingGaia Couture grow to employ and engage with more and more of these wonderful people.
Tell me about your owner(you)!
My name is Joy Martinello and I have always been in love with clothing and costumes. I was child actress and studied costume design in college at Tufts University which opened my mind to exploring both the creativity available to us in the world of fabrics and colors, as well sartorial philosophy and why people wear what they do.
It was also in college that I became aware of the many degradations being visited upon our beautiful earth and upon workers via the garment industry. For many years it’s been a dream of mine to do something creative with my clothing skills that would help promote sustainable fashion. I worked briefly in sales and marketing for Blue Fish Clothing in Frenchtown, NJ and there had my first taste of working for an alternative clothing company.
In 1996-98 when I was living in Seattle, another woman and I created and promoted our own line of clothing called Passion Earth. We were hand-silk screening on organic fabrics making our own prints. This was during the “stone age” of organic fabrics when hardly any different weights or textures of fabric were available. Our fabric selections were very limited. At that time we knew what we liked yet our pieces were very labor intensive and thus quite expensive. We found it difficult to find the right customer for our clothing.
Since I knew how hard it was to start a line of clothing I decided I wanted to work in retail to learn more about what women like to wear. I started Gaia Couture with the hope that we can keep growing and changing our inventory to reflect what women ages 30-60 are looking for in clothes that fit their lifestyle.
My theory is if we can offer beautiful styles that become customer favorites and people turn more and more often to buying eco fashion, we can start to elevate the demand for organic clothing which will mean more sustainable bamboo forests and organic cotton fields, more factories where workers are treated fairly, and more opportunities to do business with integrity in a way that will create a more just and happy world for all.
I know that Oregon is known to be an eco-friendly state, does this mean that there is a presence of eco fashion consumers?
There are definitely more people in Portland who are looking for eco fashions than there are in many other cities. Even in Portland, Gaia Couture still needs to educate people about what’s really happening in the garment industry, hence our eco philosophy page and The Gaia Promise. When people come into the shop we love to start a dialogue with them about what makes our fabrics sustainable vs. conventional “fast fashion”. People in Portland and elsewhere know a lot about organic food yet few people stop to think about where their clothes come from. We’ve got our work cut out for us and we’re so grateful to people like you who are helping us spread the word!
Food, clothing and shelter are all that people really need to thrive (along with being among people they love and doing work they love.) If we can find a way to make the production of these basic necessities sustainable, we will find a way to share the earth’s resources with all people everywhere and create a healthy, balanced world.
What brands does your store carry and what criteria do they have to meet?
So far we carry ~15 brands that live up to our rigorous standard of being at least 90% organic or sustainable. Most the fabrics we carry are made from fibers that are organically grown, meaning grown without pesticides and then are turned into clothing without additional chemicals like the formaldehyde found on the surfaces of conventional clothing.
There are a few fabrics we carry that fall into the sustainable category like Modal® and Tencel® produced by the Austrian company, Lenzing. These fabrics are produced in nearly closed loop systems where every bit of water and chemical used to break down the fibers of beech trees or eucalyptus trees are captured, cleansed and put back into the manufacturing process so no chemicals become waste products or do environmental damage.
And there’s also bamboo which is grown without pesticides and is sustainably harvested, though chemicals are used to break down the fibers. So the fibers are organically grown and even though chemicals are used, the process of creating the fabric is a closed loop system also. There’s controversy about some of these manufacturing processes as the organic clothing industry is still very young, yet we’ve done our best to navigate these processes and determine which fabrics are acceptable to us and adhere to The Gaia Promise.
All the brands we work with also have to be manufactured following strict Fair Trade guidelines. Organizations like Fair Trade International are developing standards these companies can use as guidelines. Basically all the goods have to be manufactured in ways that maintain human dignity, protect workers’ health and offer workers a living wage.
