Last summer, we spent our holiday on Cape Cod. The weather was spectacular and we spent a few days exploring the many beaches, bike trails and restaurants. One of the stores I found in Hyannis was a small, little boutique, called Shift Eco Boutique, which, naturally, I had to go into. The owner, Amanda Converse, happened to be working that day so we got to chatting about sustainability, running a small business and living on the Cape in the off-season (a lot less traffic, that’s for sure!). I asked if she’d mind doing an interview about her store and she graciously agreed. If you have a chance to go into the store if you’re around the Cape, I highly recommend it. Everything Amanda stocks has an ethical, eco label, which means you can buy with good conscience. I interviewed her about her work, her store, and her mission to support local businesses.
Why did you decided to start an eco-friendly clothing and gift shop?
My educational background is in the environmental field, and when I was studying for my Master’s Degree in Environmental Policy I learned about how bad the fashion industry is for the environment – pesticide use in growing crops for fibers, petroleum use, water use, waste production. It wasn’t long after that I walked into my first Eco Boutique in British Columbia, and I thought I could do that – provide consumers with environmentally friendly alternatives for clothing, accessories, home goods and gifts. Five years later I opened my shop on Cape Cod.
How do you define “eco-friendly” when you choose your clothing lines?
The first requirement for anything we bring into the store is that it is made from eco-friendly materials: organic cotton, hemp, modal, tencel, bamboo, recycled cotton. We then look into the company and ask a lot of questions: Are they committed to other environmental values beyond the materials they use? Where is the clothing made? Does the factory try to conserve resources? Are the people paid fairly? We take all of these into consideration when we decide to work with a clothing designer.
The industry has evolved since I first entered it and people are getting a lot more innovative in their materials. We’ve had dresses made from recycled plastic bottles and pineapple fibers and we’re excited to see fabric being developed from things like mushrooms. We can’t just rely on organic cotton – it is much more resource intensive and can’t sustain the demand for clothing. We need other fibers to become more competitive. In the U.S. we can’t grow hemp, which is a huge obstacle for using the fiber for fabric.
I noticed that you sell gently used clothing bought from your store. Why do you do this?
It started when I accumulated a few items I had ordered for myself that I wasn’t wearing that much. It only made sense to sell them second hand at the shop – to recycle them. Then I started letting customers do the same for a little bit of store credit.
Our clothing tends to be a higher price point because we are paying the “true cost” of the items (material, high environmental standards, labor) than what some people are used to. So, it’s been great for allowing people with all kinds of budgets to be able to own eco-friendly clothing.
What criteria do you use to select your home decor items?
We use a similar system for choosing our home goods as we do for choosing our clothing designers. The materials in the product must be eco-friendly. So, we have beautiful dishware made from recycled aluminum, the furniture is made from reclaimed wood, our candles are beeswax or soy wax and in recycled glass containers, we’ve had rugs made from upcycled fire hoses, and we currently have a bench made from upcycled saris from India.
Do you also have other environmental goals, such as zero waste, zero energy and zero net water goals?
Of course we do as much as we can; it’s virtually engrained in us. Our operation is not that big and fortunately we don’t have a lot of moving parts. But: We have worked with our local energy company to make sure we are as efficient as we can be (given we don’t own the building we occupy).We recycle everything we can, and we reuse shipping materials for whatever we can. But one of our main goals is to educate as many people as we can. Eco boutiques are sometimes the first touch point for a lot of people entering into the world of green consumption, and so we answer a lot of questions and give a lot of resources. We also have a lending library full of books on various environmental topics for people to borrow.
In addition to the store, Amanda publishes a local fashion and shopping guide for the Cape. She works with local shop owners to help support their stores. The shopping guide is available at various locations around the Cape and is free.
Why is it important to produce a local shopping guide (featuring only local shops as opposed to chains)?
Local businesses are the heartbeat of every community. Local business owners are your neighbors and friends, they are the ones that sponsor local charities, and donate to local fundraisers. If local businesses are doing well the whole community is doing well. Many studies have shown that a dollar spent at a small, local store generates twice as much wealth for the local community than that spent at a national chain. What’s more, national chains encourage conspicuous consumption, which, in the end, costs consumers and the environment much more.
I started The Current Quarterly in order to show people in our community that they can get unique, quality goods from someone who is as invested in Cape Cod as they are. It has been one of the greatest joys of my life – to advocate on behalf of my fellow business owners…and have a lot of fun with fashion while I’m doing it!
The magazine is available on the website www.thecurrentquarterly.com
Thanks for speaking with me, Amanda!