As a student of at The University of Rhode Island studying Textiles, Fashion Merchandising, and Design, Rachel Lessne figured she’d follow a career path into the business of style. But it wasn’t until she took a textiles science course that she began thinking about ecologically friendly apparel. Nudged into learning about organic cotton, she quickly found herself going way beyond the requirements of the class and into a rabbit hole of research about alternative materials. When she emerged, she knew she’d pursue work in green fashion and lifestyle.
In 2008 – just one year after graduation – she opened the Green Envy shop in downtown Newport, R.I., stocking it with eco-friendly and Fair Trade clothing and jewelry, skin care products, home wares, and more. Over the past eight years, the award-winning entrepreneur has also crafted her own beauty products and jewelry, helped bolster the work of underprivileged artisans, educated the local community, and even unintentionally became a model along the way.
This spring, she’ll close her bricks and mortar shop to move her retail operation exclusively online, which will allow her to travel the world and meet and discover the artisans she hopes to help lift out of poverty. Before she does, the willowy shopkeep shared with us some of her go-to outfits and style tips. Take it from her, this is how to keep your closet low on environmental impact but high on style. Rachel’s enthusiasm – the only thing bigger than her smile is her heart! – is infectious; so grab a handful of inspiration here and apply it to your closet this Earth Day!
My personal motto is “Wear what makes you happy!” I wear clothing, jewelry, and accessories that have meaning to me; they make me think of a memory or a special person. I am also lucky enough to have a mother who saved most of her vintage wardrobe. The items that get complimented most are usually her vintage garments and accessories from the 70s. I hardly ever buy clothing, I have key, well-made pieces that last for years and that can be morphed into different styles depending on how I accessorize or pair them with other pieces. I guess I’d describe my style as eclectic, boho, modern, hippy-esque!
Buy vintage! That’s as eco-friendly as you can get. Or hold on to well made items even when they fall out of style. It will circle around again. Fashion usually runs 20 years behind. Case in point: The 90s are back in full force now.
Choose to buy clothing made from recycled or organic fibers. Eco-friendly fashion is becoming better than ever. The most stylish and flattering clothing can be made from eco-friendly materials, and at affordable prices.
Look for Fair Trade Certified brands. When buying clothing, people rarely think about how the item came to be, who made it, how long it took them, what conditions that person was working in. By buying from a brand that is certified as Fair Trade, you are saying that you care.
Find clothing swaps. So much of what I wear is from clothing swaps. Many are totally free or have a $5 or $10 fee to take whatever you want. People bring clothing and accessories in good condition that they simply don’t wear any more, and then take anything they like of what other people brought. I’ve picked up everything from boyfriend jeans to a beautiful cocktail dress. Host a clothing swap and invite your friends for a fun night. Or find the local group SwapDrobe on Facebook to see when their next event is.
Don’t purchase cheaply made, wear-and-toss clothing. Apparel is the second most polluting industry in the world next to the oil. Do your best to make wise decisions when buying clothing. Choose well-made items that will last you years instead of months or weeks.
A big part of going green is about consuming less. What advice would you give to people who love clothes, especially when we’re bombarded by a culture that’s always telling us to want more?
I believe our culture is changing. In years past it was all about more, more, more; it was almost sickening. That’s detrimental to the environment, and people are realizing this. In all aspects of life people seem to be slowing down on the consumption train. Growing an edible garden, tiny houses, eco-transportation – these are all things that are becoming trendy now. And I hope these trends stick! They need to.
If you’re a fashionista confronted with the desire for a hot new trend, just be smart about it. Buy wisely. Make a rule that you’ll save up for two weeks or a month for the well made brand. When that time period is over, you may find that the trend was so short lived that you don’t even want the garment any more. Now you have a nice chunk of change to spend on yourself. (A day at The Bodhi Spa perhaps?)
My all time favorite would probably have to be Synergy Clothing. For yoga wear I think Teeki has the most unique prints. My favorite vintage shop is The Reformed Moth; they’re based in Newport and you can find them on Etsy. I don’t have any of their suits yet, but I looove Greenlee Swim bikinis. A couple of my favorite jewelry brands are Faire Collection and Aid Through Trade.
I fell into modeling by accident. I was asked by Newport Life Magazine to model for their Fall Fashion issue in 2013. They ended up picking my photos to be on the cover and in the fashion spread. After that I had photographers ask to work with me, and I signed with Donahue Models. I worked for PlanetShoes for three years and just retired from the foot modeling world. I’m currently still signed with three modeling agencies. So far, all of my modeling income has gone to my business, Green Envy, to help add new eco- and fair-trade items to the shop. I would love to turn my modeling into a platform to support sustainable and ethical fashion.
You’re closing the Green Envy storefront to travel the world and moving sales online exclusively. We’ll miss you! What do you hope to achieve?
I’m so very excited for this new chapter. Even though I’ll miss Newport as Green Envy’s home, I’ll now be able to reach a larger audience through my online storefront and share the stories of the Fair Trade artisans that I buy from. It’s always been my dream to travel directly to the artisans. I’ll be able to support them more fully by cutting out the middle man and buying directly.
I’ll also be able to find and empower artisans who otherwise wouldn’t have an outlet to sell their items. Selling goods made with fair labor standards is one thing, but meeting the artisans in person, seeing their working conditions, hearing their stories – this is something else entirely. And I’ll be able to take you all along with me to some extent – I’ll document my travels in a blog so you can know where I am and what adventures await.
All photos by Caroline Goddard.