Open For Business: Green Goddess Boutique

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For all who dream of carrying around old bus seats all day, let your wishes be granted. Well, not whole bus seats—just parts of them. An odd dream, but at Green Goddess Boutique, even the strangest dreams come true. At Green Goddess, which opened at 1009 West Armitage on April 1 (another location is in Hinsdale), recycled and repurposed items yield fashionable goods that often come from unusual places.

These oddly rooted items include handbags made of recycled bus seats from the Argentinean brand Viva Zapata!, but it doesn’t stop there. There are portfolios made with recycled billboards so that they can survive any weather, floor mats made of recycled candy wrappers, light fixtures made out of mason jars—and this is just the beginning. Read the rest of this entry »

Living Art: What’s a vegan to do about tattoo ink?

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A vegan tattoo by Brian Thomas Wilson from Scapegoat Tattoo

It’s no surprise that going vegan involves making sacrifices: in food, clothing, shoes—but what about body art?

Tattoo ink, none of which is approved by the FDA, is essentially a thinner acrylic paint made of glycerin, which is often derived from animal fat. Black ink in particular can be made with shellac, a resin secreted by a female lac bug, or carbon, often made with charred animal bone.

So, where can a good Chicago vegan get inked? A quick Google search for “vegan tattoo Chicago” brings up few results other than message boards asking the same question. One directs readers to Patrick Cornolo, who runs Speakeasy Custom Tattoo in Wicker Park.

But Cornolo stopped using vegan ink not too long after he first experimented with it five or six years ago. He still gets a few emails a month requesting it, but says he didn’t like the results he got with the set of vegan ink he tested.

“My only problem was the consistency; it’s a little bit thicker. My job is to put the stuff in efficiently and quickly so it heals properly,” he explains. The ink was thicker than he was used to, and thus had to be handled more slowly. “Since I’m not a vegan myself it wasn’t a big priority—I wasn’t going to compromise my technique.” Read the rest of this entry »

Embellish Boutique

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4161 N. Lincoln, (773)525-4400, [ratings]

Goods: Women’s jewelry and accessories. Designers: Rebecca Zemans, Anne-Marie Chagnon, Ubuntu, David Aubrey, Bellissima. Read the rest of this entry »

Open for Business: Nau Connects

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When the innovative clothing company Nau unexpectedly closed its doors last May as an early victim of the credit crisis gripping Wall Street, a discouraged sigh echoed through the eco-fashion community. Nau, a pioneer of the ecologically conscious clothing movement had been a touchstone and role model for responsible design and production. Based in Portland, Oregon, Nau made Chicago its first market outside the West Coast and had a retail “webfront” in Lincoln Park.

Shortly after the Nau collapse, its name and mission were resurrected under new ownership. One notable strategic change: the new Nau would be a web retailer, with bricks and mortar a future consideration, if at all. But a new Chicago eco-retailer, Connect, is bringing the entire Nau line back to this market, led by Nau’s former regional marketing manager Jonathon Shaun. “It was heartbreaking when Nau 1.0 closed shop,” Shaun says. “Here was this forward-thinking business bound and determined to revolutionize the sustainable apparel and retail industries with philanthropy at its core, and before it had a chance to really expand throughout public domain it was forced to wind down.”

Shaun leapt into action, calling on business partners Mitch and Nate Lindsay to help raise funds to revive the mission. With Nau as its anchor brand and many other socially responsible lines such as Chicago-based bag company Noon Solar and Wired Jewelry, Connect is poised to take philanthropic shopping in Chicago to new heights. The boutique-showroom also offers its own donation-based label, Connect Organics, which gives a portion of sales back to the community. As part of a commitment to reducing carbon footprints, the guys at Connect have developed a bicycle-courier program that delivers orders to your door via a professional cyclist. And the resolve to create change doesn’t end there. Connect plans to host conscious fundraising events for not-for-profits, and has a vast network of community partners including Chicago Sustainable Business Alliance, Recycling Services and Creative Pitch. (Kari Skaflen)

Connect, 1330 North Milwaukee, (312)89003684, celebrates its launch with an in-store event November 6. See Style Events for details.

