Talks with Vox: Wearable Justice
Yesterday, Vox sat down with Jacob Maxmin (COL ’17) and Grace Foley (COL ’17) to learn more about Wearable Justice: a student-owned and student-run non-profit whose mission is to help make ethical fashion decisions easier for university students nationwide. Maxmin and Foley, CEO and CTO, respectively, seek out partnerships with socially responsible companies that can provide both the highest quality products and greatest positive impact.
Vox: What was the primary idea, or the motivation, to start an ethical fashion business?
Maxmin: Basically, the motivation was to increase accessibility to ethical fashion on university campuses, so often I make the comparison between ethical fashion and organic food. Obviously, organic food is better for you, but it’s more expensive. So you could make the food at Whole Foods–if you could take Trader Joe’s and make it the exact same price. That is what we are essentially trying to do on university campuses–to help students become more conscious consumers but also make the prices such that it is an easy decision. A lot of students here can shop on M street, but what if they have an outlet on campus aside from the bookstore that offers really great, fashionable products that gives you a story behind what’s going on? It’s guaranteed that these products are ethical, and it’s a socially responsible company run by students here to serve you.
Foley: We are really trying to make the ethical fashion accessible to students by making it affordable, and therefore making that decision that much easier for them. Also, for example, one of our companies–we sell cashmere socks and scarves for anywhere from $15-40, and that is something people wouldn’t have access to if they were, you know, shopping on M street. It would probably be $80-100. So we are really trying to cater to college students.
Vox: So what are some of the most important things you look for when you seek out companies to partner with?
Maxmin: We really like transparency in all their sourcing, labor, and distributional models. They have to be open to working with us on a wholesale basis– it is normally smaller than what they are used to. They have to sell to us in smaller bulk amounts, to let us redistribute products on campus, and they have to be willing for us to re-list their products online, most of the time at discounted prices. They have to be okay with all of that. And that always comes after we have been in communication with them to see how they run their business and if they are socially responsible. Do they just donate to charity, or do they have a social responsibility campaign? Do they reinvest in these communities and partner with family businesses, or do they just go into communities and buy stuff off the street?
Foley: We’ve had a lot of companies that seem like a good idea and we’ve been really interested in them, and they’ve said “We give back to our communities,” but at the root of it, it isn’t a fully ethical process. For example, the materials they are using might be ethical, but the processes they are using to make the product is not ethical, or vice versa. I think it is really important for companies to be purely ethical. Also, we are really into small businesses since we are a small business ourselves. Obviously, there are huge companies that are trying to push ethical fashion or give back to communities. For example, we looked at Toms, but we are really trying to support local businesses, which we have shown by supporting two recent Georgetown grads at our storefront.
Vox: I know you are a small business as of now, but how are you looking to expand in the future?
Maxmin: We just got a big grant from the SIPS foundation on campus, so they gave us this a large grant to expand our entire product line, so all our winter products and the amounts of sizes and colors we offer. We are also looking to expand in terms of numbers as far as how many people work for us. Further down the road, we are looking to expand to other universities in the D.C. area, you know, AU, GW, Catholic. They are all ripe for this sort of thing. Wearable Justice is easily scalable, and it is very easy to turn into a franchise type of structure. From here, it’s how do we expand to the D.C. area, and from there it is anyone’s best guess.
Foley: Now, we are looking to find people who will volunteer to help. Right now, we only table two days a week, but in the spring we will start tabling four to five days a week. We actually just signed on a few new workers. Our next stop is to expand through our website to get people to go online and gain more traffic through social media. Once people go online, we can deliver more to Georgetown’s campus, then GU and American, so once we get more people on our website, it will take off from there.
Vox: Just one last question, if you could select one item from your website as your favorite, what would it be?
Maxmin: Someone else asked me this…I really like all our scarves, but my favorite is, well, we have this t-shirt that says “Sleepover?” on it. And like, I thought it was the funniest thing, so I bought 10 of these and only sold 2.
Foley: Yeah, I would say the cashmere scarves just because they are super affordable–and really soft. I don’t know, I really like them so–*laugh* we have gotten a ton of them. I think those are our biggest sellers right now.
Vox doesn’t know about you, but she would definitely be into a socially responsible “Sleepover?” shirt.
Photo: Wearable Justice via tumblr