Friday, November 14, 2008

Eco-fashion Stops by DC - Part Two: The Little Boutique that Could

Note: This post is WEEKS overdue, but, as someone very wise said a long time ago, better late than never!

Tucked into the first level of an 18th street Adams Morgan brownstone is a little store that is trying to change the world . . . one hemp/silk blend dress at a time. Hoopla arrived in Adams Morgan from its previous Barracks Row location about a year ago and has slowly emerged as the go-to place in Washington for eco-friendly, locally-made and fair trade gifts, décor and fashion. It has a variety of quirky, unique and beautiful items meant to soothe your spirit, while assuaging your conscience.

This past weekend [Note: it was actually on October 4, 2008], I attended a fashion show highlighting some of the new fashion lines (dressy and informal styles) that Hoopla has for the Fall/Winter season. I think this was a great idea, since many people still have a misconception about what "green" fabrics looks and feel like. Giving people a chance to see the outfits ON and to touch them, is a good marketing strategy. Personally, I think the hemp blends and the bamboo fabrics are amazing - soft and luxurious, with a drape that seems very unique to my untrained fashion eye!

The boutique is small, with a small carriage house in the back and I wondered how a runway fashion show was going to fit inside there, along with the merchandise and guests. But, the owners did a great job pulling it all together. The strutting models were all customers and friends, making the event feel like an intimate get-together (with pretty clothes, of course).

Although the attending crowd seemed small – with one of the owners even trying to pull in blasé Adams Morgan hipsters off the sidewalk with the promise of free mimosas (which were yummy, thanks!) – in the end, almost every seat was filled for the laid-back event. The first 20 people to arrive received gift bags of candles, lip balm and other little items. At the end of the show, there was a raffle and a lucky person won a gift certificate – with which she promptly headed to the coat rack. Here are some photos from the event (and please pardon my photos, I was sans my regular photographer this time around):







I am sure that the last year has been a great learning experience for Laurie Moran, the buyer for Hoopla. As eco-fashion becomes more accepted (even demanded), and there are consistently more designers to choose from, and the DC market shifts to a demographic of younger professionals, we wondered whether she had some thoughts on the last year of buying for the boutique. We asked her a few questions via email and below is her response (PS – she kindly answered our questions on her way out of town to be married. Congratulations Laurie!!)

I have noticed that some of your fashion choices have changed over the last year. You seem to be carrying more “fashion-forward” styles – perhaps targeting a younger demographic. Has this been a conscious decision? Can you talk a little about how you choose what fashion to carry at the boutique from the perspective of sustainability and why you prioritize certain things? How do you make sure that the companies you buy from are actually doing what they say they are? Can you talk about some of the clothing brands that you are carrying that you really like and why you like them? What items (not just fashion) seem to be most popular with shoppers?

Laurie's responses:

Yes, we have made a conscious decision to change our fashion lines. This was based on two primary factors. First, we were located on Capitol Hill for 5 years. Our move to Adams Morgan really changed the demographics of our marketplace. We now serve a much younger, trendier audience. Our customers on Capitol Hill were fashion-conscious, but had a different sense of style. Secondly, there are increasingly more green fashion options, as designers have become more eco-conscious. We used to go to shows and find just one or two lines that would work for us; now we have a great variety of choices.

We find most of our lines through the New York shows, but I also spend a lot of time in cyberspace looking for designers whose sensibilities I like. I try to stay away from the ones who seemed to jump on the green bandwagon as a marketing ploy, and choose those that are transparent about their choices. The lines I like best recognize the trade-offs of choosing "green." They consider their entire supply chain, not just the sustainability of their fabrics. And they care not just about the environment, but also about the people who make their livelihoods from creating fashion.

I carry a couple of quite popular and better known brands such as EcoSkin and Sworn Virgins. But my personal favorites are the very small new designers such as Kate Organics and Sublet. I like Kate because the line is fashion forward but classic, reminding me of a modern Katherine Hepburn. I like Sublet because the designs are simple, tailored but feminine, and can carry you from the office to an evening out. Of course, the showy evening dresses are always a hit, but when folks have a limited budget, I think you get more for your money by buying the classics. That being said, my one favorite item this Fall is the Whitney indigo bamboo denim coat by Kelly B. It is a very fashion-forward take on the denim coat, with enough style to dress up jeans or wear over a suit to the office. (In fact, I am wearing it to our day-time wedding ceremony.)

The most popular items have remained constant over the years -- jewelry and handbags. Women can never seem to get enough of them, and they make it possible to update your look without a major purchase. We do very well with the Ecoist line of candy wrapper bags, for example. They are colorful, different, and dress up any outfit.

We started the speaker series because Hoopla is not just about selling, it is about creating community. That was the same rationale behind our fashion show. People who care about green fashion also care deeply about a lot of related issues, and want the opportunity to share their knowledge and experience with others.

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