Beauty, inside and out: Frei Designs crafts ethical fashion

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By Sharon Hoyer

The concept of sustainability hit the mainstream fashion world about a year ago—probably at the moment last fall when the New York Times Magazine ran an eight-page spread on eco-friendly haute couture—so we’re sure to see a handful of environmentally minded designs gracing the runway at this year’s Fashion Week. However, in a mercurial business like clothing design, responsible production runs the risk of falling out of vogue faster than parachute pants. The very term sustainable fashion can sound like little more than a thinly veiled attempt by an industry not exactly renowned for social or environmental cognizance to slap the prefix eco- on its name and greenwash its conscience of the whole affair.

However, there are designers creating precise sketches of what ethical fashion should look like. One of the most exacting and beautiful examples comes from Anne Novotny’s Chicago-based line, Frei Designs. Novotny pays as close attention to the environmental and economic impact of her fabrics and dyes as she does to the shape and drape of each garment she creates. She selects fabrics woven only from natural, pesticide-free fibers, colored with organic dyes like madder root and logwood, and manufactured by workers paid a living wage. Novotny also makes a concerted effort to support small mills and U.S. manufacturers.

The benefits of a responsibly produced garment extend to each hand that touches it, from the farm to the consumer. “Cotton farms have to increase pesticide use each year because insects develop immunity to the chemicals,” Novotny tells me as we look through the spring collection in her Pilsen studio. “Workers are exposed to these toxins. So are we. They stay in the fibers; we put them against our skin…where we sweat. Not a smart idea.”

After graduating from the Art Institute in 2004, Novotny worked in fashion in New York. Two years later she returned to Chicago to start her own line. “I couldn’t be just another designer; I wanted to keep my business in line with my ethics. And there isn’t a lot of avant-garde, high-end sustainable fashion. It’s mostly yoga and baby wear.” It’s somewhat surprising that an industry with as sizable profit margins as haute couture hasn’t dabbled more seriously in the increasingly fashionable realms of environmental and economic justice. However, organic fabrics do still evoke for many an image of burlap sack dresses cinched with twine. And then there’s the infamous relationship between clothing manufacturing and exploited foreign labor.

Frei Designs is evidence that ethical practices produce beautiful results. The misconception that “hemp” is synonymous with “frumpy” is put to rest by the fluid, casual elegance of a black wrap jacket in the fall collection. A white silk blouse with pillowed neckline appears not to fall, but float about the torso and hips. Pieces by Frei are stocked at several boutiques in Chicago, including Florodora, Robin Richman, Asinimali and, of course, the city’s first eco-boutique, Pivot.

In the face of Novotny’s infectious convictions, there’s one question I still feel compelled, albeit reluctantly, to ask. Fortunately, she volunteers the answer before I figure out how to pose it. “The first thing I’m always asked is if I feel there’s an inherent contradiction in what I’m doing.” She pauses. “I can’t afford these clothes, but some people can. There are those who spend $400 on a skirt. They might as well spend that money paying a fair wage to the workers who made the skirt and purchase a high quality and beautiful piece that isn’t full of harmful chemicals.” On the flip side, thrifty fashionistas should consider the hidden costs in the deals found on the racks in the Gap and H&M. “You may pay $5 for a shirt at the Gap and feel like you’ve gotten a great deal. Everybody loves a deal, but you have to consider the cost of making that shirt, the cost of shipping it to the U.S. from Asia; how much of that $5 is going to labor? The true cost of that shirt is shouldered somewhere along the line.”

The Frei spring collection is inspired by Buddhist teachings; an ethereal three-tiered wrap skirt in gauzy shades of orange suggests a string of Tibetan prayer flags. An endless, chunky, boa-like scarf references the tale of Angulimala—a ruthless highwayman who vowed to kill 1000 people, collecting one finger from each victim and stringing them on a necklace to keep tally. His necklace held 999 digits when he met the Buddha and found enlightenment. Novotny is drawn to the tale because she likes the idea that “we can be 999 fingers down the wrong path and still change.

