In case you hadn’t heard: the worlds of beauty and fashion are slowly breaking up with practices that place output and mass sales over the wellbeing of our planet and the myriad of people on it. To that end, a growing number of small business owners and founders are turning to age-old cultural practices to develop intentionally sustainable products.
For the second year in a row, She’s Next in Fashion, Empowered by Visa, has set out to amplify and provide support to women-owned small businesses in fashion and beauty. And more than a handful of this year’s cohort are minority-owned small businesses, mindfully crafting sustainable products that cause the least amount of disruption to the world around them. And as a bonus, by supporting them, you’re also pouring into a local small business ecosystem, allowing the dollars to circulate in underserved communities.
Check out a few of our favorites.
The post Sustainability Isn’t A New Wave, And These Small Businesses Have The Cultural Roots To Prove It appeared first on 21Ninety.
Three years after relocating from the East Coast to the Bay Area, Aliya Wanek set out on her mission “to create comfortable, stylish clothing ethically and sustainably as an extension of the wearer’s individuality.” The launch of the line saw the Florida native return to a passion that had been sparked when an aunt taught her how to make her own scrunchies by hand at the age of 12. Since the inception of the Aliya Wanek brand in 2016, the woman behind the small business has sewn many garments herself. The rest of the Aliya Wanek team is comprised of two local factories and a network of local contractors who support everything from sourcing sustainable natural fibers and dyes that are safe for the environment to the production and manufacturing of the clothes. And to top it all off, the company’s carbon footprint remains minimal.
Traveling the world in search of unique prints and styles on behalf of two of the best-known eclectic retail chains might seem like a fashion girly’s dream, but it left Anaak designer Marissa Maximo feeling like she could find more meaning in her work. In 2015, she launched Anaak as a brand driven by the desire to “make things that matter to the people that wear them.” What she developed was a line of natural, organic clothes and a small business that places social impact and sustainability at the forefront. One of the most valuable things Maximo brought along from her years in corporate fashion was her love of the process of finding new artisans, prints and cultural influences to incorporate in her designs. In order to meet its commitments to sustainability and social good, most Anaak pieces are crafted by hand, in small batches, by women artisans in India who get to keep their cultural heritage alive through the brand. It’s a practice Maximo hopes to extend to other countries as she works to empower women across the globe.
Visit the website for this bold, woman-owned small business and you’ll instantly notice the company’s commitment to inclusive sizing; one of several core values embedded in the brand’s DNA. Founded in 2016, Selva Negra was inspired by founder Kirsten Gonzalez’s dual Filipino and Mexican heritage. The brand pairs comfortable, traditional styles with bold patterns and unusual materials that elevate everything from tank dresses to statement pantsuits. They’re also big on ensuring that people of every body type are able to find pieces they love within the collection. Like many of the other brands in this space, Selva Negra is committed to sourcing materials in a mindful way, reducing its carbon footprint, and reducing water waste. But for this Brooklyn-born designer, operating ethically also means paying live-able wages and insisting that its team of sewing operators have access to safe, clean working conditions.
At this Maryland-based green and vegan company, the manner in which they create their products is just as important as what they are creating the products for! Naturally London prides itself on combining cruelty-free, non-toxic, and holistic ingredients to create earth-driven products meant to “enhance your proper foot and hand care.” The goal at Naturally London is to educate consumers about how much proper foot care really matters to their whole health.
Since 2021, the brand has been 100% plastic free, delivering all products in reusable and recyclable glass containers. But while that may reduce the company’s carbon footprint, founder Chris Cabrera and her team are determined to identify even more ways in which to cut waste as part of its commitment to maintaining clean and green practices.
In case you haven’t noticed, a running theme in sustainability is drawing inspiration from the rich traditions of cultures from across the globe, especially those developed before the hustle and bustle of modern life. In the case of Nopalera, the inspiration comes from Mexico and shines through in everything from the packaging, to the ingredients, to the bilingüe website. As a first-generation Mexican-American, jefa and founder Sandra Velasquez was intentional about centering her business around a celebration of her parents’ heritage. Even the name “Nopalera”–which loosely translates to “the Nopales store”– is an ode to her upbringing.
Growing up, nopales, or prickly pear cacti, were not only part of the physical environment around her, they were part of Sandra’s daily life. Her family had inherited a number of ways to use the desert fruit, from the kitchen to the bathroom. Not only does Nopalera continue that tradition by using prickly pear in its products – which consist of soaps, exfoliants and botanical bars – it also draws inspiration from the plant’s built-in sustainability. One of the most important tenets of sustainability is being able to make the most use out of every resource, to minimize the need for additional resources. And the nopales allow for just that.
“This is the land of the Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) people,” starts a video introduction on the website of this luxury Indigenous brand. “This water, this land and trees are medicine.” Drawing from the lessons she’s picked up from her own family and her extended community, founder Styawat (Leigh Joseph) created Sḵwálwen Botanicals to pay homage to both her people’s connection to their ancestral land in present day British Columbia, but to also honor the sacred plant knowledge that has been shared from tribe to tribe, and passed down from generation to generation, going back almost as far as humans inhabited North America.
As such, the teas, candles, face, and body products housed under the Sḵwálwen brand have sustainability in their DNA. Leigh and her team continue to source products for this line using the same harvesting rituals and techniques the Squamish people have always relied on. The fact that the brand’s name translates to “small win” is a wink to the past that isn’t lost on us.
At its onset, ZAAF was created to empower African artisans by helping them not only create the wares they were already making under better conditions, but also elevating those goods to the global luxury market.
The collection includes clothing, jewelry and leather goods created through a practice that brings together artisans from various communities, each bringing their own traditions of craftsmanship and unique skills. The products themselves are made from ethically sourced, indigenous materials. While keeping the cultural environmental aspects of this work alive, ZAAF has introduced historically regional creations into not only the conversation about fashion and accessories; but also one about the importance of supporting underserved communities by “cultivating and nurturing skills that [their] people already possess.”