What we’re going to wear is one of the first decisions we make each day. And while the decision about where to purchase our clothes is likely based upon personal style, preference, and budget, who we purchase from is more vital than we may have imagined.
Nikki Anderson is an entrepreneur and mother—the priority dependent upon the day. Her decision to start Change Boutique in 2012 came once her children were in school and she was ready to reenter the workforce. She wanted to start a business and found an available space in Madison on Williamson Street. She just needed to determine the type of business that would best serve the neighborhood. Her experiences at Willy Street Co-op East led her down the socially conscious consumerism path.
“Clearly, food choices have become more mainstream, demanding organic and locally sourced foods,” Nikki says. “People want to know where their food is coming from.” When she noticed Willy Street Co-op East began to add apparel odds and ends, she knew it was likely driven by customer demand.
When researching socially conscious clothing, Nikki discovered a college friend owned Mata Traders, a fair-trade and vintage-inspired women’s clothing brand. Mata Traders was experiencing success, and Nikki felt the aesthetic would sell well in Madison. She talked with her friend, and together they decided to reach out to other brands that shared their business model.
Nikki realized she could piece together different brands for an umbrella fair-trade clothing store. She’d work with artisans from developing countries and help them with opportunities that didn’t involve sweatshops. Many of the brands employ women, which Nikki calls “by women, for women,” an idea that encircles and reinforces global change on a local level. An ethical focus on fashion challenges one to ask who made this garment and at what cost.
“Fair-trade businesses try to do the opposite of fast fashion or sweatshops. [They] encourage people to ask where their garment came from, who made the clothes, the working conditions, and quality of life of the people producing the products.” You help sustain an economy and a person’s livelihood when you shop fair trade.
When you shop at a brick-and-mortar store, you get to see new styles and try on the clothes while being provided a personal touch. At Change, you also get to learn the artisan stories and how their products are made. “Shopping socially conscious brands brings awareness and feeling better about where you are putting your support,” says Nikki. “Customers are grateful for the store bringing this awareness and being a resource. I thought I would be the one thanking my customers, but they are the ones thanking me for bringing this store to the community.” People are grateful to know the brands align with their values.
Nikki captures as many styles, fits, and sizes as she can, but availability can vary. “The latest example is the coronavirus; it has adversely affected productions for brands. Or natural disasters can affect their products getting out. But this makes it even more crucial to support artisans around the world during difficult times. I just make it work; I have fewer styles, but order more of each until they can accommodate and maintain their normal productions.”
While there are a lot of ethical shopping platforms, artisans and brands reach out to Nikki because she’s been around a long time. “Everyone is involved to support one another. Fair-trade fashion is not competitive in a way that most retailers are.”
The flexibility and independence of running her own business has been invaluable to Nikki, as her children grow and work alongside her. They’ve not only learned about the business, but also about educating others on global issues, such as fair wages and sustainable economies. Nikki has noticed the effect on their consumerism—they’re avid thrift-store shoppers. “Recycling fabric is a big priority because it’s consistent with the fair-trade movement, and helps to conserve precious resources.” They don’t want to mindlessly spend their money where it doesn’t count or matter in someone else’s life.
Future opportunities include traveling to different locations where her artisans’ products are made and being able to provide feedback in creating new pieces. “I would love to franchise. … Expand the concept in other areas that would appreciate fair-trade fashion business. And maybe entertain the idea of a shoe, men’s, or children’s apparel store. More diversified offerings other than women’s clothing.”
Nikki also wants to do more to educate others and provide humanitarian efforts. “I’m trying to be a presence and a voice in this movement by bringing awareness throughout the community.” She cites Mahatma Gandhi: “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” and this seems to be at the root of everything Nikki is trying to do and incorporate into Change Boutique.
Krystle Engh Naab is a freelance writer and copy editor for Madison Essentials.
1252 Williamson Street
Madison, WI 53703