Open for Business: Grasshopper 510

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Grasshoppers symbolize wisdom, prosperity and leaps of faith, so naming their brand new Bucktown boutique after one of these bright green insects seemed ideal for husband-and-wife duo Michael Roberts and Jean Taylor. But why tack on 510 at the end of the name? “Color is measured on a wavelength in units called nanometers. 510 represents the color green, ” reads a sign on the boutique wall. It’s a nod to the bright shade of their namesake insect, of course. But 510 also subtly emphasizes that, top to bottom, Grasshopper 510 is a “green” boutique, from the recycled seltzer-bottle lights to the eco-friendly paint on the walls to the recycled sea-glass necklaces and all-natural bath products lining the shelves.

For years, Roberts and Taylor dreamed of joining the entrepreneurial world, wanting to start a business that had an environmental focus. They tossed around several ideas—a moving company and a funeral home among them—but the idea of an eco-friendly boutique seemed the perfect fit. After a year of looking for space, they finally set up shop in the space newly abandoned by lingerie boutique Raizy, and opened their doors on May 14. And if the space still looks a little Raizy-ish, that’s by design. “We tried to reuse as much of Raizy’s old equipment as possible,” Taylor says.

Lining the eco-friendly shelves of Grasshopper 510 are jewelry, house wares, clothing, paper products, accessories and children’s products that are made from organic, sustainable and/or repurposed materials. “We want you to come in and splurge on yourself, of course, but to think of us when you have a gift to buy,” Taylor says. “So we try to have something for everyone.” For the jewelry lover, recycled gold, silver and sea-glass pieces (and for the true trendsetter, a recycled calling-card necklace). For the Chicago fanatic, throw pillows emblazoned with the Sears Tower or Marina Towers, created from found fabrics. For the t-shirt-and-jeans guy or gal, a hundred percent organic cotton graphic tees from Interwoven designs (which donates a shirt to homeless organization Thresholds for every t-shirt sold). Naturally, Grasshopper 510 makes it easy to gift-give Mother Nature style, with a corner of the store devoted to gorgeous, printed wrapping paper created from post-consumer waste paper. (Molly Each)

Grasshopper 510 is located at 1944 North Damen, (773)292-0510,

Nau is Then

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Nau, the startup eco-oriented and fashion-forward retailer, with a store at 2118 North Halsted, abruptly announced that the entire company was winding down operations, just two weeks after opening its first LA store in the Beverly Center. In a statement on its Web site, entitled “Goodbye for Nau,” it blamed its demise on its inability to raise the funds necessary to continue, pointing to the difficult retail climate and the extremely constrained capital markets. It’s a sad day for the green cause, since Nau was a company designed at its very core to reconstruct the retail model around sustainability and good citizenship, with 5 percent of its revenues going to local and national nonprofit causes, chosen by the consumers.

SHE’s Got a Brand New Bag

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Plastic bags are so five years ago, and now even paper bags are taking a back seat to the new stream of reusable shopping bags. Whether it’s made from canvas or cotton, toting your own bag to the store is hip, hot and eco-friendly.

Now SHE Boutique is getting in on the earth-conscious action. Stop by their Lincoln Park or Highland Park shops, spend $250 or more on spring wardrobe essentials and receive a complimentary SHE Goes Green Bag. Then bring the bag back on future shopping trips and receive 10 percent off all purchases. Every. Single. Time. How cool is that? Saving money and Mother Earth.

She Boutique\'s new reusable shopping bag

Mother Earth Gets Stylish

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You’re buying locally grown organic foods, riding your bike to work and your entire house is outfitted with energy-saving light bulbs. Cool. Now take your eco-friendly attitude to your wardrobe. Just in time for Earth Day, plenty of eco-chic clothing and accessories are hitting the shelves in emerging spring/summer 2008 collections. If working Earth-consciousness into your wardrobe is on your to-do list, here are a few must-have items. The best part? These vegan/organic/recycled pieces save the Earth without sacrificing a sliver of style.

