A Deep Dive into Ethical And Sustainable Small Businesses

Ethical and sustainable businesses have been a hot topic lately, and for a good reason. Whether it be what you buy or how things are produced, we are becoming more and more aware of what’s going on around us, and many of us are choosing to make a difference. These makers and small business owners are truly making an impact. I got a chance to ask a few business owners some questions about the way they are sourcing their products, their business standards, and the day to day practices and challenges that come along with running an ethical and sustainable business. A HUGE thank you to those that took part. I’m truly honored to learn about your businesses and more about sustainable and ethical business along the way!

Meet: Tessa Perlow

Let everyone know about your business!

“I am an embroidery artist based in Asbury Park, NJ and I embroider both clothing as well as art pieces. I’ve been selling my embroidery on etsy for about 4 or 5 years as well as local shops in my hometown. “

What exactly do you use that is recycled, ethically sourced, or secondhand if applicable? What made you decide to incorporate these practices into your business?


“About a couple years ago, I made the choice to work only with secondhand garments and textiles that I source from thrift shops. I’ve always been interested and passionate about the environment and I’ve made small changes to my lifestyle as a teen like going vegan or opting to bike and walk rather than using my car. With everything going on in the world It was just time for me to assess my lifestyle again and be real with what I believe in; so it started with me challenging myself to stop shopping at places like Zara and H&M. I challenged myself to only buy clothing second hand and once I made thrifting a regular lifestyle choice it made so much sense to incorporate it into my business as well. There is just so much clothing and materials out in the world I don’t think I ever need to buy new linen again.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced while sourcing your materials and or products? What do you think could make it easier or better?

“I think its pretty easy to find what I’m looking for when I am sourcing materials. It forces you to have an open mind about what you are looking for. I love to find linen tablecloths to use for the background to my hoops, but when you are thrifting its always random. You might find the perfect material in a wacky color, but I love that challenge. With clothing, sometimes I have a bad day and don’t find anything I am inspired by, but I think that’s really rare. There are always button downs that I can tailor or T-shirts.  I’m still using threads that I purchase new as well as new beads because they are harder to source secondhand but I’d like to figure out a way I can be more environmentally sound with those materials. I’ve heard about an art supply shop in oregon where everything is secondhand, maybe its consignment or something; I think it would be so awesome to start something like that where I live to make shopping secondhand easier & “fashionable”, that’s a little dream I’ve been thinking about lately. “

Where can we find you on the internet / social media?


You can find me on my instagram @tessa_perlow and my etsy www.etsy.com/shop/tessaperlowinc !

Meet: Made Line Jewelry

What exactly do you use in your products that is recycled, ethically sourced, or secondhand if applicable?

“All Made Line Jewelry is made with either Certified Recycled Metal or Certified Fairmined Metal. Both of these options can be seen as ethically sourced in the jewelry industry. Using Recycled Metal is seen as a neutral approach because there is no further environmental damage that can come with newly mined metals (recycled metal comes from melting down and refining previously used jewelry, electronics, etc.). However, it’s important to me to also support the millions of Small Scale Artisanal Miners around the world that rely on mining for the livelihood of their families. Fairmined is a label applied to metal that is sourced by these artisanal miners that adhere to very strict social and environmental standards. These standards aim to help improve the trading process, mining conditions, and environmental conditions in their communities. This is why it’s important for me to offer both Recycled and Fairmined sourcing options within my collections.

In terms of gemstones, I try to stick to either recycled or antique diamonds or diamonds mined in Canada and Australia, who tend to have very strict environmental and trading regulations. Ethical colored gemstones are trickier to source because there are less regulations in the industry and most of them are not traced once they leave the mine (leaving their trading and cutting histories a mystery once they reach the market). However I work with a small amount of vendors who I personally trust and who have very strict sourcing and cutting standards. If I can’t find a specific stone through these vendors, I either won’t design with it or I will try to find a recycled or antique stone to re-purpose. “

When did you first learn about ethical and sustainable sourcing and what made you decide to incorporate these practices into your business?

“The development of Made Line ethos has been a long process for me and I am continuously growing, learning, and changing – both in my personal life and in the way I run my business. In fact – the two are the same. I run my business based on my personal values and beliefs.

I care deeply about each piece I make – but I care just as much (if not more!) about how my work is affecting others around me. I love hearing stories from customers about how much they love their new jewelry! But I also can’t help but wonder about where these materials came from, the people that sourced these materials, and the environmental impacts of where these natural, finite resources are found.

