BELVELE; AN E-COMMERCE FOR THE CONSCIOUS CONSUMER
Monica Rojas has worked in fashion for ten years in various roles, including management, merchandising and buying, but the collapse of Rana Plaza garment factory in 2013 was the turning point that made her passionate about sustainable fashion. Along with the lack of transparency in the industry and the struggle of finding beautiful ethical fashion, she decided to put her business background to work. She founded Belvele in an effort to inspire consumers to shop more consciously while providing them high-quality clothes they will want to wear for life. We caught up with Monica to discuss the sustainable fashion industry, running her business, and how Belvele inspires people to become more conscious shoppers.
Can you please explain for us the concept behind your business?
A few years ago, I became aware of the horrifying effects the fashion industry has on the environment and the lives of factory workers around the world. I decided to change my shopping habits, but I found it very difficult to find “good fashion.” I first asked myself what “good fashion” meant to me, and I realized that what it really comes down to is design, craftsmanship, and sustainability. Belvele is a place where conscious consumers can find products that fit this vision. We make it easy to find ethical clothing that you want to wear.
You have a rich background in fashion. How has it help you build Belvele?
My fashion background is definitely helpful to make buying decisions. Having a background in luxury goods, and having learned to sew myself, I am able to notice details that show good craftsmanship. I want to select high-quality pieces that will become wardrobe staples.
Aside from that, my business background and my network have been the biggest help. Starting a business is stressful, and there are always unforeseen obstacles. No matter how confident you are, it helps to have a support system to keep you motivated and collected.
How do you choose the designers you feature on Belvele?
When deciding to work with a designer, I go back to our three principles of what makes “good fashion:” design, craftsmanship, sustainability. As far as design is concerned, I look for pieces that feel fresh and modern, but not necessarily “trendy.” I want our clients to cherish the garments they bought from us for years to come. This means I lean toward pieces that are more versatile, with a sense of effortless simplicity.
The next consideration is the quality and manufacturing of the garment. Transparency is one of the most important things to us. We provide information on each garment, and how it fits into our “sustainability index.” This includes the choice of materials, such as natural fibers, organic or recycled fabrics, and fair-labor practices.
We want clients to buy from Belvele because they find the items beautiful, but they can do so with peace of mind, knowing that each garment was ethically made.
What has been a milestone for the sustainable fashion industry since you started Belvele?
I clearly remember letting out a sigh of relief last spring, when I read that 41 people were charged with murder over the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse in Bangladesh. Sometimes it seems like greedy people never have to face consequences for their actions. However, there is still so much to be done to improve the fashion industry. Large corporations are making huge profits by exploiting people and the environment. They have to be held accountable for where their products come from.
How have you managed the challenges you have faced along the way? Which is the biggest lesson you have learned so far?
I have learned that money will make people do shockingly unethical things. Yet, you can’t let that affect you.
I manage challenges by focusing on my goals, and surrounding myself with positive people who inspire me to keep going.
While sustainable fashion started out as a niche market, it tends to become mainstream today. How do you set your business apart from the other?
I don’t believe in shaping your vision around what others are doing. I don’t see other members of the Sustainable Fashion Movement as competitors but as peers. We are all trying to do the same thing – bring attention to these important issues, and promote designers who are taking risks by doing the right thing. Each of us has a unique voice and point of view. We may attract different customers, or provide complimentary offerings. If we focus on finding beautiful products, and taking care of our customers, the rest will fall into place.
Why has supporting local businesses become huge nowadays?
I think people are realizing that large corporations are wasteful and often greedy and unethical. When you support a local business, you know that your money is going to people who are passionate about what they do, and who will reinvest that money back into the community. It feels good to be a part of that cycle.
What is the one thing that independent businesses need to have to compete with well-established brands?
The biggest struggle for independent businesses is gaining brand recognition. Even with today’s technology, it can be difficult to reach your target audience. This is why if you believe in helping small businesses, you should tell your friends about brands you are excited about and share them on social media. It doesn’t cost you anything, but it is a huge help for that business.
What is your ultimate goal for Belvele and how are you getting there?
Our ultimate goal with Belvele is to make an impact on people’s view of fashion. If we can return to a mentality of “quality versus quantity,” we can drastically reduce the negative effects of the fashion industry. Our first step was to make ethical fashion more easily available for consumers who already care about this issue. Along the way, we have inspired new people to become more conscious shoppers. That alone has been worth all the hard work, but we still have a long way to go.
Images © Belvele