Vegan handbags by Matt & Nat
Banning the use of any animal products, including fur, leather and wool, Montreal-based Matt & Nat creates handbags that are fashionable, functional and cruelty-free. Their synthetic leather is as soft and supple as anything real (no, seriously), and the bags are peppered with unique details such as antique silver hardware and faux-suede linings. Taking eco-friendly to the next level, their spring collection features bags created entirely from recycled plastic water bottles and recycled cardboard.
Available at Lori’s Designer Shoes, 824 West Armitage, (773)281-5655. View more at

Del Forte Denim
According to Del Forte’s Web site, it takes two-thirds of a pound of pesticides to make a single pair of jeans, and exposure to these chemicals is as harmful to agricultural workers as it is to Mother Earth. That’s why all of Del Forte’s denim—from low-rise to high-waisted, colored to traditional blue—is created using organically grown cotton. Desiring a relationship with the people who grow their materials, Del Forte has teamed up with The Sustainable Cotton Project, which helps support organic farmers. So by donning a pair of these super-soft jeans (available in a variety of styles) your environmental impact reaches far and wide.
Available at Pivot Boutique, 1101 West Fulton Market, (312)243-4754. View more at

Green Karat Jewelry
A little dose of the shiny stuff is essential to any ensemble, and thanks to Green Karat, you can stay eco-savvy down to the smallest accessory. This eco-conscious company uses recycled metals in all of its stunning creations, aiming to lighten environmentally destructive mining practices. Its gems are (impossible-to-tell) synthetics, as the company hopes to one day eliminate diamond mines altogether, which are harmful to both the environment and the workers. The necklaces, bracelets, earrings and rings range from flirtatiously fun to simply stunning, and Green Karat even offers a wedding collection of ecologically responsible engagement and wedding rings.
Available at (Molly Each)

Have Yourself an Eco-Friendly Christmas

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You don’t often hear the phrase haute hemp. Yet as the rash of enviro-conscious ads scattered around Chicago hint, planet-friendly living now resonates with a new set of consumers. Locally, the city is officially green-leaning, joyously bridging various demographics in time for the most blatantly wasteful, err, merriest time of year. Ensuring that “giving back” takes on a whole new meaning, local eco and fair-trade advocates Jessa Brinkmeyer of Pivot and Katherine Bissell Córdova of Greenheart share their ideas for a holiday Mother Earth would love.

With a savvy selection of local and international avant-eco designers, Pivot is the best game in town for fashion-forward, Earth-friendly style. Gifts like Norman Design’s vibrant, citrus-colored clocks, made from recycled HDPE ($45), will add spark to office cubicles, while Nahui Ollin’s quirky coasters, fashioned from factory reject candy wrappers, are gender neutral and affordable ($25 for a set of four). Finally, Brooklyn-based designer Mociun’s bronze, hemp and silk-blend tie dress ($395) proves that dressing “conservatively” can still be provocative. Meanwhile, Greenheart—which recently opened in the Center for Cultural InterChange—carries a mixture of conscientious eco-fair trade gift items from around the globe; every one with its own riveting back-story. A Cambodian rice-bag tote, made from recycled rice bags, supports women rescued from brothels ($40), while a sleek leather wallet is fashioned from discarded landfill truck tubes. The shop’s essential oil-scented Lumia candle line ($2.75 per votive) is the only organic soy product of its kind.

As for those treasured traditions? Both women cite gift-wrap as a major waste culprit. As a creative alternative, Brinkmeyer suggests ditching the tube for old maps and magazines, using the black ribbon from old VHS tapes as the bow for an offbeat touch. Bissell Córdova suggests Greenheart’s eco-fair trade sheet paper ($2-$3 a sheet), made from jute and water hyacinth, and collected by Bangladeshi women to clear out the local waterways. Consider kicking the tannenbaum tradition: Brinkmeyer jury-rigged a holiday tree from a found birch branch, strung L.E.D. lights (they use ninety percent less energy) and adorned it with antique chandelier crystals. If an evergreen-less holiday is out of the question, make sure to take advantage of the citywide drop-off sites on January 12. Bissell Córdova, who warns against the concept of occasion-specific bulk spending, encourages shoppers to “buy sustainable materials and buy to last a while.”

And she adds, “Why not buy good products to last all year?” (Libby Ramer)

Pivot is located at 1101 West Fulton Market, (312)243-4754; Greenheart is at 746 North LaSalle, (312)944-2544.