The term “sustainable” within the jewelry industry is very complex and a challenging topic to discuss in short. Inherently, the materials that are used to make jewelry are not sustainable – they are finite materials that are billions of years old and extracted from the earth. The sad truth is that they will not last forever! I don’t say this to sound negative or to discourage people from either buying or making jewelry but to simply bring attention to this topic in a different way. I believe that jewelry can bring a lot of meaning and joy to someone’s life, so I try to focus on the things that I can control to make sure that I am being responsible in how I run my business. The way in which a jeweler runs their studio, manages their sales strategies, controls their sourcing processes, etc., CAN be sustainable. I try to keep these big picture things in mind as I run my business.

As a trained metalsmith, I had learned about some of these industry topics while in school, but nothing tangible or in depth. I knew there were issues in the industry, but I didn’t know exactly what they were or that it was even possible for me to change my methods to make a difference.

I was fortunate enough to do most of this research as the Production Development Manager for another jewelry company. I say “fortunate”, because I know not many independent artists have the time and resources to spend almost an entire year researching and creating new systems.  I worked closely with the founder of that company to develop the in-house green studio, ethical sourcing, and the company’s ethos. While I continued my research for them, I couldn’t help but get emotionally attached and dedicated to changing my own personal sourcing habits and studio practices. Although it was my job that nudged me into this research, I know that I would have eventually gotten here on my own…just maybe a few years down the road. “

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced while sourcing your materials or products? What do you think could make it easier or better?

“Two big challenges, for me, in using ethically sourced materials are the higher cost of raw goods and conveying the company ethos to customers. For example, Fairmined gold is more expensive than recycled gold but it can be hard to even explain exactly what Fairmined means in short. Many people want a black and white answer surrounding sustainability and for the companies to provide them with a simple solution in their products, but the truth is that there are pros and cons to every sourcing strategy. It can be very challenging to explain these complex global market issues to customers without overwhelming them, and all the while still learning myself and trying to stay up-to-date with industry news that is constantly progressing. It’s a work in progress and my biggest advice to anyone working on this in their business is to not let perfection get in the way of progress. This work takes time and we can all take baby steps together towards a brighter future together. “

Where can we find you on the internet / social media?

You can shop my jewelry and learn more about my company ethos on www.madelinejewelry.com or on Instagram @madelinejewelry.

Meet: A Thrifty Notion

Let everyone know about your business! What exactly do you use that is recycled, ethically sourced, or secondhand if applicable?

“All of our products are secondhand and dead stock – we source through drop-offs, estate sales, and purchasing dead stock from shops that are closing or cleaning out inventory.”

When did you first learn about ethical and sustainable sourcing and what made you decide to incorporate these practices into your business?

“I grew up on a homestead, so frugality, zero waste, and knowing where products come from is part of my wiring. My business is an outgrowth of my desire to save useful things from the landfill while also curbing consumption of new products. My conscience wouldn’t allow me to be in a business that wasn’t focused on sustainability, so it was never a question. “

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced while sourcing your materials and or products? What do you think could make it easier or better?

“Our biggest hurdle for sourcing products is catching people before they throw away their fabric stash. Getting the word out about our service to older folks who are downsizing, or to children who are dealing with estates is always an issue. Every day we have someone come in who says, “I wish I’d known about this shop before I threw away _____ (some incredible thing like vintage Vogue patterns or 1950s cottons).” We just need to reach people through word of mouth, which means sticking around long enough to be known in our community. “

Where can we find you on the internet / social media?

We’re at athriftynotion.com and @athriftynotion on IG

Meet: Rosery Apparel

Let everyone know about your business! What exactly do you use that is recycled, ethically sourced, or secondhand if applicable?

“Each piece of Rosery Apparel is handmade from 100% recycled fabric – so bedsheets, tablecloths, remnants. This makes each piece not only ethical, but sustainable as well!”

When did you first learn about ethical and sustainable sourcing and what made you decide to incorporate these practices into your business?

“I studied a bachelor of environmental design and that’s where I first started to think outside the box when it comes to sourcing materials sustainable. As for the importance of ethical fashion, I have always made my own clothes or opted for second hand as I’ve always felt very strongly that it’s important to know who made my clothes and where they have come from.”

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced while sourcing your materials and or products? What do you think could make it easier or better?

“Due to each item I make being made from recycled fabric, each item is made in very small quantities. This is an amazing thing, but can also be a challenge due to some items selling out very quickly leaving people a little disappointed.”

Where can we find you on the internet / social media?

www.roseryapparel.com

Instagram: @roseryapparel

I’ve also recently started a Youtube channel where I share diys and “behind the brand” videos – Rosery Apparel.

