Can Apparel be Sustainable from Conception to Completion?

Through LUVLY, Leslie Wright enriches Lunenburg, NS, by offering the community an assortment of eco-minded clothing lines.

The women’s clothing from LUVLY in Lunenburg is proving it can.

When business and life partners Brian Arnott and Leslie Wright moved from Toronto to historic Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, in 2007, they didn’t plan on running a women’s clothing store, but the stars were so aligned. The partners owned the building where Famous Town Ladies Shop was located, and when the existing owners announced that they planned to wrap up business after 60 years of operation, Arnott and Wright jumped in.

“We had been searching for a new tenant for some time,” Wright says. “But in April 2011, we began thinking proactively about what the street and building needed, and we decided to continue the tradition of women’s clothing.”

The first step was to find a new focus. “We wanted to keep with the tradition of women’s clothing, but refresh it, and to that end we began thinking about what the town needed and what we would be interested in,” Wright says. “Ultimately, we decided to explore clothing by independent Canadian designers, and as we did our research, we saw a theme emerging.”

Many of the designers whom Armott and Wright were considering had a focus on sustainable practices, both in materials and construction. “That made sense to us,” Wright says. “As a society, we’re so focused on where our food comes from, but we don’t think about where our clothing comes from.”

That idea hit home for Wright and Arnott, who, having made Lunenburg their home, wanted to operate as socially and environmentally responsible members of the community. “A decision like this always becomes more daunting after you’ve made it, but Brian and I own and operate a consulting firm—Novita Interpares Limited—that focuses on strategic planning,” Wright says. “We knew the importance of working with people who had expertise in different areas. We hired someone to manage the store renovation—someone with communications expertise to help with the visual identity.”

Before long, it was clear that Wright and Arnott had made the right decision. The partners found a good store manager and—with the help of Fashion Takes Action, a nonprofit organization that seeks to give fashion designers the ideas and tools to implement sustainable practices—located a number of designers. In June 2011, LUVLY in Lunenburg opened for business. “The fact that we were able to launch with 12–15 designers within a couple months showed that we were onto something,” Wright says.

The space itself reflects LUVLY’s focus. Store renovations were made in an ecologically responsible spirit and used many local materials, including hemlock flooring from Windhorse Farm. At the same time, the layout demonstrates the collaborative nature that Wright says is inherent in the LUVLY concept. “We created a bright and open space, with designers all having their own featured areas—a boutique-within-boutique approach,” she says.

The store’s starting point is strong design from independent Canadian designers, such as Terra Cotta Clothing Design, one of Canada’s longest-established independent designers. However, many of the boutique’s designers—including We3 Design, Paper People Clothing, Elroy, Preloved, and Laura Chenoweth—are focused on promoting sustainability through their work. The same goes for the accessory products that LUVLY carries, like those of Bazant, which makes jewelry with only fair-trade beads and vintage components. These designers place strong emphasis on social responsibility. For example, Susan Harris Design only uses upcycled materials; Me To We Style uses fair-trade organic cotton and gives 50 percent of its profits to the Free the Children charity; and Melanie Fontaine makes her Meversible hats in Lunenburg using mostly reclaimed fabric. (All designers are showcased on the boutique’s website.)

The success of LUVLY in Lunenburg stems from its ability to unite designers and customers alike, in both presentation and information about the designers showcased in the store. “We used our own observation about what we liked about shopping to create a connection between designers and customers,” Wright says. “People come into LUVLY and have the experience of being with these designers. It’s worked for designers and customers, and it’s been a real journey for me to increase my own consciousness of where and how my clothing is being made.”