Tribute was first started a little over one year ago, after intense research and a lot of consideration. We regularly got asked why we decided to open a brick and mortar at a time where brick and mortars are closing? Why don’t we just focus on online sales?
We always answer with the same honest story: Fashion deserves to be touched and fashion stories deserve to be told. Fashion reflects society’s history. It’s ubiquitous to our life. For us, fashion is not trivial; it is an essential component of our larger devotion to the art of daily life, of our devotion to personal style, to design and to sustainable practices.
So we started working on our business plan to build a company that could bring together our love of fashion, history and style with our respect for the planet and its people. We strongly believe that garments can change the world, that fashion is not only about what you see in magazines or catwalks, it’s a perfect expression of our civilization.
We understand that the retail environment has dramatically changed over the past few years. We understand that with the advent of technology, some of the old rules do not apply anymore, and retail businesses are becoming more cautious about their investments.
Regardless, TRIBUTE was born. We decided to break the rules, to follow our instincts and open a brick and mortar in Washington DC. One that promotes fashion history, design and sustainable practices. So we created a space for our community to approach topics like responsible consumption and style and society. To discover new brands, and learn about how clothes are made.
To date, we have had three different locations in the District. And although we are not perfect and have more steps to take in order to become better, we take pride in the small impact we have, the community we build and the collaborations we develop.
Our first goal is to prove that sustainability and profitability can co-exist. As a fashion and design company, we believe that it’s our responsibility to support, contribute and encourage a more sustainable living and consumption pattern. The beauty of being part of this growing section of the fashion industry is that there is still so much more to discover and create. TRIBUTE is about balance and originality, style but no compromise, we believe in bringing an honest approach to retail.
How did we start?
It’s very challenging to start a sustainable fashion brick and mortar store in a world where the top three words to describe our industry are “changing”, “digital” and “fast”. It’s even counter intuitive! However, as we embrace the challenges, our idea was not to go against the trend. On the contrary, our objective was to launch as a traditional, even old school, brick and mortar with a disruptive mind. We have an active stance on social issues, we are fully open and transparent in the way we operate and sustainability is at the core of our mission.
How can a fashion and design business contribute to a nature and human centered future? How can we reshape the old brick and mortar model and still be relevant in our digital world?
Back in February 2018, when we initially thought about what Tribute would look like, we thought about what would be ideal for us: to create a space in D.C. that embodies our values of diversity and inclusivity, a place where we could talk about fashion and style, learn about emerging brands and share our experiences around sustainable design. It all came down to one simple idea: looking good, feeling good and doing good.
We wanted to start clean, by implementing sustainable practices as well as fair and ethical practices at every level of the business. So, when envisioning and creating Tribute, we thoroughly assessed every detail, from buying and merchandising, labelling, interior design to the shopping experience. We thoroughly assessed everything you see in our space. We looked for the right products, materials, furniture, labels, packaging, that are cleaner and safer than conventional alternatives and that are designed for more than one use.
We believe in personalized encounters, immersive social experiences that become memorable, and leave a mark on our community and beyond. With a passion for social enterprise, for change, for fashion history and culture and for artisanal design, the idea behind this project was to bring more than a concept store to D.C. and to its community. Tribute is a place where fashion and design are celebrated not commoditized, where fashion nerds hang-out, discover amazing products and enjoy peerless in-store workshops and gigs. It is a place where the consumers are empowered.
Being environmentally conscious is one of our core values and as such we hold ourselves accountable. We want to show that sustainability does not necessarily need money to be implemented. You can be creative and come up with solutions without paying a huge price.
Tribute’s customers know what things cost. They ask questions. They increasingly back their beliefs with their shopping habits, favouring brands that are aligned with their values and avoiding those that don’t. They prefer to buy clothing for multiple use, to clothing for single-use items.
TRIBUTE strongly supports 7 characteristics including ethical manufacturing, social impact, eco-friendly, artisan made, woman made, transparency and vintage. Every piece in the space carries at least two values. They tell a story the wearer gets to live and share.