Meet: Sympatico Clothing

Let everyone know about your business! What exactly do you use that is recycled, ethically sourced, or secondhand if applicable?


“Sympatico Clothing offers a collection of eco-friendly hemp/Tencel separates for women. Launching my business in 2006, I sought out natural fibers that were both comfortable and earth-friendly. I had become disenchanted with conventional cotton due to the heavy use of pesticides and water as well as agricultural-worker safety issues. Clothing manufacturing is the second largest pollution source out there (after the oil industry) so  finding an eco-friendly and people-friendly alternative was  critical. That’s how I arrived at Sympatico’s fabric: a 55/45 percent hemp and Tencel blend. Available in two weights, my entire line of women’s tops, skirts, and pants are made of this comfortable, easy to wear fabric. Its two fiber components, hemp and Tencel, both pass the sustainability test with flying colors. 
Hemp grows fast and needs little irrigation, pesticides or herbicides. Its deep roots anchor and aerate the soil. Hemp produces more fiber per acre than trees, cotton or flax (linen). Hemp is bleached using a hydrogen peroxide solution, unlike cotton which uses chlorine-based bleaches that release dangerous dioxins into the environment. The peroxide solution used to bleach (or “scrub”) hemp is safely returned to the environment as water. A further advantage of hemp clothing is its amazing durability. 
Tencel is an eco-friendly rayon-like material. But unlike rayon and bamboo, Tencel’s supply chain is transparent. The fiber comes from eucalyptus trees that are grown on farms—no old growth forests, genetic manipulation, irrigation, nor pesticides are used. These forests and the pulp produced for Tencel have earned Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification that it comes from socially and environmentally responsible forests. The European Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification has also endorsed Tencel’s farming practices as sustainable.
The ground pulp used to make Tencel is treated in a closed-loop process in which non-toxic organic solvents are recycled with a recovery rate of 99.5% and bleach is not required. The tiny amount of remaining emissions is decomposed in biological purification plants. Tencel’s manufacturing process received the European Award for the Environment by the European Union. It also has Oeko Tex 100 certification, an international standard certifying Tencel contains no harmful substances. It also has been awarded the European Community Eco-label flower for products and services with reduced environmental impacts.”


When did you first learn about ethical and sustainable sourcing and what made you decide to incorporate these practices into your business?


“I have worked with small, responsive and responsible companies for many years, but when I began Sympatico, I joined Green America to make sure that I was up to date about best practices in running my company ethically. I found their business conferences and newsletters to be great resources and enjoyed networking with other Green America business members. I also naturally gravitated to the buy-local movement, joining a local artisans market. Aside from the Sympatico website, this weekly market allows me to more intimately connect with customers. “


What are some of the challenges you’ve faced while sourcing your materials and or products? What do you think could make it easier or better?


“The small scale of my business can be a challenge. Suppliers often have ordering and other requirements that may be prohibitive. Luckily, my US-based fabric supplier works directly with the mill producing Sympatico’s fabric. They answer my questions, not just about the growing and manufacturing processes, but also about how workers are treated as well as the mill’s reputation for fairness and safety.
Seeking transparency, I ask vendors such as my fabric dyer about workers’ wages, benefits, and turnover. I also make it a point to visit the companies I contract with when possible. When I buy small amounts of a commodity such as the elastic used in the waists of Sympatico pants and skirts, it can be really tough to establish how sustainable vendor practices are. I always pose my questions, and in some cases the relationship is strong enough that if the supplier doesn’t know the answer, they will get back to me. In a few cases, I must rely on the product coming from a place that apparently practices sustainably, knowing where they get their supplies, but having no hard proof. That’s not very satisfying, but it’s sometimes the best I can do as a small-size producer. 
Nonetheless, I always ask suppliers how the product I’m buying is produced, even when I buy  small quantities, such as the hemp cord for hang tags. I want it to register with the supplier that customers like Sympatico care about how they, and in turn, their suppliers, do business. 
Given a choice, I select reputable businesses who stand behind their products and with whom I can develop a personal relationship. I try to avoid discount suppliers who seem focused entirely on the bottom line. “


Where can we find you on the internet / social media?

Website http://www.sympaticoclothing.com Facebook https://www.facebook.com/SympaticoClothing/
Pinterest https://www.pinterest.com/sympaticodigs/
Twitter https://twitter.com/sympaticoclothi

Further Reading:

Sustainable Business Practices in My Small Business

The Impact of Fast Fashion and Why I Mostly Shop Second Hand