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EFF SOURCE Fashion business success without compromise

3 April 2013

Setting up shop: Bricks and mortar vs e-tailing

Contributor Jill Heller

Pure Thread


In her second column, Jill Heller the founder and director of PureThread shares with us her journey of setting up a bricks-and-mortar sustainable fashion shop in the USA. She helps us to better understand the ins-and-outs of starting the business and what are the advantages/disadvantages of bricks-and-mortar versus e-tailing.


It’s not simple to weigh the pros and cons of brick and mortar retail shops. In this post, I hope to inspire some conversation around how retail shops ideally interact with the bigger and ever-evolving sustainable fashion marketplace.

Physical spaces have obvious and major environmental implications: it takes valuable and limited resources to build out, heat, light, and clean a space as well as to ship and maintain inventory.

But, on the flip side, retail spaces offer a tangible opportunity to engage people and allow for real face-to-face community building, setting “real-time-and-place” experiences aside from this warp speed moment of fast-and-easy online shopping (and everything). This collaborative spirit is of great benefit in this and any movement: it inspires education and transformation. Plus, showcasing the way fabrics feel and designs drape on the body is such a warm way to sell not only goods, but the concepts that hold up sustainable fashion.

In my line of work as a stylist, I have found that working one-on-one with people is how they truly become impassioned about the designer, the garments, and the stories “beneath fashion’s surface”.

What are your thoughts about retail’s role in getting the word out and inspiring change around sustainable fashion?

Around the world are countless “eco shops”, the general model has typically been an unfocused hodgepodge of varied sustainably created goods. While the existence of these shops makes conscious shopping easier (I use them for items that are less intimate than clothing), I personally would never be in the mood to consider buying a pair of trousers that is for sale along with a compost bin and some organic hair products.

Merchandising clothing alongside household goods and the like certainly doesn’t highlight and prioritise the aesthetics of the garments. For a small percentage of the population, who only care about the environmental implications of every product they need, this works. But, in my unscientific findings, most of these shops are struggling to find enough customers, and, if they are trying to draw in the average woman who wants beautiful garments, a different sort of venue is necessary.

I have seen only a small handful of boutiques who are doing a fine job at merchandising sustainable fashion at retail. But is brick and mortar really needed, or does the online marketplace do the job just fine?

I’m often tempted to create an eco-fashion establishment in NYC, my home and the world’s fashion capital. I have been successful in retail in the past — before I was wholly committed to sustainable fashion. But I’m preoccupied with macro issue of determining the role of retail in the sustainable fashion market.

What is it that a storefront could do for the world? Could it widen the net of people who are exposed to sustainable fashion, or does it limit the possibilities by narrowing geography?

Could it create a PR buzz that stands apart from all of these internet-based discussions and blogging and e-tailing? Could it create a “home” for people who love to touch and feel fabrics, and who need community and education in order to make changes in their wardrobes?

Or would it simply use resources and be “business as usual” — satisfying just the bottom line, not the triple bottom line?

What are your thoughts about retail’s role in getting the word out and inspiring change around sustainable fashion? Please share your thoughts and stories so that we can further the dialogue on how to scale eco fashion. Email us at [email protected] with your feedback.

About PureThread:

Each season PureThread presents a curated collection of unique high end fashion design by designers and brands who are addressing environmental awareness and social responsibility within the fashion industry.

About Jill Heller:

PureThread Jill Heller is a passionate tastemaker and trendsetter with expertise in the designer and contemporary fashion market. She always anticipates the waves of the future, both in fashion and in its greater context.

With small companies improving eco design and larger design firms starting to implement sustainable initiatives, her goal is to place more and more sustainable fashion – and the stories behind it – into the hearts and closets of her clients. Because Jill represents both the traditional side of fashion and beauty and the renewed ethics around protecting our world, her selections reflect a rare, discerning edit of the ethical fashion marketplace.

Jill launched a high-end boutique – On the One – in Westchester County,NY in 2003. Presenting her vision of clean sophistication by showcasing contemporary designer brands and merchandising the finest in casual luxury fashion, she selected special items from a diverse array of designers based on her taste level and intuition. The lifestyle shopping atmosphere fostered a unique connection with the customers as they discovered their own personal expressions of style. She is now ambitiously embarking on a new kind of bricks-and-mortar boutique focused on promoting exemplary sustainable designers.

Read more from Jill and her adventures in setting up shop, here.


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