|Credit: Sustainable Fashion with Denise Reddy|
Denise, Welcome! As the Founder and CEO of the Harebell Shop, what inspired you to create a sustainable fashion entity to serve earth conscious consumers?
HI! Thank you! I am so happy to be here. Well, the journey started without really knowing I would get involved in the fashion industry. What I really knew for sure is that I wanted to help consumers purchase with values and avoid getting “scammed” by greenwashing practices. I am passionate about sharing all that I know about sustainability and “converting” people who never thought about the consequences of the way they consume into aware consumers. That makes my day! Fashion is based on trends and disposal, needless consumption. It is a really sick industry and the change will happen when conscious CEO’s and businesses get involved in it. I wanted to bring a new perspective to the industry and at the same time help my fellow Latinxs. There is so much going on in Latin America. It is so diverse, so knowledgeable and interesting that being able to represent Latinx sustainable designers in my shop is an honor.
As a fifth generation Argentinian, your anecdotes reference spending quality holiday time in the mountains of Cordoba. How do these experiences and memories contribute to creating the Harebell Group?
I was raised in Buenos Aires, the central city and capital of Argentina. But every holiday we went to our family home in the middle of the mountains in Cordoba. I was lucky enough to have parents who enjoyed a month off work so we grabbed our car, some stuff and headed to that beautiful, precary old mud house. We had no electricity there, only oil lamps. No hot water, only the river. No laundry machine, only our feet and a big bowl with soapy water. And so on. These summers were the best of my life and the impact of going there since I was in my mothers tummy until my teenage years, huge. When getting so close to nature at such an early age you learn to love it so deeply. It creates such an awareness! Everyone has different goggles and a personal way of understanding the world that surrounds us. For me it’s all connected and the better care we take of our surroundings, the more beautiful and fair the world is going to be. Harebell is an attempt to leave the world I want for the future generations.
How did you decide what the shop will be named?
When I was founding my company I knew I wanted a name related to plants, because they take from the earth only what they need and give back so much more creating oxygen. Somehow it always felt that’s the type of company I wanted to build. Laying in bed with my son he found a book I was reading about Flower Fairies. I had just started it and it was a Christmas gift from my grandma when I was 13 years old (a long time ago!) I had never really read it. My son found a page with a mark. It was the Harebell Flower Fairy! I read the poem and found out at that precise moment that the book had been a gift from my grandma’s grandma to her. Harebell’s name traveled through five generations and found me. I love it deeply.
Denise, how do you describe 'sustainable fashion' and how is this different from 'fast fashion'?
Sustainable clothing is the antithesis of cheaply made “fast fashion”, which I see as an often exploitative business model that negatively affects everyone from the people who create the clothes to the consumer. I hope that showing how toxic the creation of these clothes can be will lead more people to join me on my mission to have as little impact on the planet as possible, even through something as simple as what we wear.
The fashion found on Harebell’s website is anything but “cheap.” We focus on high quality and unique garments that can be loved and used for many years. There are so many aspects to why sustainable brands are more expensive, the main one being quality and fair wage. If you pay a fair wage to the person who picks the cotton from the fields, to have a two dollar shirt just makes no sense. Those brands are cheaper because someone else is paying the price.
Harebell Shop products aim to yield as little impact to the planet as possible. What are the few principles the shop honors to stay true to its mission?
We focus on many different areas, but I would say quadruple impact sustainability is the best way to describe Harebell’s values. We usually talk about triple impact companies that focus on social, environmental and financial return, but I like to add the cultural impact as well. In our journey we found that helping people and having an impact in Latin American groups was huge, and we chose to prioritize this over working locally in the US. Buying locally is a big practice in my life and for anyone environmentally aware, but when building Harebell Shop I found that helping those designers and entrepreneurs that were working so hard to leave a better world down in Latin America be able to have a voice and sales in the US market carried a heavier weight rather than working only locally. So, we went for it and I can say now that we are helping with a lot of cultural Latin American heritage as well.
How can we change peoples' perception that sustainable and earth friendly products don't mean unfashionable?
