High Fashion, Low Impact
Mission Savvy in Charleston offers sustainable, responsible clothing.
Photographed by Emily Porter Photography
When Jennifer Miller needed a name for her eco-friendly clothing boutique, she started by writing down words that resonated with her goals. “I wanted something with action,” she says, “like, ‘We’re going to change this, and we’re going to do it with power and strength.’” And so, Mission Savvy was born.
The “mission” of Mission Savvy is two-fold. Jennifer’s boutique on Hale Street in downtown Charleston only sells clothing made of natural, sustainable fibers and produced by socially and ecologically responsible means. She also donates five percent of her profits to animal rescue and conservation projects.
Missions aside, the clothing is fabulous. The store carries designer, high-end fashion pieces made from surprising materials: hemp, soy, bamboo, eucalyptus, and even oak. Some of them can’t be grown in the United States—hemp is illegal to cultivate and others can’t be grown sustainably in U.S. climates—but all of the clothing is designed and produced in America. The quality and style of the clothes aren’t compromised by their production values, though. Designers work hard to make sure garments have as much appeal as their less environmentally conscious competitors.
Jennifer buys from designers she knows and trusts—there’s no accreditation for organic, eco fashion yet, so she does her own certification. She was stunned to learn how wasteful and harmful the clothing industry is: dyes and chemicals pollute the environment, factory production yields wasted materials, and poor labor practices contribute to poverty and poor health around the world. The clothes she sells are different.
The “savvy” in Mission Savvy might be a nod to fashion, but it’s also an apt description of Jennifer herself. At 32, Mission Savvy is her second career. Her education is in animal behavior, and she spent the last decade working with animals across the globe. But just studying animals wasn’t enough. “I’ve always been an entrepreneur at heart, and I’ve always been passionate about animals,” she says. As a teenager, she became vegan and started a chapter of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) at her high school. As she became frustrated by the scenes of animal cruelty she saw through her job, she decided to take her entrepreneurial spirit and activist bent and combine them to become a more effective advocate for animal welfare.
Jennifer opened Mission Savvy as an online boutique in February 2010. It’s one of only a handful of eco-friendly clothing stores in the country and has international clientele. Mission Savvy was named one of the top 15 eco fashion boutiques by EcoSalon in April 2011. “Mission Savvy is definitely unique,” says EcoSalon Managing Editor Amy DuFault. Jennifer doesn’t sell anything with animal products in her store. “I hope more boutiques spring up around the country like hers, but I would say she is at the top for combining vegan and eco fashion,” DuFault says.
A brick-and-mortar store wasn’t part of Jennifer’s original plan, but within months of launching the online shop, she was looking for space in Charleston. The volume of business was keeping her busy and isolated, and she began to feel she was missing something important: community engagement. She opened her shop on Hale Street in November 2010.
West Virginia might seem like an unlikely place for one of the nation’s first eco fashion boutiques, but Jennifer likes it that way. She moved back to Charleston to launch her business because of the lower cost of living. “I knew it probably wouldn’t take off as well as I wanted, so I wanted to lower my operating cost,” she says. “If it did take off, I could live anywhere I wanted.” Now, West Virginia is where she wants to be. “There’s a hidden culture here with the arts, and the nature appeals to me.” She might have more customers in a bigger city, but to Jennifer, the challenge is all the more reason to stay. “The whole point of this is to change attitudes.”
The store is open Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Mission Savvy, 202 Hale Street, Charleston, WV 25301; 304.343.4253; firstname.lastname@example.org