Amanda Brown: Founder of Sweet Lupine
One of the first things that drew me to Sweet Lupine was the price point, it's one of the most affordable brands that I've found in terms of ethical fashion. I personally own a few of their items and love them! As I've corresponded with Amanda (the founder), I've been so impressed and inspired with the heart behind this company...
Tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up in Los Angeles, California, which explains my great love of the beach, the sunshine, and all things avocado. At 18, disillusioned by the beauty standards and lifestyle habits championed in Hollywood, I moved to the East Coast to attend college. I was very passionate about education reform, and so when I graduated college, I joined Teach for America and moved to Nashville, Tennessee to teach reading. I then returned to the northeast to earn a master’s degree in counseling psychology and worked as an adolescent counselor.
A few years ago, I married my husband who, at the time, was a professional baseball player. This meant a life on the road from March through September (not ideal for a counselor). About this time, I began committing to ethical shopping, and I was growing frustrated by my inability to find ethically made clothing. Growing up I had always said that in another life I would be a fashion designer, and so when my life was about to go on the road, it seemed the perfect time to revisit this dream. I started to do some research on ethical fashion and I made several trips to the garment district in Los Angeles to speak with people in the industry. It became apparent to me that there are beautiful pieces of clothing that are already made here, in America, and that what was needed was a shop that pulled together these offerings so that people could shop ethically made pieces from a variety of makers. And so while I am not currently designing the clothing that we sell, I am in a small way, realizing my “fashion ” dreams.
When I’m not working to grow Sweet Lupine, you can find me spending time with my little family- my husband and I welcomed our first child, Emmi, to our family last Thanksgiving. We can usually be found at the beach or on a baseball field.
What was the inspiration behind Sweet Lupine?
My own frustrations when it came to finding ethically made clothing were really the impetus of this endeavor. I kept coming up against two problems: 1) I wanted to be able to shop a variety of brands in one place and to know that whatever I picked out was ethically made (rather than having to visit each brand’s store/site independently), and 2) I couldn’t afford to spend $180.00 on a new sweater (but I needed a new sweater).
And so we set up Sweet Lupine with the intent to address these two problems. We source from a variety of makers in order to provide pieces that appeal to various personal styles and needs. At the same time, we work hard to find ways to keep our prices in double-digits. It is my hope that Sweet Lupine can fill this market gap- that we can be a place where people can purchase clothing and accessories that are ethically made, that they can know that the maker earned a fair, living wage and was employed under fair labor laws, and can simultaneously be a place where more people can use their purchasing power to stand for ethical fashion.
From the time Sweet Lupine was just a concept, I knew that if I was going to work in the fashion industry, it was also vitally important to me that Sweet Lupine does not perpetuate mainstream beauty ideals. I wrote my master’s thesis on the relationship between social media use and body image- a topic I believe is incredibly important to examine as our world becomes ever more image-centric, and as more of our advertisements move to social media. I have also counseled many young-women who struggle with body image concerns due to beauty ideals perpetuated by the fashion industry. And so it is imperative to me that Sweet Lupine is a dissenting voice in the crowd. To do this, we use real people (friends and family) as our “models” and we never photoshop the bodies of anyone wearing our clothes.
Our homepage reads, “We believe you’re beautiful. We believe in people-first fashion. We believe that women shape the world. We hope to dress you as you do.” And that really is our mission: that we exist to help women dress ethically as they go about sharing their unique beauty with the world. Our message is always that you are already beautiful (you don’t need our clothes, or anyone else’s, to find your beauty).
Has the brand changed much since it was first launched?
We’re still a young company and we are constantly growing and evolving! We are always looking to expand our collection; particularly in regard to size offerings and fabric makeup. As we’ve grown and built relationships in the garment industry, we’ve been able to work with new lines that allow us to provide more mature, true, capsule pieces, which were more limited when we first launched.
What's been the biggest obstacle for you to overcome?