Looking at Harebell Shop’s website, LOL! I believe some of this perspective derives from the assumption that people think natural correlates with rustic or handcrafted. Of course there are rustic and handcrafted products, but that does not mean they are precry in any way. If anything, they are unique, they are preserving heritage and traditions, but sustainability is all about the way the products are curated. Also, let’s not underestimate the power of innovation in fashion. There are so many new and fascinating scientific sustainable solutions. Starting with algae fabrics or mushroom leather and following with organic non toxic coating solutions. There is a lot going on and this is definitely the future of fashion.
The Harebell Shop is a Certified B corporation. What does this mean to consumers?
B Corp is the term used for any for-profit entity that is certified by the nonprofit B Lab as voluntarily meeting higher standards of transparency, accountability, and performance. It is a very long and hard questionnaire about different sections such as wages (social), light and water consumption (environmental), inclusion (team) and so on. Having this certification proves that we comply with those strict requirements. It is a way to give an extra peace of mind to our customers. They know when purchasing from a B Corp they are supporting an honest company, with fair wages throughout, with proper garbage disposal, etc.
What makes it unique compared to other "green friendly" businesses?
Having this certification shows that we do what we say. It is a third party stating and evaluating everything we as companies do. I think it is a great added value to have and to avoid greenwashing practices.
What are some realities of fast fashion that consumers overlook when shopping for their next outfit?
“Fast fashion” is an often exploitative business model that mass-produces trendy styles at low costs. If the consumers really knew the dangers of wearing certain types of dyes on your skin, or how toxic the creation of one pair of denim jeans is, I believe they would join us in holding companies accountable. If you pay a fair wage to the person who picks the cotton from the fields, you can’t have a two dollar shirt. It just makes no sense. Those brands are cheaper because someone else is paying the price, and this is a tough reality the consumers don’t know, but once you know it it is hard to keep on purchasing fast fashion. You can’t be an accomplice anymore once you know about modern slavery practices.
How can consumers make better decisions when dressing themselves and their lifestyles?
Reading labels is a key not to fall into greenwashing. The more detailed the label is, the better. Paying attention to the raw materials is also super important. If it has a virgin plastic as a raw material it is not ok. We have so many ways of recycling and reusing that to keep on supporting the oil industry through fashion that it makes no sense. I would suggest going for sustainable, organic, natural raw materials when possible and when not recycled nylon, polyester, etc. Hemp, cotton, bambu are some of the many great options. Econyl does a great job in recycling nylon, many sustainable bathing suit brands use it. Again, there is so much going on and always more to learn! But understanding the most common greenwashing practices help the consumers understand their options.
Sustainable fashion is an investment because it justifies quality and fair wage.
What are at least two benefits (or reasons) for consumers to invest in a sustainable wardrobe?
Peace of mind!! I love when I can invest in quality items I love that can be used for a long time. I am not a fast fashion consumer and I can not relate with people who buy without thought. We are all different, so it is really about what resonates with you. But, know that supporting sustainable brands helps support adults working for a fair, living wage (and not children or slavery conditions→ read about Bangladesh Dhaka garment factory collapse in 2013 or Garment Worker Centre fights in LA). It helps regenerate the environment with natural dyes and sustainable or recycled/ upcycled raw materials (taking away trash from our landfills. Trash that will contaminate the waters future generations will drink. AKA your children.) I could go on and on, but the main thing is as our slogan says Play Your Part! Every small action is a big wave if we all do it!
The Harebell brand hosts compostable collections that serve different consumer interests. What are comas and boobamaras? Well, we divide our brands in 3 categories: sustainable (natural and organic raw materials), recycled (plastics, Tetra Pack and more) and upcycled (defective fast fashion pieces or old, end of roll fabrics). Comas is a Brazilian upcycling brand. It is one of my favourites because of the creativity it’s designer has into making high quality, amazing looking denim pieces. My favorite is the Esher Dress that has two defective denim dress shirts stitched together. It is amazing! Boobamara is an argentinean brand that specializes in vegan shoes (some of them are compostable too!) Argentina is a meat country and we have a very old leather tradition. It is great to support our old leather shoe making craft and upgrade it to a new and compassionate raw material use. All of Boobamara’s shoes are PETA certified which I personally love.
