Business for Good: GREENOLA Style

About the Business for Good Series

Some 18 months ago, I challenged myself not buy anything new. But midway through last year, I decided to both extend and expand my challenge: I will not buy anything new as long as I can, and I will highlight and reward companies that are going above and beyond in their commitments to people, planet, and profits.  

As part of the Business for Good series, each month (or so) on this blog I will highlight at least one company that is innovative, mission-driven, and socially- and/or environmentally-oriented. I will try to test out their product beforehand, give a summary of their business model and goals, and if possible, include links for discounts for you to try the products if interested, as well.

About the Company

Today I am profiling a GREENOLA Style, a company I first interacted with at the Chicago Ideas Week last year, a smattering of events throughout the city relating to innovation, social enterprise, and creativity. GREENOLA is a fair trade and ethical fashion company that partners with and empowers over 50 local women entrepreneurs and artisans in Cochabamba, Bolivia, the poorest country in the South American continent and now Uganda. Each GREENOLA product is a handmade expression of the philosophy that women are the solution, not the problem.The founder, Jen Moran, is an incredibly insightful and inspirational leader in the ethical fashion world, and I am grateful to get to know her over these last couple of months. 

To learn more about the GREENOLA Style team and producers, see here and here, respectively. To learn more about the sustainable materials they use, see here.

Business Model

GREENOLA Style is a for-profit social enterprise that seeks to bring ethical purpose and style to the fashion industry. When I interviewed Jen about why she organized the company to be for-profit, she explained that it was important that businesses, and the fashion industry in particular, show that they can turn a profit without sacrificing purpose and ethics.

As many of you may know, the fashion industry is one of the most exploitative and wasteful sectors in the world. The industry employs some one-third of the world's workers in some way or another (sourcing, manufacturing, distributing, etc.), and the vast majority of brands and retailers do not have a commitment to environmental and/or social sustainability. Jen writes:

I wanted to show that we are challenging an industry; through fashion, we are changing the world. What a revolutionary thought! Especially for an industry known for less than ideal working conditions, human exploitation, and environmentally-harmful production practices. We are shaped by this, as it explains and supports our rebellious personality as a brand.

As a for-profit social enterprise, GREENOLA Style seeks not only financial sustainability through sound business practices, but also social and environmental impact. Therefore, their metrics as a company include both traditional business markers (net profit, market share, etc.) and innovative impact markers (preservation of indigenous environments, sourcing good-for-the-earth materials, etc.). The company also gives a percentage of its profits to charity: 10% to Solidarity Bridge, a nonprofit organization rooted in Catholic social justice teaching that provides medical and other assistance to local communities.

One of the long-standing misconceptions about the ethical fashion industry is that to be truly ethical and green, the products must appeal to crunchy, granola types, not modern fashionistas.When I asked her what she thought needed to be done to overcome these barriers to making sustainable, eco-friendly, and socially-conscious fashion the norm, she explained that education is key. 

Education. There is a big disconnect between green/environmentally-friendly and ethical. Often consumers associate "green" with ethical, but this is not the case. We as consumers have to dive deeper and look past the "green" elements and really see if their production practices are responsible; in terms of their producers, how they produce the sustainable material. For instance, I read that though bamboo is a sustainable material, certain ways it is processed to make cloth is actually worse than non-sustainable materials for the environment. There is also a big barrier of style. There is also a negative (some call it positive) association of Fair Trade/Green products to those of "hippies." That they are un-styled, boxy, potato-sacks.

When I asked Jen where she saw GREENOLA Style in five years, she responded with inspiration and tenacity, just what I want from a visionary leader in the fashion industry [emphasis mine]: 

I see GREENOLA Style as a leader in the industry. Never will we say we know it all, but we will have created a movement of education and learning. We hope to learn right along with our customers, and discover in connection with them as well. We will have grown to other countries with needs of artisan empowerment. GREENOLA will be a larger vehicle for women's voices; for women who otherwise would not have an opportunity for enterprise, for creative expression, and for full transparency in their wardrobes.

That's exactly what I want from my own closet and fashion purchases: connection to larger purpose, empowerment for women around the world, and transparency in how and under what conditions the clothing was made.

Certifications

GREENOLA Style has several certifications as an ethical fashion producer, including Fair TradeChicago Fair Trade, and Green America

Product Review

GREENOLA Style generously gifted me two items from their winter line: the gorgeous RAYA scarf and theCream Floracion headband. The RAYA scarf was made by hand by the women entrepreneurs in Bolivia from 100% pure, organic, fine alpaca fiber with low-impact dyes. Alpaca is not only indigenous to the Bolivian region, but also a sustainable and hypo-allergenic in its pure state (compared to more refined cashmere). The Cream Floracion headband has an adorable flower on the side and is also made of 100% pure, organic, fine alpaca fiber. 

Discounts

Be sure to check out more styles of their sale, and of course, my obsession, dresses! They also have a variety of jewelry and bags/wallets. I've also seen GREENOLA Style heavily discounted through daily-deal sites for fair trade and ethically-sourced products at Pure Citizen.*

--
What are your favorite eco-friendly, sustainable, or fair trade clothing companies? Are they mission-oriented? Style-oriented? Both? Let me know in the comments!

Note: Affiliate link included. For the direct link, see here. This post was originally published on my former blog. Image Credits: GREENOLA Style, my own photoshopping.