The Cordova Street strip welcomes a new ethical-and-sustainable-is-paramount clothing store and we caught up with its Vancouver founder, Sarah Stewart.
Who: Sarah Stewart, 28, founder and owner of Arc Apparel (which just opened its bricks-and-mortar shop in Vancouver this March). What's on your resume? What were you doing before this? My journey to start Arc Apparel really began when I was the Retail Buyer for Semperviva Yoga and was volunteering for Eco Fashion Week. That's when I started to learn more about the workings of the fashion industry along with the impact it's having on the planet. The job I left to start Arc was Merchandise Planner for Shoeme.ca/Shoes.com. What’s the ethos of Arc Apparel? What are you doing differently? We are a marketplace for responsible fashion. We focus on quality, timeless clothes made by brands that are making a difference. That plays out in the form of ethical manufacturing, sustainability and giving back. Quality and ethics can sometimes come at a price above fast fashion and we want that to be accessible to everyone, so we also offer a program called LaterPay where you pay in four instalments: 25 percent when your order is shipped and then three more equal payments every two weeks. We don't charge any added fees, interest or do a credit check, it's all processed via credit card. On the rack: $30 T-shirts, under-$100 Levis, $130 Cossac dresses and $300 AG Denim. Why do you think sustainable and eco-conscious fashion is important? I think my passion for sustainability started after travelling to complete my yoga teacher training and volunteering for Eco Fashion Week. When you start to make the connection that the daily decisions you make and where you put your dollars actually have an impact, you start to look at your consumer decisions. I learned that fashion is one of the most polluting industries on the planet, but it doesn't have to be. If we want to leave our planet in good shape for the next generation, we have to pay attention to where we spend our money and what impact that has down the supply chain on the people producing the products and the environment. You don't have to accept the status quo. What are some of the brands you’re carrying that you’re excited about? Sokoloff Lingerie and Mary Young are two amazing brands that are Canadian designed and made. Sokoloff creates delicate beautiful pieces and Mary Young is all about empowering women to embrace their individuality. Another two favourites are Groceries Apparel and Faithfull The Brand. Groceries designs and manufactures under one roof in L.A. and really focuses on sustainable fabrics. Faithfull is designed and produced in Bali, every piece is hand made, hand dyed and hand printed. Their dresses are perfect for wedding season. What kind of design vision did you have in mind for your shop? When designing the store, I really wanted to play up the character of the heritage building we are in. We exposed the brick, which we recently found out came over from England in the 1800s. Gastown being a historical neighbourhood, we wanted to match that in character, but also the simple clean aesthetic which aligns with our brand. I also wanted to create art that was female-focused. Charcoal life drawings really show the beauty of the female body and part of our mission is to inspire confidence so it felt like the perfect way to incorporate that. What kind of style can people find at Arc? I believe that in order for the mainstream to get on board with sustainable clothes, they have to be fashionable first, so we carry fashion-forward pieces that will last in your closet. Classic shapes, styles and colours that won't go out of style by next season. Everything from basic T-shirts to dresses you could wear to a wedding. (Also in store: accessories such as bags, watches, stockings, and candles and lotions from local company, Woodlot.) Rolling up your sleeves: Owner Sarah Stewart even created her own art for her shop, like this charcoal figure drawing above the cash desk. Did you start as an online shop first? We did start as online-only. I think it's essential to have a solid online presence in retail now, but I quickly learned that customers are looking for an online and offline experience. So many people still like the tactile facet of shopping at a store, to touch and try things on. What’s been the biggest learning curve so far? My biggest learning curve has been marketing. During this past year, I have worn every hat (from marketing to photography) and digital marking is something I don't have previous experience in so Google has been my best friend. What advice would you have for others who want to open their own shop? Location is very important. Really think about where your target customer is already shopping and if you would add value to that neighbourhood. It's also a lot of physical work. Fashion seems glamorous, but if you're starting small be ready to get your hands dirty in order to save money where you can.