In a world where single-use items reign and clothing often gets retired after a year or two of use, many people aren’t actively aware of where their everyday products come from. This weighed on the mind of Christina Weaver, who founded a company 10 years ago to help bring ethically sourced fashion to Missouri.
What is known today as Route started in Columbia as Mustard Seed Fair Trade. From its early days until today, the nonprofit has always been focused on smaller vendors and organizations that are just getting started, enabling them to have a more direct impact on the makers.
“We have always wanted to be – as far as design and look and items we’re purchasing – up to date,” Weaver says. “We’re giving people the option of buying what they would buy somewhere else, but just buying it safely and sustainably.”
After rebranding to Route three years ago to showcase a more midcentury modern, minimalist feel, Weaver and her team turned their focus on women’s clothing, jewelry and accessories. The organization’s team split its time between Columbia and
St. Louis doing pop-up shops and managing the Columbia storefront. But managing people and driving back and forth proved to be both time-consuming and a lot of work, so Route closed the Columbia storefront last summer and moved her business solely to online – for now.
“It was great to be in Columbia for 8½ years, but it was time,” Weaver says. “It feels good to have contracted a bit as a business and focus on who we are and what we’re doing.”
Currently, Route sells in St. Louis, does free St. Louis delivery, pop-up shops and occasional home parties, and sells goods online.
At shoproute.org, visitors will find a carefully curated selection of women’s fashion items and accessories. Each piece has been carefully selected to fit with each aspect of Route’s mission. These pieces come from partnerships Route has established via social media, word of mouth in the fair trade community and often the vendor reaching out to Route, which has a vetting process for the partners that includes a series of emails, phone conversations and a requirement, when possible, of video or a photo of the factory.
Current pieces on the website include a bright tunic T-shirt made in Nepal by women rescued from sex trafficking; a gorgeous purple skirt that’s part of zero-waste Cambodian-American clothing line tonlé; and the chic Rosario jumpsuit, handmade in Peru.
“It’s not just what looks good and fits with our curated line,” Weaver says. “It’s also maximizing the impact.”
Weaver seeks products that will help people who most need employment, like women coming out of trafficking, the disabled and others, in mainly third-world countries. This plays into the “know the route” aspect of the organization’s mission. On the website, a graphic shows the process: Makers are safely employed by Route’s partner organizations, which flows into Route curating a modern and impactful line. From there, customers purchase from Route to sustain employment and let each piece be a symbol of empowerment and a story. “We create Routes for relationships that change lives and change the world,” reads the last step of the Route process. Weaver also started a branch of Route this year that’s secondhand, still keeping with the carefully curated attitude when selecting pieces for it.
The organization is in what Weaver calls a “transition year,” and though it’s downsized considerably, the mission of making a difference remains. Right now, it’s just Weaver and a few part-time staffers, along with salespeople who help when they can.
“It’s neat working for a company that has such a focused mission because it just draws in the best people,” she says. “We’ve worked with passionate, mission-focused women and men, and it’s been great.”
Weaver is quick to give credit to Jessica Penner, who co-founded the Route brand with her in 2015.
“She’s very creative, and the visual part [of Route] is really hers,” Weaver says.
Route has been well-received in St. Louis – particularly South City – as well as within bigger cities on the East and West coasts.
“People get excited about the look of the brand and what we’re carrying,” Weaver says. “Every time people hear about what we do, they’ll tell us how they’ve been looking for [a brand like Route].”
For the second half of 2018, Weaver’s focus is on the online store’s featured pieces and what else to bring in for the cooler months.
“We took some time off at the beginning of 2018 to rethink how we wanted to do business,” she says. “We’re thinking through what our buying looks like for us right now and how we keep that fresh-looking. There’ll be some products we haven’t carried before in the fall and holiday season.”
As for her long-term goals, Weaver is open to seeing where Route takes her – with one overarching goal in mind.
“We want to help people curate their own conscious closets so they feel good about every piece they put on,” Weaver says. “That’s the goal. We want to make women feel as beautiful as they are and create positive impact with what they own.”
This story was originally published at laduenews.com. Read it on LN’s website here.