Everyone is talking about sustainability. But what does that mean, exactly? Well, in short, it means different things to different people. For example, some designers might use only deadstock fabric, which is either vintage fabric or excess fabric that is unused at the end of a season. Normally these are sold to fabric stores for resale to home sewers. Whereas other types of sustainability involve using fabrics made from fibers that are grown by people who are well treated and paid fairly; and in the case of cotton, organically grown, or wool that comes from animals that are treated humanely. And fabrics that are dyed using chemicals that do not pollute our atmosphere. Biodegradability is key, too. These day, exactly how the items of clothing and accessories are made are also important. Sweatshops are a big no-no.
In theory, this all sounds like a no-brainer. As our economy has become global, very few companies can produce their own fibers and manufacture clothing and accessories. Giant cheap and chic chains, as well as other major brands, have been called out for using poorly treated and underpaid workers, slave labor cotton, with other moral infractions along the way. Smaller brands work with smaller factories that are in the forefront of making sure that what they are selling is made with as little damage as possible to the environment — while taking care of the workers they depend on.
Bode started out as a menswear brand. Emily Bode, the owner and designer, makes modern workwear with antique fabrics. Women discovered the label, and you can now find the brand in women’s and men’s departments all over the world. I wouldn’t exactly call the clothing gender-fluid, but rather looks that both men and women can wear. The store, with its frescoed ceiling, is one of a kind too.
The store is located where Chinatown and the Lower East Side meet. Aside from adult clothing, Bode produces shoes, children’s clothing and toys, pillows and home funishings using historic and domestic textiles. Since the amount of each fabric is limited, many of the pieces are one of a kind.
Quilts are a favorite of the designer. Vintage prints, hand made textiles and textures are in the collection. Sometimes a reproduction of a vintage fabric made by a factory that has been making that fabric for ages will be used. Each piece tells a story. The clothing is well-made in small workshops.
The store was designed by Green River Projects to look like an old American modernist hotel. It reminds me of the interior of a vintage yacht. There is a full bar at the back, as Ms. Bode reimagines the bars that used to be in fine men’s tailoring establishments. Have a fitting and a drink.
A small fountain dating to the 1890s is a focal point. It was reclaimed from a building in Chicago. You cannot say that New York City lacks imagination.
The Bode Tailor Shop is next to the boutique. This storefront was Classic Coffee Shop, a LES fixture. The owner decided to retire during the pandemic, and Bode took the space. The shop still has a counter and serves coffee, teas and Indian sweets.
There is a tailor, of course, working in the shop where full tailoring and alterations are offered. You can have your Bode clothing tailored or feel free to bring in any other clothing you might want altered.
Bode, 58 Hester Street
The Canvas is a sustainable and eco-friendly marketplace-like brand for brands following the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. Member brands are from over 70 countries and six continents. Started by a small group of friends, The Canvas has more locations in Brooklyn and Antwerp.
These tees in the window are from a Cuban brand. There are more tees in different colors to the right. Jewelry and wellness products are on the shelves to the left.
Brands can join The Canvas website, store locations, or both. Each brand gets a small defined area to display their products. The areas are nicely merchandised and it is clear where one brand stops and another one starts.
This denim jacket is by DeClare Denim from Melbourne, Australia. The one-of-a-kind jackets and vests are made from reclaimed denim and trimmed. The coat and dresses at the left are from another brand.
Bags trimmed with embroidered trimmed patches and printed clothing fill this corner. The Canvas works with rising ethical businesses to push a green movement in retail.
At the back of the store is a door that leads to a separate gallery. The Canvas worked with a group of curators called Slow Burn NYC to showcase up-and-coming artists hailing from New York and other cities from around the world.
The work is individual and collaborative. The theme of the show is escapism, and how to relax a bit from the burdens the pandemic has imposed upon us all. This exhibit runs through April 26th.
This group of customised denim pieces includes pants and jackets. The recycled pants and jackets are printed appliqued and distressed ethically. Most pieces are one of a kind.
Kerry Phelan loves quilts and shirts made from vintage table linen, too. This jacket has a quilted top, with a bottom skirt made from a vintage tablecloth. The Boston native is obviously a fan of Emily Bode. Up-cycling and recycling have a lot to offer. All these very small businesses are proving that we do not have to shop at the cheap and deep retailers that punish employees and the environment.
The Canvas by Querencia, 250 Bowery
Loeffer Randall just opened a boutique on Prince Street. The female-owned brand started out doing shoes and has expanded into bags and other accessories. The employees are 94% female.
Dresses and tops are the newest categories. Loeffer Randall uses small family-owned factories that support their workers. They produce in small batches so that they do not have huge amounts of leftover inventory. This includes their signature shoes as well as the clothing and other accessories.
Shoes (and everything else) are made with responsibly sourced materials. You would not know the difference, but isn’t it nice to know that other people choose to do things correctly? Their signature pleated bow shoes and bags look even better.
Bags, sweaters and hats are neatly laid out, with more shoes and boots on shelves.
I am firmly support small businesses. With well-designed products Loeffer Randall is one of many companies moving forward producing clothing and accessories that are well-designed and made to last.
Loeffer Randall, 10 Prince Street
A few blocks west, Cotton Citizen has opened a small outpost. This LA brand makes modern basics for men and women. Tees, sweats, denim are made with ethical manufacturing and sustainability in mind.
The men’s clothing can be worn by women, too. Everything is made from organic cotton that is grown in California when possible, and organic even when it is not. The relaxed looks were a hit during the lockdowns. With the timely tie dyes and fashion forward shapes, new styles will keep coming.
Cotton Citizen makes everything under one roof in LA. The generational family-owned business operates their own dye house, and are in the process of fitting it with an eco-friendly recyclable water system.
If you want to buy quailty basics that are designed and made to last, Cotton Citizen is the place to shop.
Cotton Citizen, 122 Prince Street
Voz means “voice” in Spanish. Voz works with women in the Mapuche communities in Southern Chile where over 100 artisans are employed making the traditional woven products in the boutique. The weavers are paid three times the average local wage, and are given training and healthcare, as well as other benefits.
The organic cottons, alpaca and wools that the weavers use come from South America; the patterns are specific to the Mapuche culture. Voz arranges the transport of all raw materials and distributes them to the artisans. During the pandemic logistics have taken on a bigger role as due to the lockdowns getting raw materials in and finished products out proved to be more difficult.
Some of the woven cotton is made into garments. There are also many sweaters in the store that are hand knit in Chile from South American and Italian yarns. The fit is supple and détendu.
The silk pieces are made in small factories in New York. The boutique also offers candles that are made here with a coconut and soy base, along with teas and scented oils. There are many pillows for sale in a variety of traditional Mapuche patterns.
Most of the clothing comes in organic neutral colors. The silks and some sweaters offer a pop of color. The mix of traditional textiles and modern shapes works.
The staff is eager to explain what everything means, and how it was actually produced. Each item has a back story, and the process is fascinating. There is a nice selection of leather bags from Italy, along with silver jewelry designed and made in Chile.
Voz, 148 Prince Street
Barbara Hodes is the owner of NYC Private Shopping Tour, offering customized tours in New York and Brooklyn.