Welcome to Sustainability Week! While Fashionista covers sustainability news and eco-friendly brands all year round, we wanted to use this time around Earth Day and the anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse as a reminder to focus on the impact that the fashion industry has on people and the planet.
Ethical fashion isn't just an obligation (or a savvy business move) for Antidote founder Sophie Zembra. For the recent Miami — by way of Paris — transplant, shopping ethically is a way of life.
The former textile designer put her money where her conscious is and opened Antidote, an on-trend multi-brand boutique, which challenges the outdated perceptions of both ethical fashion and the "bright and tight" South Beach aesthetic. If you wandered into Antidote, at first glance, you'd likely think it was another thoughtfully merchandised boutique carrying a mix of minimalist-cool designers like Stella McCartney and Edun, plus a roster of indie, under-the-radar brands. Maybe you'd realize later that all the brands happen to be ethically produced — and that's intentional.
That's Zembra's (and Antidote's) approach to spreading the ethical fashion gospel. She's not going to hit you over the head with a righteous lecture or guilt you into shopping ethically. "We are not a teacher," says Zembra, over the phone from Miami, with her incredibly chic French lilt. Instead, she wants to show that ethical fashion can be easily incorporated into one's lifestyle through stylish, innovative and just cool wardrobe essentials.
"For me, ethical fashion is just something that makes sense," she adds. "I would love to prove to people that we can be creative and at same time take care of each other and the planet."
After honing her eye for design by studying stained glass at Lucas de Nehou University in Paris, Zembra moved into textile design. During her travels to China and India to source materials, she realized firsthand the impact of environmentally friendly practices and the craftsmanship, hard work and stories behind the people creating the fabrics. "After that, I started to be [eco] conscious for myself," Zembra recalls. After receiving many compliments on her own eco-friendly and ethically shopped wardrobe, she founded Shopethik, a now-shuttered French e-commerce marketplace for activewear and baby clothes.
Through her previous e-commerce experience, Zembra realized that sharing the inspiring story about a brand helps create a deeper connection between the shopper and the product — and makes the experience of ethical shopping more fun. "You don't wear a dress because it's ethical," she says. "You buy a dress because [it makes you] feel good inside. We actually don't forget that, because ethical shopping is not a duty, it's more than that."
So, if you're browsing in-store at Antidote, each item's price tag features a scannable QR code, which shares the background behind each brand. For instance, there's Sarah's Bag, a one-of-a-kind accessories line which provides employment and an income for refugee and incarcerated women in Lebanon; Luz, an environmentally responsible and organic cotton swimwear brand with a Paris-meets-Buenos Aires aesthetic; and Veja, which incorporates fair-traded cotton, wild rubber and recycled plastic into its color-blocked sneakers and ethically manufactures in Sao Paolo, Brazil.
"Each one is interesting because each one has a great story," says Zembra, who scours the world and visits factories and showrooms for brands to bring onto her sales floor.
Shoppers may also notice the limited sizing from the mostly emerging brands carried at Antidote. For more size inclusive offerings, the boutique will be launching an in-house line, starting with an ethically made in the U.S.A. T-shirt, which runs up to a size XL. The 100 percent organic cotton graphic tee (above) debuts in support of Earth Day with 10 percent of sales benefiting the Surfrider Foundation, which protects the world's (and Miami's) oceans and beaches.
Zembra's dedication to eco-awareness and sustainability applies to not only Antidote's offerings, but also the store itself. The millennial pink and modern zen-like space is built with ecological materials, like eco-cement, nontoxic paints and natural, untreated wood. "For me, it doesn't make sense to offer all of these brands and ask [my architect] to bring some plastic and toxic products in my store," Zembra says.
The boutique's location in the hip, colorful Wynwood district also draws the style-focused crowds — ethical shopping-inclined or not. Antidote joins the likes of Reformation, Warby Parker, Lovely Bride and Miami influencer-favorite Boho Hunter (plus, the best mojito bar). "I chose Miami because of Wynwood. I fell in love with this district. It's really interesting to be in Miami now, at this specific moment," says Zembra, about the city's rapid population and business boom and the evolution in shopping habits and tastes that come with it.
Fun-loving Miami differs from other big cities like New York or San Francisco, where any interaction — from a dinner conversation with friends to a passing exchange with another subway commuter — usually involves spirited discussions about politics and social issues. But that means Miami just might be the perfect place for Zembra's soft diplomacy approach for touting the ethical shopping and lifestyle message.
"It's true," she says. "Miami is not the best place to find people who are really engaged in ethical fashion." However, she's been pleasantly surprised by the positive response and interest from a diverse range of visitors and residents, especially a "younger" demographic. "We have lots of New Yorkers. They love and are aware of the [ethical shopping] concepts," adds Zembra, who also points to shoppers from Asia, the Middle East and Europe, plus the huge audience from Latin America who both visit and live in Miami (and the influencers they follow). "Brazilians are really receptive."
Zembra is also eyeing other cities to spread her ethical shopping message. "We just started to plan and we will open next year," she says, mentioning New York, California and Austin, Texas as possibilities.
Of course, for those who aren't in Miami, there's always antidotestore.us. Zembra acknowledges the shaky retail environment for brick-and-mortar stores and knows that that e-commerce is a "core" of her business, but she still emphasizes having a physical store presence to tell her brand's story and communicate the ethical shopping message. "I can't imagine just having e-commerce and not a place where people can come and meet the team, try the clothes and [browse] everything because we have a lot of emerging brands," she says. "That's why shoppers have to see it."
Antidote also recently debuted Cache Cache, a short video — with an "Amelie" meets Spike Jonze feel — that delightfully sends the message to shop ethically... like a French girl. (Sorry, I couldn't help it.) The video is, of course, adorable.
"We want to send a strong message for ethical fashion, but we have to do it in softer way and we have to do it in a funny way," Zembra explains. "So we are not just here to tell you, 'It's good to wear something better for you and for the planet.' We also want you to enjoy it."