The brands we showcase at TRIBUTE have shown that it is possible to sell cool pieces with lower environmental impact than their fast-fashion counterparts. They have shown that it is possible to design innovative products, manufactured with integrity, attention to details, craftsmanship, respect and beauty.
Every brand we chose, was carefully selected through a screening process. We contacted them, visited some of them in their studios and workshops, discovered the products first hand, met some of the garments workers and had long discussions with the brands owners. We shared our concerns, our passion and our vision.
Once we initiated the first contact and discovered the products, we shared a list of questions:
1- How did you start your company?
2- How many employees work in your company?
3- What kind of material do you use?
4- Who is your supplier and where is he located?
5- Where do you manufacture your products? What is the name of the factory, artisans?
6- How are you socially and environmentally responsible in your practice?
7- Are you certified? If yes, please list your certifications.
The answers are published on our website. The questions are not limited and we plan to continue to be thorough and transparent as we grow. In the future, it is our hope to find a better traceability system to be able to deliver more value for our clients, our collaborators and the business.
We develop a close relationship with all our designers, which we call collaborators. We feel lucky as most of them also operate outside of the traditional retail market system. We do not follow the typical market cycle: our collections are season-less and trend-less, no does and don’t, no it and out.
We also do not carry too much inventory and stock, to avoid excess. Our buying is very strategic, we follow the demand in our community. And whenever we can and if possible, we send back the unsold products to the designers.
As a company, our profit margins are less than if you buy brands that will sell more but are made very cheaply at the cost of harming people. It's very important that we have products that we can be proud of. We know who made it and where, and we can visit the factorie. We feel like we are supporting the people who are making the clothes. It’s clear now that more and more people are coming around to understanding the importance of slow manufacturing, even though there is a huge sector of the market that is still fast-fashion focused.
For the love of vintage and second hand:
Buying secondhand and vintage clothing is triple sustainable. Fewer new clothes are sold and hence produced. It keeps clothing out of the landfill and from being shipped around the world to secondhand markets. We source our vintage collection throughout the country and during our travels. Our secondhand comes mostly from clients or individual that needs a resale platform. We call it The Closet. Each closet include a selection of clothes made by our team. We operate on a consignment basis, and we give back 50% of the sale to the individual.
Our labels come from Of the Earth, a company based in Seattle.
They are plant seed papers that bloom when planted. The paper is Made from a natural cotton fiber, it is tree free. OF the EARTH makes every effort to conserve water and resources in making the paper. No chemicals or other agents are added to ensure that the process is as environmentally friendly as possible. Every paper contains seeds. Each seed paper can nourish the soil and clean the air as the seeds turn to sprouts and become flowers.
After much research, we chose Holden Bags, one of the leading providers of ecologically friendly custom reusable grocery bags and totes. The bags we carry at Tribute are eco-friendly, recyclable, durable and water repellent. They are made of recycled plastic.
We ordered our tissue paper and our envelopes from No Issue. Our tissue paper is completely acid free, it is infused in water yields a neutral or basic pH (7 or slightly greater). It is also lignin- and sulfur-free and Forest Stewardship Council Certified.
The ink is soy-based, a kind of ink made from soybeans. As opposed to traditional petroleum-based ink, soy-based ink is more environmentally friendly, might provide more accurate colors, and makes it easier to recycle paper.
Our mailers are compostable. Made from a combination of corn-based biopolymers, they will compost in 6 months (180 days) and are certified for both home and commercial compost.
The bags are certiﬁed by all three industry certiﬁers; TUV Austria, BPI and Dincerto, meeting American, European, International and Australian standards. To gain these certiﬁcations, the product must break down within 90 days in commercial compost and 180 days in domestic compost conditions, including worm farm compost. After degradation, they must leave no harmful residues behind.
We built our own shelf, and bought second hand furniture, from community forklift, etsy, Miss Pixies Good wood, Only for your eyes, Craiglist. Some of our hangers are made from bamboo sourced from an etsy seller. Other where given to us by our community.