Belvele’s founder, Monica Rojas, became fascinated with fashion at a young age. She has worked in the industry for 10 years in various roles, including management, merchandising, and buying. Read more about our interview with her.
Tell us about yourself – familial/personal story, education, and prior work.
I was born in Switzerland, and my family is from Ecuador. I spent six years living in each country before moving to the United States at age 12. I became fascinated with fashion at a young age, but I decided to study business management in college, and completed a Master’s in Business Administration a few years later. I have worked in the fashion industry for 10 years in various roles, including management, merchandising, and buying.
How did you get interested in ethical and sustainable fashion?
I became interested in sustainable fashion once I realized I was contributing to all the negative hidden costs associated with this industry. Just a few months after the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse, I decided to finally take sewing lessons, as making and designing my own clothes had been a dream of mine for years. I apprenticed with Cherry Barthel in Kansas City, and it was evident to me very quickly that the amount of labor it takes to produce a garment is not reflected in the price.
How did your educational/professional experience inform fashion work?
As I began trying to shop more consciously and make my own clothing, I learned more and more about the devastating effects on the environment due to the production and overconsumption of clothing. Eventually, I realized the best way to leverage my experience and skills to improve this industry would be by creating a platform to promote ethical fashion designers.
What is the importance of ethical and sustainable fashion designers and companies?
We believe in showcasing the people behind the clothes– the entrepreneurs, designers, and artisans who turn a concept into wearable art. They represent fashion, or what we believe fashion SHOULD be: design, craftsmanship, and sustainability.
One of the reasons people consume mindlessly these days is that there is an assumption that producing these things is easy, that there must be a machine making them. The fact is that in 2016, there is still a person cutting and sewing your shirt, attaching sequins to your dress by hand. They deserve safe working conditions and fair compensation for their labor.
We believe that when people know the story of the people behind the products, they find more value in those items. They are more willing to invest in pieces of higher quality, and to take better care of those items. Fashion is not disposable.
Who is a personal hero or heroine within the ethical and sustainable fashion world for you?
There’s a multitude of inspiring and influential people in the sustainable fashion world. I would say one of my favorites is Emma Watson. She realized how much influence she has, how much exposure she gets on every action she does, every dress she wears to an event. She is using that platform to inform her fans of issues that matter to her. This is especially meaningful to me in contrast to so many other celebrities out there, who accept sponsorships from any fashion brand or participate in product collaborations without paying any attention to the production process of the garments they are helping to promote.
What is Belvele LLC?
Belvele is a carefully curated online boutique featuring men’s and women’s garments that are responsibly sourced, while maintaining a fresh, contemporary aesthetic. By supporting designers who use responsibly sourced materials and manufacturing processes, we help small businesses flourish, and stop contributing to the demand of products that hurt the environment and put people’s lives at risk.
What are some of its feature products?
We feature men’s and women’s clothing made with organic, natural, or recycled fibers. All products are either made in the US or fair trade certified. Designers include: Amour Vert, Apolis, Emerson Fry, Elise Ballegeer, Esby, First Rite, Groceries Apparel, Jungmaven, Maison du Soir, Miakoda NY, Micaela Greg, Make it Good Apparel, Threads 4 Thought.
What is your customer base – the demographics?
Our customer base consists mainly of millennials in the United States, who are interested in supporting independent designers and/or ethical fashion.
There have been large tragedies such as the Rana Plaza collapse, which was the largest garment factory accident in history with over 1,000 dead and more than 2,500 injured. Others were the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire (1911) and the Pakistan Garment Factory Fires (2012). What are the importance of human rights and worker rights in this new movement, and to the garment industry?
I believe that although technology has brought about many ways to distract ourselves from things that matter, at least part of our generation is using technology to learn more about how the world works and connect with people around the globe. The garment industry has been profiting through the exploitation of people who have few or no other options to survive, and they have used flashy marketing and cheap prices to distract people from their actions. It is up to us to shed a light on these issues and give a voice to these people, while also highlighting those few in the industry who are doing it right.
Women and children are the majority of the exploited and violated work forces. What is the importance of the status of women’s and children’s rights in the ethical and sustainable fashion world too?
Women and children are clearly more vulnerable and depend on this work to survive, as they have few or no other options. It is up to us, the consumer, to demand that the brands we support provide fair wages and safe working conditions.
How can individuals, designers, fashion industries, and consumers begin to work to implement those rights so that these vulnerable populations in many countries of the world have better quality of life?
I am not an expert in this subject. I would recommend that consumers change their shopping habits to shop less, shop better, make it last. The first step is to shift our culture away from consumerism. If people start INVESTING in items of better quality, they will have more emotional connection, gain more satisfaction from them, and will be more likely to use that item for an extended period of time. Consumers must also demand transparency from brands that they would like to buy from. All retailers depend on buyers, so in the end, the consumer makes the rules. Designers and fashion brands must take accountability for their production process.
What topics most interest you?
My interests range from economics to literature, music, and any form of art. The reason that Fashion is interesting to me is its ever-changing nature, and the juxtaposition of art and function.
Did you have a mentor in this work?
I try to learn something from almost every person I come in contact with, but Cherry Barthel, my mentor in design and construction definitely had a major impact in my vocation and career path.
Have you mentored others?
I have been in management and leadership roles for over a decade, so I have mentored many people along the way. It is very rewarding and a multifaceted learning experience for me as well.
What are the importance of mentors in the fashion world for professional, and personal, development?
I believe that any time people can exchange information and points of view on subjects that interest them, it is highly beneficial to all those involved. It also opens the opportunity for greater creativity.
From personal observations, more women than men involve themselves in the fashion industry by a vast margin of difference at all levels. Why?
I am more interested in questioning why, even though more women are involved in the fashion industry, it is still usually men holding the highest executive positions at many of these companies. Something doesn’t add up there.
What personal fulfillment comes from this work for you?
Aside from a creative outlet and the satisfaction of working in a field that interests me, I enjoy feeling like my efforts will serve a higher purpose. I had become disenchanted with the fashion industry when I learned about all of its negative effects on our world. I am able to continue being a part of it, as long as I feel that I am part of the solution to these problems.
Any recommended means of contacting Belvele LLC?
Any feelings or thoughts in conclusion based on the conversation today?
We just want to thank you for being part of this movement, bringing awareness to these issues, and helping to highlight designers and brands that are trying to make a difference.
Thank you for your time, Monica.