Each garment on our website has under the “details” section, what we call our “eco scorecard.” A customer can see which of our eco guidelines have been maintained in the manufacture of each item. We carry some accessories made from recycled materials and there are also a few fabrics that have been made from recycled materials, so these fit into our world as well.
As far as which brands we are carrying, we’ve had great success with brands like Indigenous, Synergy, Yala and Blue Canoe. We’ve been able to introduce our customers to small designers like Jovani, Broken Doll and Diane Kennedy in plus sizes. Komodo from London has done some beautiful work for us and there are several more who have been a hit with our customers. I can envision our company growing online to an extent where one day we will serve as an outlet for all of the world’s most beautiful sustainable fashions. I’d love to be able to offer support to up and coming eco fashion designers too, as it’s very, very difficult to start a new line of clothing. I’m excited about the future day when our sales volume will mean we can promote eco fashion in all kinds of ways.
Tell me a bit about the start-up phase of your business!
We opened the doors of our Portland shop in June of 2013. It took us basically a year and a half to enter the online world. I still consider us in the start-up phase of our company. Every day we’re building more of a following yet we have a ways to go before I can honestly say that eco fashion has taken hold and that Gaia Couture is a thriving business.
People need to realize that what they buy does make a difference. When they buy conventional clothing they are closing their eyes to practices that could leave our grandchildren without a planet to live on. I’ll feel like our company is a success when I can honestly say that the tide has turned and people are buying enough eco fashion to make a verifiable difference to the health of the planet. It’s happened with organic food in that enough of it is being sold profitably that suppliers are changing their practices. People need to buy enough eco fashion so the garment industry will wake up and do away with harmful production methods. We’ve really only just begun.
When people visit your shop, what message do you want them to leave with?
I think all the ladies of Gaia would agree that we want our customers, first and foremost to feel welcome, to feel cared for and to have a fun, positive shopping experience. All of us who work at Gaia Couture want women to feel beautiful and empowered. Too many women feel bad about the way they look. We think helping women feel beautiful is an important part of the eco fashion alternative to fast fashion where women are often objectified and judged for not being 17 year-old super models.
And of course we want them to learn about sustainable fashion. If people love the styles we’re offering at first glance, our hope is they will stay around to think about sustainable fabrics and the people who made their clothes.
Living a green life is about being healthy, beautiful and balanced inside and out. The idea of permaculture is to see nature as a closed loop system and we humans are a part of that system that needs to come back into balance.
Gaia Couture is a clothing shop and a brand, yet it’s also a way of life. That’s why we have our group of Wonder & Wellness Experts who offer tips for green living every other week. Buying sustainable fashion is a wonderful addition to any woman’s life and will make a difference. Yet feeling strong and healthy and loved and cared for will go even farther toward making the world a better place because people will have the inner strength to make the lifestyle changes we all dearly need to make to get the planet on the road to recovery.
So when someone is buying clothing from Gaia Couture, they are telling the world that they want to look beautiful, feel beautiful, keep the earth beautiful and treat workers with respect. It’s this inner and outer approach to beauty and justice that will make the world a place worth living for our children.
My blog's name is beYOUtiful. :) How do you define beauty?
At Gaia Couture, being beautiful is about choosing clothing that brings out the inner you. Each woman has a style, a vision of who she wants to be in the world. Her clothes tell the world who she is and at Gaia, we want to help each woman find the look that’s going to make her feel confident, vibrant, comfortable and attractive: her best self. I’ve written an article about this women might like called What’s your slow fashion personality type?.
Every woman is important. Every woman is beautiful. For us, this is a hard and fast truth. Customers can call and speak with our stylist, Kelly Varma about what will look good on their body type, what colors go with their skin tone and Kelly will make sure they’re ordering the right pieces. At Gaia Couture, we define beauty as the journey to become your most gorgeous and alive self. A stunning, sustainably made dress that flatters your body type can right now take you to that happy, confident place.
Thanks for reading. I hope this provided you with better insight into the ethical fashion culture. Check out more from my ethical fashion interview series here! :D