Since opening in 2008, body politic has become Vancouver’s premier destination for sustainable fashion. Located in the trendy South Main neighbourhood, body politic provides the best that forward-thinking eco-designers in Canada and the U.S. have to offer. From Lav & Kush, to hometown favourite Nicole Bridger, body politic offers shoppers limitless style that’s both sustainable and ethical.
I had the chance to talk to body politic owner, Nicole Ritchie-Oseen, about the future of the sustainable fashion industry, her entrepreneurial spirits, and what shoppers can expect when they visit the brick and mortar, or online shop.
EF: When did you first discover eco-fashion?
Nicole Ritchie-Oseen: I discovered new “eco-fashion” (as opposed to vintage or the horrendous burlap sack looking styles) while I was in university (early 2000s) and was starting to get serious about having my own business after I finished my degree. I had always found a creative outlet through fashion and did some work as a freelance stylist. Because of this I was always snooping around seeing what was going on, not only locally, but around the world. I started noticing some brands in Europe. The designs were modern and on trend with an ethical underpinning of eco-friendly fabrics and responsible manufacturing. I was intrigued.
EF: What was your inspiration behind opening body politic?
NRO: The inspiration behind body politic was my mom. She was very supportive of my entrepreneurial aspirations and when I said that I wanted to open a clothing store she encouraged me to “make it ethical.” I was hesitant at first because I wasn’t exactly sure what that would mean within the fashion industry. I knew it was important but it was also daunting. I decided to go for it and concentrated on researching eco-friendly designers as a starting point. This was an on-going process but a tipping point came when I realized there were enough designers in North America who had sustainability stories behind their lines. It was at that time that I decided body politic would be a showcase for these innovative designers from across Canada and the United States.
EF: What draws you to a certain line/brand?
NRO: Number one for me is, and always has been, the aesthetic. I started body politic when I was 25 and there was no way I was going to sacrifice style just to wear something that was “eco.” I had to prove that you could dress in clothes that weren’t damaging to the planet or its people and still look great. I also have to understand the ethics behind the brand. There is so much greenwashing going on that I want to be as knowledgeable as possible as to why and how the designer has decided to approach all aspects of their business from the fabric to the production. No brand is perfect and the evolution continues but we are all trying to create the change that is necessary and overdue in the industry. I also pay a lot of attention to their online presence and website.
EF: How do you discover new brands? Do you attend specific tradeshows? If so, which ones?
NRO: The research aspect of what I do never stops! It has become easier over the years. Designers are seeking out body politic now but it’s up to me to make sure that we stay true to our aesthetic and values as well. I try not to travel too much (tough to justify that carbon footprint!) but I will go to Los Angeles or New York to seek out new additions for the shop and strengthen the relationships I have with my current designers. That face time is still very important.
EF: Where do you see the industry in 5-10 years?
NRO: I hope the fashion industry becomes less polarized. There are wonderful designers who realize the responsibility they have, and this extends to huge brands like Armani and Stella McCartney. “Fast fashion” needs to go out of style but I’m not sure how long that will take. Disposable is not chic, but it has become acceptable to brag about how much we consume (as long as it’s cheap). Not only is this damaging but I personally find it so boring! There isn’t a story behind any of it. One of the favourite aspects of my work is telling my customers about the designs they’re picking out. There is a story behind every single thing in our shop and to me that’s important.
EF: What can shoppers expect from body politic?
NRO: To always provide the best that forward-thinking designers in Canada and the U.S. have to offer. Of course we need to sell clothing in order to stay in business but we want our customers to purchase items that are based on quality and value; clothing that they can feel good in and about! From the beginning I just wanted to make it easy for people to support eco-fashion. I personally didn’t want to have to dig for it. I wanted it in my face because I knew I would buy it then.
EF: What are some of your goals for body politic?
NRO: A huge focus over the past year has been to expand our online presence. The realization that we can still develop relationships and help our customers virtually was unexpected! We can reach many more people online than we can just in our Vancouver store alone. Times have changed and we don’t want to sit back and do business as usual when we aren’t living in usual times anymore! We want to help people and have just found a different way to achieve that.
EF: What are some of the challenges you face as the owner of a boutique that caters to a specific market?
NRO: I don’t escape any of the harsh realities that any business owner does yet generally I feel lucky to be working with so many like-minded people. Obviously our designers share the same values, but the support of our customers has been so encouraging. That being said not everyone gets what we’re about, but even if we can get one piece of information across to someone who may be sceptical that’s a success as far as I’m concerned. What they choose to do with that information is up to them.
EF: How does the sustainable fashion market in Canada compare to other countries?
NRO: A few people I work with in the U.S. have remarked on the Canadian market and stated they’re impressed by what’s going on here, especially because we are a small market. I think we’re doing our own thing and aren’t following anyone. Our designers design for the lives we really are living – busy!
EF: Do you have any advice for someone who is interested in opening his or her own boutique?
NRO: If you have your heart set on it then go ahead. You’ll have a tough road, work harder than you ever thought possible, but if you don’t try it you’ll probably always have that “what if” hanging over your head. Don’t wait for the perfect time. It won’t come.
EF: Can you tell our readers a little bit more about yourself?
NRO: I love dogs (absolutely obsessed!) and luckily have one, Teeka, to call my own. My Pinterest account has also revealed to me that in my next life I may leave fashion and direct myself towards interior design. It’s probably the result of living in tiny Vancouver apartments and always wanting to address a challenge!
EF: Any final thoughts for Ef readers?
NRO: If you’re reading this magazine I probably already like you. Supporting eco-fashion will be the change, so thank you!
In the Vancouver-area? Visit Nicole and body politic at 208 E 12 Ave (SE corner of 12th & Main). If not, then click on over to bodypolitic.ca to see all the collections that the store has to offer.