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COLUMN: SET Boutique Closes Shop, Raising Questions About Fashion Ethics

Fashion Forward

Heights Senior Staff

Published: Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Updated: Wednesday, February 5, 2014 21:02

The snow is falling, the mimosas are being poured, and my roommate is apron-clad and cooking up some pancakes. It’s the perfect senior snow day here at Boston College. I turn on my computer and pull up my Pinterest page, just browsing beautiful images while the snow falls. I come across a new pin from one of my favorite sites, SET Boutique. It’s an image of a beautiful woven basket, and suddenly I am dreaming of hauling one to the shore this summer, filled with books, magazines, snacks, and lots of SPF 80. So I go over to SET Boutique’s site to be confronted with a horrible message, “The SET Boutique shop is closed, but the passion remains.” I am floored.

During my sophomore year, I believe, I wrote a column about SET Boutique, which stands for “Support Ethical Trade.” The company’s mission was no small one, “to end modern day slavery and exploitation.” Lindsay Sullivan, SET Boutique’s owner explains, “We scour the globe for clothing, jewelry, bags, and unique gifts made by socially responsible suppliers. Your purchase supports hardworking people trying to make a better life for themselves and their families.” When I heard this, I instantly started purchasing from, following, and rooting for SET Boutique. Ethical and fabulous fashion choices that I could be proud of? Sign me up.

But this morning, I am so upset that its time has ended. I am left wondering: Will ethical fashion ever really catch on in the mainstream? Will it ever be a viable and lucrative business plan? Will the majority of consumers ever join the side of caring where their clothes come from? It’s difficult, and I cannot actually say that I clothe myself in an entirely ethical and informed manner—I just don’t, and I think there are very few people who can say they do. But I can say that every step toward awareness counts and that every purchase we can make in good consciousness helps. Shopping ethically can become addictive. Wanting to know where your clothes came from, how they were made, by whom, and how they were compensated for their time? One ethical purchase can set off a chain reaction of awareness within ourselves and those around us who are admiring our fabulous fashion choices.

We all need clothes—except for maybe a few, faithful nudist followers of my fashion column— so why not shop in a loving, humanitarian way? To see this site that inspired me to think about my fashion choices and to learn more about fashion production not make it is so incredibly heartbreaking to me. To see SET Boutique’s good work end, and to hope that its mission was not for nothing, is a lot to handle on this snowy morning. I am left feeling hopeless. Sure, there are other sites that do this, too, but it’s hard to see one’s journey end. That’s one more strike against the success of ethical fashion online.

Luckily, this is not the end of the road for Lindsay Sullivan and SET Boutique, and you surely didn’t think I was going to leave you so disheartened. “We’ve” is a whole new site, with a new business practice, and I would highly recommend that you check it out. We’ve works with artisans to provide handmade products to customers. To prevent waste, you preorder your items on We’ve. When enough of these items have been ordered that it is financially feasible for the artisan to purchase the materials, they do. During the creation process, artisans share videos and photos so customers can see exactly how their products are being made. Then they are shipped to you! I don’t know about you, but I would love to brag about exactly how my products were lovingly made and to share pictures of the fabulous new artisanal items I’m purchasing. As of now, We’ve offers a lot of scarves, accessories, and home goods, with little true fashion among the options. Buying some ethical accessories is better than nothing, though I am longing for SET’s fashion choices. One cool feature of the We’ve site is that there is a page where you can learn about the artisans themselves—you surely aren’t going to get that sort of thing on jcrew.com.

We’ve works smartly on all sides of production and will hopefully be wildly successful for the number of SET Boutique artisans who will be joining their team at this juncture. Although its mission varies from that of SET Boutique, we can’t always get what we want. For now, we can try our best to shop consciously and responsibly, to share opportunities to do so with our friends and families, and to hope that this sort of ethical fashion will catch on. I suggest checking out wevebuilt.com to see what it’s all about.

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