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Kindred Black: A Sustainable Approach to the Luxury Lifestyle

Kindred Black Q&A: Owners Alice and Jennifer On Their Sustainable Approach to Running the Luxury Lifestyle Business

According to owners Alice Wells and Jennifer Francis, Kindred Black is your destination for luxury lifestyle goods that are eco-responsible, craftsman produced, and ethically manufactured.

In addition to unique and one-of-a-kind home goods, the online retailer also sells new and vintage clothing, jewelry, accessories, and apothecary products. Today we’re going to get to know these two women, learn more about their business, and their admirable approach to sustainability.

Jamie Duncan: Why did you start Kindred Black?

Kindred Black: We had been talking about doing something in fashion and design for years. It probably sounds like a story but it really is born out of our negative experiences with the fashion industry – we’d been butting up against toxic chemicals to make fabrics water and stain resistant, hundreds of thousands of plastic bags wrapped around products for shipping that just get tossed in the trash as soon as they get there, trips to China where the air quality was so bad that we were urged to wear masks.

And when you try to change these things, you have a receptive ear until the proposed bill comes in – everybody wants the environment to stay cleaner but unfortunately few are willing to foot the bill for it. It started to eat away at us and comfortable salaries weren’t enough to let us sleep at night. We wanted to work toward something that we could feel good about, but that we didn’t have to scrap all of our experience to do. Since our backgrounds were so heavily in fashion ecommerce and retail, an ecologically minded online shop seemed like the place to start.

JD: How did Kindred Black get its name? What does it mean?

KB: It’s a hybrid family name. We wanted something we would feel connected to, a name we wouldn’t get tired of – and we like the history that’s wrapped up in a name. Kindred is Alice’s middle name and was her great grandmother’s first name – very Southern. Black is Jenn’s great grandfather and father’s middle name, and has Scottish heritage. We like that they’re two pretty suggestive adjectives ­– one a bit soft and hippy (in a good way) and the other harder and darker. It’s a pretty good metaphor for us, actually.

JD: Kindred Black is a partnered collaboration. What role(s) do each of you play and how did you discover your similar visions for the future?

KB: We work really closely on most aspects of the business. Jenn handles the operations side –research, inventory, financial, legal, fulfillment, and she does all of our copywriting. Alice handles the visual side – photography, web design, branding, social. And then there is a lot of overlap – sourcing product, styling, features, and interviews.

We worked together for years prior to starting Kindred Black, so we knew a lot of our ideas were already in line and that our aesthetics would mesh well. We’re both into fashion and design but at the same time lovers of strange, offbeat objects that you wouldn’t necessarily see in your average shop. We’ve always been avid researchers of the history and meaning of our “things” so we knew we could create something interesting together.

JD: How would you describe your commitment to sustainability and Fair Trade practices?

KB: From day one it was important to us that we go whole hog – that if we were going to be an eco-company, we had to be one hundred percent. We have a set of guidelines we run everything we do by. It can be hard because sometimes there’s something we love and want so badly for the shop, but it doesn’t fit the “rules” in some way and we have to pass. The good thing is that if you set a really clear mission for yourself, your decisions are much clearer cut.

All of our packaging is made of one hundred percent PCW from our shipping labels and tape to our grosgrain ribbon. We try to avoid plastic like the plague that it is, though that is a major struggle because it’s so prevalent in everyday life. We ask questions of all of our vendors and try to use only those artisans and manufacturers with a commitment to fair trade, fair wages, and bringing long lasting quality back into our lives. There are aspects that are still not perfect but we’re hoping that as time goes on and we get bigger, we’ll have more opportunities to effect change, rather than just come across it.

JD: How do you source your products and merchandise?

KB: We’re always sourcing products. A lot of our products are things we’ve used for years or have some sort of a connection to. We’re always looking for brands when we travel, asking friends, reading, googling, scouting. We’re history buffs and often times there’s a great product lurking in a history lesson.

JD: What is the most enjoyable part about operating Kindred Black?

Alice: Discovery. We are constantly learning about things we otherwise wouldn’t know anything about – how to grade diamonds, how to clean copper naturally, the healing properties of howlite. We visited the world’s largest rose bush to collect petals, a small garage woodshop to learn about turning wooden bowls, and a family run traditional weaving studio to see a century old loom.

Jennifer: That is the most fun part of it, satisfying curiosity. I’ve also really enjoyed getting to meet so many amazing and creative people that really seem to care about the world and what happens in it. In my last job I felt pretty isolated in my views on the environment – it became a joke, “Don’t let Jenn see that we got takeout with plastic forks and knives again.” With Kindred Black I can demand no takeout allowed in the office…ha. Actually I just feel more connected now and I feel proud of what I’m doing.

JD: What does Kindred Black offer its customers that others do not?

KB: Options. When we set out to compile the assortment, we didn’t want customers to have to compromise their personal style and taste for the sake of being eco-responsible. We find so often “eco” comes with a very specific aesthetic, one that can be pretty limiting. We wanted Kindred Black to be a place where customers could shop and not necessarily have to think about the feel-good aspects of the whole thing.

JD: What do you see for the future of Kindred Black? Any big plans?

KB: From the beginning we’ve planned to have our own line – an assortment of ethically manufactured clothing, accessories and home goods. We plan to have a brick and mortar location when we decide on the right spot for that. First we want to continue to expand our divisions, there are already so many designers and makers creating incredible things. More collaborations, more features, more projects. We have a lot in store, stay tuned…

JD: What do you see for the future of sustainable fashion?

KB: We see sustainability as the future of fashion and hope that’s not just wishful thinking. It seems every day a new store is opening for sustainable design or natural beauty and even some of the biggies are waking up to fairer and less environmentally ravaging practices. It’s becoming an absolute necessity that the world changes – we don’t see talking people into shopping less at the moment so the next best thing seems to be to direct that impulse another way.

JD: If you could give one message to our readers, what would it be?

KB: Vote with your dollars. If the environment and what happens to the planet is important to you, find places to shop that align with your values. It doesn’t even have to be luxurious or expensive purchases but supporting businesses with strong missions can make a real difference.

We so appreciate Alice’s and Jennifer’s commitment to opening and operating Kindred Black, as they work diligently to change the face of sustainable and ethical luxury lifestyle goods for the better. We hope you’ve enjoyed our piece on this business and do encourage you to share your thoughts on the EcoSalon Facebook page.

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Image of Woman in Lace Skirt via Kindred Black

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