I remember waiting to receive my first paycheck after graduating college. I’d moved to France to mold young minds for a year, and during a layover on a quick weekend trip to Paris, I’d had my credit card rejected while trying to buy a croissant at a patisserie in Le Mans. It all felt very dramatic and youthful and French, as I looked to my traveling companion for a couple of euros and silently asked for her sympathy. When I finally received my first stipend, I celebrated renewed independence the only way I knew how—with farmer’s market avocados and a trip to Zara. I had truly suffered, renouncing French pastries and eating off-brand Nutella for weeks. “Who, if not me, is more deserving of this synthetic, moss-colored scarf?” I thought.
I’ve noticed that clothing purchases seem to mark many of my life’s highs and lows. I constantly justify shopping with relatively average rites of passage— a tweed blazer for a new job, a pleather dress after a break-up. Nothing feels beyond celebrating or commemorating anymore. As I’ve met and learned from small business owners around Minneapolis, I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable with how I consume things. Is all this stuff really going to bring me joy for more than just a few wears? How do I start prioritizing quality, longevity, and human beings in a world that constantly tells me I need to have and be more?
Emma Olson is a couple steps ahead of me in processing how we buy and think about our clothing. After six formative years working in Target’s corporate apparel department, and through careful, self-guided research, she recently launched Hazel & Rose, Minneapolis’ first contemporary women’s boutique dedicated to sustainable and ethical fashion.
Over the last few years, filmmakers, celebrities, and activists have worked hard to thrust the fashion industry’s troubling human rights record onto our screens and into our collective conscious. As factory owners abroad cut costs to compete for big brands’ business, workers’ rights fall to the wayside. Evidence of dangerous working conditions, substandard wages and even physical brutality has surfaced, adding to concerns about the industry’s negative environmental impacts. “I opened Hazel & Rose because once I understood all of these downsides to fast fashion…I just couldn’t go back to shopping the way I always had.” Emma reflects on how her worldview has shifted since she really started to study the business.
The 28-year-old entrepreneur's values of transparency and quality represent a stark contrast to the average shopper's, where convenience trumps all. Big retailers like H&M, Forever 21, and Zara dominate the marketplace with their quick trend turnaround, and super low prices. Shopping ethically, on the other hand, can feel confusing, expensive and frankly, not very sexy. So, like, these elastic-waist pants are made out of recycled Fiji water bottles and they're gonna set me back $200? I quit.
Emma frames these tensions in a thoughtful, easy-going way. "I sometimes end up spending more money on individual pieces, but that just means I'm more thoughtful and deliberate...I buy less, and I buy pieces that work harder for me." She's become an expert at finding staples to dress down while she manages the shop, or spruce up when she finds herself at events around town. Classic silhouettes and versatile basics certainly comprise a portion of her shop's offerings, but she also offers pops of this season's on-trend blush tones, and gorgeous hand-knit tanks.
"I really wanted to make sure that Hazel & Rose didn't compromise style for sustainability...I never want people to shop here out of guilt. I want them to come here because they know they'll find clothes they love that are thoughtfully constructed, and made to last." As Emma looks to fill her racks by meeting designers at trade shows or by browsing their personal websites, she prioritizes aesthetics and ensures their brands match her values. Are they using natural, recycled, or dead-stock fibers? How and where is the garment manufactured? "I can tell if a designer knows and cares about the story behind their garments...and I make sure that I can pass that story and promise to my consumers."
In addition to supporting responsible, sustainable brands, Emma looks to collaborate with innovators at the local level. She currently stocks Minnesota loves like Winsome Goods, Hackwith Design House, and Meadowlands Chocolate. Her most recent collaboration with Hackwith just launched, featuring a beautiful, light denim tank, and ultra-versatile tencel basics perfect for Spring. All of the new designs will be available for browsing and buying this Saturday, at the Hazel & Rose Grand Opening celebration during Art-A-Whirl.
After chatting with Emma, and by diving into online conversations about ethical and sustainable fashion, I'm inspired to take on this important challenge of doing and expecting better-- of myself, of the people who sell me my clothes. Thoughtful consumers and business owners can truly drive and demand change in this industry. If you're not really sure where to start, I encourage you to visit Emma at Hazel & Rose. Her passions for design and thoughtful shopping are etched into every corner of her shop, and her desire to share what she's learned is this city's gain.