Chicago isn't exactly known as the crunchiest of cities—plenty of apartment buildings don't even have recycling. We've got our Bottled Water Tax and our Green Roof Program, but green housing still costs a lot and there's a dearth of eco-friendly entrepreneurs. Turns out, though, that the Windy City's eco-friendly fashion scene is present and accounted for, but it's still at the hyper-local level.
The environmentally friendly accessories brand GREENOLA STYLE, headquartered at 941 West Grace Street, is a Chicago business with roots deep in the global Fair Trade scene. Founder Jen Moran was searching for a job that would pair her love of South America with her fine arts background, and when she studied social entrepreneurship at DePaul and won their Launch DePaul competition with her business plan, an entire eco-friendly business model was born.
Today, GREENOLA STYLE is in their fifth year of business, working with artisans from Bolivia, Kenya, and India to create jewelry and knitwear. Instead of merely sourcing materials from these countries, Moran focuses on going “deeper than just a wage.” She says, “We work directly alongside [our artisans], meeting with them, training them in design skills and business practices. We provide them with access to quality healthcare. And we're really taking into consideration and celebrating traditional artisan skills, as well as using materials indigenous to the countries.”
Eco-friendly practices are an important part of the line, too. You'll find jewelry made from repurposed aguayo cloth, a bright, durable cloth used in the Andes. There are gorgeous necklaces made from indigenous seeds like açaí, and knitwear made with 100 percent alpaca, a renewable fiber whose harvesting doesn't hurt the animal (alpacas actually need to be sheared). “We're really trying to utilize sustainable, renewable, repurposed, or recycled material,” says Moran. Many of their higher-end pieces, such as the Matisse necklace, are hand-cut from brass in Kenya and polished until they shine like gold.
According to Moran, the green fashion scene in Chicago is a “niche market,” but a growing one. “A challenge, in general, is just making [these brands] known,” she says. “We're trying to sell to people who are looking for a story—who care about more than just looking good.” On a national scale, she's noticed an attitude shift in mega-brands like Anthropologie and Gap. “Larger companies are now looking for ways to carry products that have these stories, because consumers are now asking for it. And [these larger companies] are looking to smaller business to provide the products.” For example, Athleta—Gap's workwear brand—sells GREENOLA STYLE knitwear, and the partnership has been very successful.
Find GREENOLA STYLE products at Komoda (2559 Chicago Ave.), GreenHeart Shop (1714 N. Wells St.), Comfort Me Boutique (701 W. Armitage Ave.), and elsewhere in the city at greenolastyle.com.