By Anne Michelsen
Do you ever wonder about the people behind the websites you shop? You might be surprised at the very human and often inspirational stories behind the Web pages we take for granted.
As a writer with a keen interest in sustainability, I thought it would be interesting to find out more about those behind the green companies where I choose to shop. And for me, there was no better place to start than with Adrian Desbarats, founder of Fashion and Earth. Those of you who’ve placed orders on the phone may have already gotten to know him. Now, I invite you to get further acquainted as Adrian shares both his story and his vision for the future.
F&E: What possessed you to start an eco-fashion company based out of Prince Edward Island?
Adrian Desbarats: It all started with a combination of two things. I’ve always been an entrepreneur at heart, and I’ve always been green-minded. I wanted to find a way to marry the two interests. Fashion & Earth sprang up from that.
Before starting Fashion & Earth I worked as a senior biologist for a company that makes systems for the aquaculture industry. I started looking for business ideas not so much because I was dissatisfied with biology but from the urge to be entrepreneur. I saw running my own business as the chance to have the freedom to enjoy life with family and friends and at the same time do my part to be a good citizen.
I talked it over with my wife, and we agreed to start looking around. I knew whatever it was I was going to do it had to be green. In my search I stumbled on organic fashion. It felt like an area I could grow with. Plus my wife is interested in fashion, and we kind of saw it as a family thing, something we can do together.
F&E: How involved is your family in the business?
AD: My wife helps out as much as she can, but she has her own job so she can only do so much. She manages the photo shoots and helps with the financial side of things. And she’s the fashion guru. I go to her for that.
I’m hoping that my kids will help run it as they grow older. Andrea is 5 and, Erin is 2 so I guess I have a while to wait!
F&E: When did you first realize you were an entrepreneur?
AD: From a very early age. I was the kind of kid who sold lemonade by the road, and carried groceries for money and swept floors. I was that kid.
F&E: Do you have a retail outlet, or are you purely web-based
AD: No, we don’t do “brick and mortar” retail. I’m a real strong believer in the Internet, and I feel the whole concept of brick & mortar stores is passé. It’s the old way. I look at Zappo’s as my template. They don’t have a single store anywhere and they sell all over the world, and they have just a couple of warehouses and that’s it.
Brick and mortar retail leaves a very large ecological footprint and really it’s just an outmoded way to do business. I believe that any business starting up has to look at its corporate structure, and not just its policies but its products and infrastructure if you’re going to be following the green path.
F&E: How do you go about finding suitable items to represent?
AD: Initially it was tricky. I didn’t know many suppliers.
I went to a few fashion shows and some eco expos. The Atlantic Eco Expo in Halifax, one in California, some others. And I joined the Organic Trade Association. I got to know a lot of the players in the industry and got to know what exactly it meant to have organic & eco friendly clothing. Once I understood what it meant, I formed my own guidelines as to what I wanted to represent.
Then I went back to the shows and asked the vendors questions. Only those who met my guidelines were the ones I chose to represent in my store. They have to provide very good proof through some kind of credible 3rd party source. By proof I mean they have to have 3rd party certifications. The organic cotton items I carry have to be GOTS certified, and so on. All those standards are posted on my website.
And it’s not always easy. I was carrying a hemp supplier I had to drop because he had dropped his certification. Certification is expensive and it’s hard sometimes for small suppliers to keep up. I’ve passed up products that I’m sure are very high quality and legitimate but they just didn’t have the proof. I feel bad about it, but I stick to it. It’s my guarantee to my customers.
F&E: Are there any humorous or touching incidents you can tell me about?
AD: Oh, dear. Well – one was when I was coming up with the name for the company I actually hired someone to help me do that.
Coming up with a company name is difficult. My original name was Blue Mesa. My wife thought that was really an odd name. I found someone, and I liked her stuff. She started working on finding me a name.
She had created a focus group. And the very first name on the list was Fashion & Earth and she was so excited, she thought it was great. And I didn’t like it.
We went through a second and third round of names. After the fourth round and many, many hours later I finally said “I like Fashion & Earth!” She must have wanted to strangle me but she was a very good sport!
Also, our first fashion shoots were just a hoot. We didn’t know what we were doing, the models didn’t know either as they were just friends of friends. But that made it all the more fun.
The whole process of starting a company from scratch, it’s been a lot of fun.
F&E: What’s been your biggest reward?
AD: Absolutely dealing with the customers who get the company and get the philosophy behind the company. I’ve had a lot of customers come back and tell me, “You’re really doing a great job, we really appreciate what you’re doing.”
Whenever I get a positive piece of feedback like that it really makes my day.
F&E: What are your plans for the future?
AD: I think we’re going in a good direction. I’d like to continue to add more products to our line so we can continue to bring a better offering to our customers.
As we gain momentum & continue to grow, I’d like to eventually become a one-stop shop. Men, children, toddlers, intimate, casual, business. A place where people can shop all in one place and do it with the peace of mind that they’re part of the solution and not part of the problem.