Sara Aubitz is an Edina homeowner and mother of two who loves her neighbors, Edina public schools, staying fit (she runs and does yoga), travel and gardening. Her employment history includes merchandising at Target and marketing at 3M. Like many of us, Aubitz also likes clothes—new clothes, special clothes. But she had a problem with shopping. And no, it might not be the problem you think
“I went to Grinnell College in Iowa, a small liberal arts school,” Aubitz says. “That definitely shaped my awareness of social justice.” What she began to see after years in the retail industry is “the increasingly difficult conditions of many global garment workers.” Many fast fashion workers toil in poor working conditions, and clothing production has become the second most polluting industry in the world, she contends. Most of us would probably react with an “Oh, well,” but not really know how to help, and buy that pair of designer jeans on sale. Not Aubitz. Instead, in June she launched her own collection of clothing online called Ethos Collection (shopethoscollection.com). Her mission is “about respect for the planet and the people within the supply chain,” she says. “It’s about providing garment workers economic empowerment.”
How does she translate that mission to Ethos Collection? In January 2016, Aubitz found Marisa Melchert, now a graduate of the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. Melchert did a lot of research, compiling a list of several hundred brands and designers and classifying them according to style, price point, environmental sustainability and, most significantly, mission. It’s relatively easy to find companies with a commitment to environmental sustainability, but not as easy to find those also committed fair prices are paid to producers in developing countries, Melchert says. But find them they did. The Ethos Collection buys only from companies with this explicit dual mission.
The hardest part, Aubitz says, is that the style of some fair-trade garments isn’t always a match with what an Edina shopper might want. Enter Aubitz’s stylist, Michaela Lee, who writes a style blog for shopethoscollection.com. “What we are building in the Ethos Collection is a set of timeless fashion pieces, all on trend but not trendy,” says Aubitz of the clothing she and Lee choose together from a label’s line sheet for the site. Lee has written a five-part series on building a “timeless closet,” suggesting that if Ethos is part of a movement that less is more, the same should be true of your clothing stockpile. Titles in the blog series include guidance to “purge what you don’t wear, alter what’s left if needed, invest in timeless basics, fill in with fun or beautiful items that reflect your personality, and learn your body type and buy what works for you.”
Winter fashions include a lovely “painted poncho,” a very comfy-looking heathered cowl-neck tunic and leggings. Handbags include breathtaking leather totes in a variety of styles and colors. There are also several pieces of jewelry styled to enhance any outfit. And remember: Every item is ethically sourced, purchased from designers and brands committed to environmental sustainability and fair and respectful treatment of workers. Furthermore, Aubitz will invest at least 3 percent of her sales each year in a nonprofit called KIVA (kiva.org), an organization providing loans to entrepreneurs and students in over 80 countries. “Many potential business people around the world don’t have access to credit. They’re either unbanked or they don’t have adequate credit to get even the smallest business loan,” says Aubitz. KIVA lends them money to invest in their businesses, and their futures.