5 Days of Style with Rachel Lessne of Green Envy Eco-Boutique

green envy style newport ri

Rachel Lessne will be spending a lot more time in the post office when she moves her popular eco-boutique online. Here, she gets ready in a denim shirt from H&M, procured at a clothing swap; Ralph Lauren Denim & Supply jeans, and Warby Parker sunglasses. The ballet flats, another clothing swap item, are Dexter. The Fair Trade Kantha purse by WorldFinds is available at Green Envy.

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.

Read more: You’re Doing It Wrong: The Ultimate Guide to Recycling in the Ocean State

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!

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Rachel, a devoted yogi, wears an organic bamboo top by Global Ghetto (similar here) and pants so old that “the tag fell out.” The 1960s Job’s tears “love beads” necklace belonged to her mother – it was made by her first boyfriend.

How would you describe your personal style?
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!
earth day style newport ri

This evil eye necklace, made by local brand Wanderluxe, is a talisman that Rachel rarely takes off.

What are your guiding principals for building a sustainable closet?
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.

earth day style newport ri

This mermaid is ready to hit the town in a RockOnRuby crop top and hand-printed ikat mini-skirt by local designer Nicole Lebreux made from vintage and salvaged fabrics. The Mossimo sweater came from a clothing swap, as did the Report sandals (similar here). The upcycled leather headband is by Ethereal Daughters.

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?)

What are some of your favorite green fashion or accessories brands? 

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.

green envy style newport ri

green envy style newport ri

The Seven Wishes Peace bracelet is from Peace Love Earth and made from hemp and lead-free pewter. The Fair Trade ring is made of handwoven Bolivian fabric and recycled metal and is available at Green Envy.

You just wrapped a career as a foot model. How does somebody get into that line of work?

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.

green envy style newport ri

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.

green envy style newport ri

Being you’re own boss means there’s plenty of time to just hang out, right? Rachel relaxes in a vintage Talbots sweater, Hudson jeans (similar here), and vintage Easy Spirit shoes that once belonged to her mom. The shell necklace was a hand-me-down as well.

green envy style newport ri

“My grandmother’s long shell necklace – it’s very old and very special. I wish I knew the story and history of it,” says Rachel.

green envy style newport ri

“These jeans were purchased 10 years ago (as back to school shopping) and were very nice. They’ve since become my go-to, worn-in ripped jeans, that now happen to be in style,” she says.

green envy style newport ri

In this go-to-work look, Rachel wears a top handmade by designer Jaymee Luu using remnant fabrics. The jeans are Ralph Lauren Denim & Supply; the ballet flats are Dexter.

green envy style newport ri

This Fair Trade beaded bracelet, handmade by mothers in Kenya, is by Njabini Apparel.

green envy style newport ri

green envy style newport ri

Rachel and her mom made the leather bracelet from a vintage Paloma Picasso belt (similar here).

green envy style newport ri

The orange enamel ring was purcahsed at The Fantastic Umbrella Factory in Charlestown, R.I. The Fair Trade Kantha purse is made from saris that were turned into quilts, and, eventually, this bag by women in India. It’s available from Green Envy.

Meaghan O'Neill is a writer, editor, blogger wrangler, and the founder of Puddingstone Post. She was formerly editor-in-chief of TreeHugger, Discovery Channel online, and TLC's Parentables. Her writing has appeared in numerous print and online publications, and her book, Ready, Set, Green: 8 Weeks to Modern Eco-Living (Villard/Random House) was published in 2008. She lives in Newport, RI with her family.

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