Q+A: David Dietz, founder of Modavanti

Considering Earth Day is this week, it’s fitting that Pattern’s April Meetup (this Thursday 4/25 at Big Car Service Center), is all about eco fashion. It also happens to be the three-month anniversary of eco fashion e-boutique, Modavanti. Guest contributor Abbi Johnson caught up with Modavanti founder David Dietz to chat all things eco-friendly, sustainable, and fashionable.

Congrats! How long has Modavanti been live?

Nine weeks, wait, eleven weeks! Wow! It’s really crazy how quickly time has gone by since we launched the site.

How did you decide to start Modavanti?

I was really involved in social entrepreneurship in college, and I was fortunate that one of my friends started a social entrepreneurship fellowship where I was able to learn a lot about starting a socially-responsible business. I knew I wanted to start a business that would have a broad social impact, you know, something on a wide scale. I chose fashion because it’s a consumer good that was widely needed and also desirable and fun. If you consider the sustainability movement, there are grocery chains devoted to sustainable food, home goods stores, hybrid cars; fashion is one of the last major frontiers, and there’s definitely a growing demand. It’s really exciting.

Why do you think it has taken the fashion industry longer than other industries?

Well, for a long time eco fashion was associated with a “crunchy,” or “granola” look. It was difficult to find sustainable, eco-friendly clothes that were on-trend, but that has definitely changed. The brands we carry prove you can have it all: look good, feel good, and do good, all at the same time.

Has it been challenging finding designers that meet your criteria?

Not at all, in fact, we’re launching three more on the site today, and just took pictures for sixteen more this week.

We want to become the sustainable alternative to mainstream sites devoted to fashion. All of the brands we carry design cute clothes. Our goal is to carry eco-friendly clothes that are cute and fashionable, so that when someone asks you where you got your amazing dress, and you say “Modavanti,” it’s a bonus when they look us up and realize that our clothes are fashionable as well as eco-friendly and sustainable.

Is the eco-friendly market big enough to compete with large internet retailers?

It will take time, and the market is still growing, but yes. With big names such as Tory Burch and Gucci putting out organic collections, it’s definitely there. Another good sign is that when we first started going to industry tradeshows, there was no designation for “eco-friendly” or “made in the USA”, but when we went this year, they had both, and both were well represented.

Right now you carry high-end women’s fashion. Are you looking to expand into other areas?

We definitely want to grow the number of brands that we carry while keeping our high aesthetic, but we’re focused on fashion, so you won’t see us expanding into make up or home goods or anything like that. We do want to expand into men’s fashion, probably next year.

Aside from “crunchy,” do you think there are other misconceptions about eco fashion?

Not really misconceptions, but I think there is definitely a lack of knowledge about some of the benefits of shopping sustainably, like one of our badges, “Made in the USA.” There’s the obvious benefit — that we’re employing people here in the United States — but what people may not consider is that less fuel is used since garments do not have to be shipped between countries, and that the United States has lots of regulations surrounding chemicals and materials used in production. These regulations are in place to protect workers and consumers. In many cases, these chemicals and materials are hazardous and not regulated or controlled in other countries, so not only are clothes made here better for the environment, they’re better for the workers, and for you, too.

Eco fashion can be interpreted in lots of different ways. How do you determine the brands that you carry?

We celebrate and promote the steps that brands have taken to become sustainable. All of the brands that we carry must meet the general requirement that they are mindful of the environment and provide fair labor. On top of that we have eight different badges we award when a brand has met 100% of the requirements. The badges are focused on being eco-friendly and ethically sourced. We have five eco-focused badges: Eco-Friendly, Energy Efficient, Organic, ReCycled RePurposed, and Vegan, and then we have three ethically sourced badges: USA Made, Hand Made, and Fairly Traded.

All of the brands that we carry have at least one badge on top of meeting the threshold, but many have more than one. We would not include any brands that do not meet our basic minimum, even if they are a leader in one aspect of sustainability, like Nike, for example. Nike is a leader in recycled materials, but with child labor issues, they don’t meet the minimum requirements so we would never carry Nike on the site.

Is it challenging to make sure brands stay compliant?

We’d eventually like to have a compliance officer, to visit and check the workplaces of each designer that we carry. Now we work with designers that are verified by a third party system: Patagonia has great green business guidelines, and the Ethical Fashion Forum verified by fashion blogs or personal relationships, and we check in with them every quarter. If they’re located nearby, we’ll stop in and check out their workspace. If at any point we learn that the brand isn’t meeting expectations, we will stop carrying them immediately.

Thoughts about sustainable fashion in Indianapolis?

I grew up in Indianapolis, so I know it’s got more fashion going on than people give it credit for. I was surprised on my recent trip back how receptive people were to the idea of sustainable, eco-friendly fashion. People in Indianapolis are legitimately interested in sustainability and fashion; I was impressed.

Do you have a favorite designer or trend currently?

I love Allison Parris New York. She’s definitely my favorite. The clothes are made here in the United States from repurposed materials; everything she makes is great. As far as trends, I still really love neon. Maybe it’s old, but I still love it.

Do you have any advice for people that want to get involved in fashion or fashion startups?

The start-up life is definitely a roller coaster, but I wake up every morning super pumped. I would say get a team that you trust working with, and just push forward! You have to fight through the tough times. As far as getting into the fashion industry, I don’t think that you necessarily have to relocate; we are currently looking for interns, and that’s a good place to start!

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