When we started, one of the biggest obstacles was sourcing- finding companies that would work with us (as a young company) and that shared our ethical ideals. We had to learn that “made in America” meant different things to different people. On more than one occasion, we were told something was “made in America,” but it was actually designed in America, but produced oversees, or it was sewn in America, but was created using materials whose origin could not be identified. Those don’t cut it for us, so we’ve learned to ask better questions. (We only consider products to be “Made in America” when they meet the legal requirements to be tagged “Made in America” meaning fabric to garment are produced domestically). We’ve also sought out opportunities to visit various locations where the goods we carry are produced. This has been such a fabulous experience and we’re excited to do more of this in the future. I will say, in the eighteen months since we’ve launched, we’ve already noticed some small shifts in the industry. When we first started asking companies about the ethics of their production, people seemed surprised that we were even asking, but this past year, at one of the major fashion wholesale shows, the organizers of the event had signs for brands to display at the show if their goods were (fully) made in America. It may seem like a small step, but the fact that the demand to know an item’s origin is seeping into the industry is exciting to me.
How do you select the products that Sweet Lupine Sells?
First, and foremost, we source products that are ethically made: made in America, fair-trade, and/or artisan made. After that, we look for classy, classic pieces; we want our collection to be a variety of staples that can be mixed and matched in a capsule wardrobe. It’s really important to me that our pieces can be dressed up or down and styled in a variety of ways for maximum use. I fall hard for lush, soft fabrics, so comfort definitely plays into our selection. Finally, we try to ensure our collection has items that appeal to, and are flattering for, women of all ages.
I like to say that our collection is inspired by the place where the wildflowers meet the sea. Growing up in California, that natural, beach space has always been an inspiration to me, and so we work to curate a collection of ethical apparel and accessories that fit that vibe.
You and your mom run the company together, what is that like?
Yes, it’s so great! My mom and I have always been close, and so I love that Sweet Lupine allows us to work together. Logistically, my mom oversees our distribution while I focus on our website and marketing. We do a lot of our sourcing and buying together, which is important to us because we want to appeal across generations, to women of all ages who wish to shop ethically.
Describe your personal style...
My personal style would probably be defined as “California casual” infused with some boho flavor. Comfort and versatility are important to me, and these absolutely impact our sourcing for Sweet Lupine.
On a warm day, you would find me in a dress with a necklace and a lightweight button-down for when I get cold (which I always do). In cooler weather, causal pants, a top with a cardigan, scarf, and big earrings are my staples. And regardless of the weather- flip-flops. Always, flip-flops. :)
How has shopping ethically influenced your daily life?
One of my favorite ways to shop ethically is to repurpose. Thrift-shop finds that can be reimagined and given new life are my jam. My husband and I love to do this together, particularly with home goods and furniture pieces. In this way, ethical shopping is a creative outlet.
We also try to shop locally; we love supporting small businesses. When it comes to food, we purchase from our local farm-market and we buy fair trade coffee and chocolate (yum!).
In terms of fashion, my new clothes come from Sweet Lupine, but if you were to look in my closet, you would find pieces that I purchased prior to launching Sweet Lupine for which I cannot verify the production route. Rather than ridding my closet of these pieces, I think the best way to honor the maker of these pieces is to wear them until I wear them out. So my closet is a work-in-progress, but I am getting there! Sseko sandals are next on my to-buy list!
What's been the most rewarding aspect of founding Sweet Lupine?
It has to be the people.
1. Our customers - hearing from our customers that they are so happy they found us- that they’ve been looking for an ethical fashion marketplace, that they feel beautiful in our products, that they appreciate our packaging- this is the fire that keeps us going.
2. Our makers – I love that we get to support the companies, co-ops, and independent designers who make the products we sell. We work with many small, family-run companies and independent designers and being able to support them and to connect their products to our customers is rewarding.
3. The ethical fashion community – Sweet Lupine has connected us with so many wonderful people who are passionate about ethical fashion. I love being a part of this community and meeting new people- writers, bloggers, enthusiasts- who have become friends.
Where would you like to see the brand in 5 years?
We are working to make Sweet Lupine a premier online shopping experience for women who want to shop ethically. We want to expand our brand offerings to include more small makers, more organic fabrics, and new lines that are made in America. We are working on expanding our size offerings in order to provide a greater variety of ethical fashion for women of all sizes. I also hope that we can be a small piece of the conversation that is shifting the fashion industry’s standards of beauty by normalizing non-photoshopped fashion images. Step by step, right?