As an immigrant entrepreneur celebrating Latinx culture in the United States, how has your personal growth evolved since your first year in the country?
The climb from immigrant to CEO was challenging, including learning a new language and becoming accustomed to a new culture. A culture that isn’t always as friendly to newcomers as it should be. I feel that my immigration journey has strengthened me and made me a better business leader. It is hard to really know how others feel unless you can relate to those feelings based on your own experiences. That is why getting exposed to diversity is a key for being an honest and compassionate boss and business owner. I feel a confidence I’ve never felt before. Harebell opened a gate for me to be my better version and apply my life’s learnings into a company. I am super grateful to have a wonderful team and a very supportive family.
Is there any business lesson you've learned (in the United States or abroad) that has shaped how you view the world today?
Sure, I keep on learning all the time. I am open and receptive to new experiences that can help me and my business grow. I think the hardest thing I learned was to do business more intuitively, trusting your heart more than your mind. The internal talk needs work, feeling deserving, abundant, and learning to see money positively. There were many barriers to break. Usually when becoming a business founder there is a very close relationship between your own personal growth and your business’s.
Denise, you reference strong and inspirational women in your family that contribute to your resilient & creative presence. What have these women taught you about life, love and fashion?
In the old days, the role of many women was to be their husbands shadow, always behind men. Many times the only career possible was as an assistant or typewriter. Both of my grandmas would have been awesome at pursuing their own careers, but it was not possible back then. I feel encouraged to move forward and pursue my dreams (and theirs). It is my mission and it empowers me every day. Regarding love, it is hard to find a partner that supports our CEO's life. When I am home I love to play with my son and share quality time together. But being a business woman implies I am not available for home chores and therefore we need to split the work with whoever we live with or hire help if needed. For some men, this is really hard because it is not the “traditional” family structure they learned at home. It actually goes against the “being a good mom/ housewife” stereotype…
When looking at fashion, I am a sensitive soul. I have my grandma's garments that were upcycled into newer, trendier and unique outfits I love. Those special pieces are the best for me. I see fashion as an opportunity to feel better and that is what life is about: learning how to be happy and daring to do so.
How do you nurture your spirituality while balancing the roles you hold from business woman, wife, mother and creator?
Prioritizing myself and those moments that give me joy. Making time to relax and reset. I believe that the more aligned you are as a leader, the better your business will thrive. I keep on working on myself, on my personal growth. I am constantly changing, transmuting and I dare to be as happy as I can be. If I need to say no, I just say it.. No guilt or toxic feelings implied. It took a lot to learn this, but I am very confident now and know that the higher my vibration is, the better for everyone. It is a constant thing, every minute of every day. Learning to check on yourself and taking action when necessary takes practice, but is a great way to live life to its fullest.
As a parent, what guidance do you have for other parents wanting to teach their children earth-friendly lifestyle habits?
Start small and add up as they grow. Leed with the example. Sometimes it is not about perfection, but about doing what you can at that moment. And that is a lot! Flexibility is the key. Separating garbage is a great start, using rechargeable batteries too! They have fun at any age seeing an electronic device getting charged. There are companies that send you composters in exchange for your food scraps which they then convert into compost. Get creative in ways to get them involved and understand circularity. Everything we do (or don't do) has a consequence. And that is a great lesson we as parents can teach them.
What new and exciting projects is Harebell working on that audiences can follow into the New Year?
We just launched today our compostable underwear which is a great step, because there are no-elastics in our products. There is no other underwear option out there that has no elastics. We handcrafted our underwear manually, with a lot of love and detail. The raw materials are bamboo which is super fresh and soft and organic cotton. We couldn’t be more proud of our Osun Collection- Harebell by Wunjo Intimates. 2022 will be an exciting year because we are launching our Play Your Part Campaign to support 2 different organizations through the customer’s purchase and our Harebell Homes section in our Shop. We will be participating in many different runways all throughout the country. Keep tuned to our social media and newsletter to know everything we are working on!
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Website: The Harebell Shop