Interview: Ann Cantrell on Annie’s Blue Ribbon general store and sustainable practices

I’ve been writing for Millennial Chanel for 4 years now. Long enough to where I’ve changed my platform, name, and pretty much everything about my blog. That’s a long time to keep up with a hobby that I don’t get paid for. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love having my blog as a form of expressing myself through my outfits and through my writing. Lately, however, I’ve began to analyze why I enjoy writing for Millennial Chanel so much and where I see my blog going as I continue to grow up and get busier.

Somewhere along my immersion into the fashion industry, I realized that although I love clothing and the way it can portray different things about a person, I won’t feel happy with my career path unless it’s beneficial to the well-being of other people and of the planet. Yes, fashion in some sense is an art and, like all other arts, is important to the idea of culture and expression in society; however, mass market fashion is not an art as much as a business, and is more harmful than helpful on a global scale.

My mission for Millennial Chanel is to educate and inspire people through my posts to not only be fearless with their sense of style, but to also pay attention to how what they buy affects people and the planet. A large part of the reason people continue to shop fast fashion brands so excessively is because they’re so disconnected from the production process and don’t know how it creates a footprint.

To help you (and me, too..I’m still learning!) understand the importance of sustainable and ethical practices and what that even really means in the fashion industry, I wanted to interview people who are involved in sustainability in different parts of the industry to see it from different perspectives.

I asked Ann Cantrell, who is the founder and CEO of Annie’s Blue Ribbon general store, a professor at FIT, and a board member on FIT’s sustainability council, a few questions about how she established her business and how sustainability plays a role in it.

What made you interested in sustainability in the first place?

Ann: “I grew up off the grid before there was a grid. I grew up in that mentality where you bought things for a long time, you had a lot of hand-me-downs, you recycled things. But I also loved pretty clothes, I loved that world. But I always kept to who I was [when I started working in the fashion industry], I bought clothes that were investment pieces, no fast fashion or anything like that.”

How has your view of sustainability shifted over the years?

“I don’t think you can begin learning about these things and not make it a part of your life. You can’t just read about [how the industry is damaging to the environment and people] and go and not do all the components that are going to make the world a better place after that. It’s infectious, in a sense, and it’s also a lifestyle in a way. People definitely don’t like to change and a lot of the idea behind sustainability is that you have to change your mindset and be inconvenienced a little bit.”

What inspired you to open your store, Annie’s Blue Ribbon general store?

“I grew up going to local county fairs, and if you got the Blue ribbon that meant the best in show, so to me, [the blue ribbon] always symbolized the best that life has to offer. Our business mission is to give customers the best life has to offer, all in an edited environment. When I opened my store, I was interested in supporting small businesses more than big corporations when I realized the importance of the role that small businesses play in our country. [Annie’s Blue Ribbon] does a good job of partnering with other small businesses in the area and promoting growth.”

How does Annie’s Blue Ribbon focus on sustainability other than using recycled boxes and packing materials for shipping?

“We sell a lot of eco-friendly cleaning products with refill stations, we also sell things that are more suited for apartment living. I opened in Park Slope, Brooklyn, in 2007 and [when I opened], my customers kept asking about where things were made or what they’re made out of, and as a result we started to edge towards more eco-friendly products. The business model is very complex, though, you can’t just say ‘don’t order from that company’, or ‘don’t produce in this part of the world.’ [Annie’s Blue Ribbon general store] just tries to find the best product for our customers that are going to have the highest sell-through as well.”

Do you think that the stereotype that sustainable and ethically made products are always more expensive is true?

“When things are too cheap, you have to question why they’re so cheap-what kind of working conditions they were made in. The key [to changing perspectives on price] is good value. Would you rather buy ziploc bags that are just going to be in existence forever and rot in a landfill versus a lunchskin bag you can use over and over again and put in the dishwasher and that’s 10 dollars? Our customer appreciates the value of something that’s going to last them a long time.”

How do you decide what brands to sell in your store?

“First I think it’s going to be something that’s going to resonate with our customer. We develop stories at the shop-similar to how we teach trend forecasting in class. If something catches my eye and it has a story behind it, I love that.”

What advice would you give to someone who wants to go into product development and focus on sustainability but aren’t sure where to start?

“You never know where the best new idea is going to come from; a new, young voice in a company definitely has the power to make change. One of my favorite words is a change agent –┬áthis idea that you can make movement in your organization even if it doesn’t seem like your opinion’s matter. I would encourage someone to go to a more mainstream opportunity, like a Macy’s, where their footprint is a lot larger and you could create big change in the company. There’s a lot of opportunities, even with the traditional business model, to make a difference.”

Let me know if you guys like this Q&A format for the blog and if you know of anyone you’d like to hear from or any specific topic you want to know more about related to sustainability!

 

XOXO,

Millennial Chanel

 

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