Thursday, March 26, 2015

A Blossoming Business

Peggy & Mike started Soul Flower out as a small retail shop in St. Paul, MN waaaaay back in 1999. It was a place for locals, hippies, and all-manner of unique folks to hang out and get a dose of eco-fashion. Today Soul Flower operates out of Golden Valley (a suburb of the Twin Cities) where they have an online retail and wholesale store. Soul Flower carries a wide variety of Fair Trade, recycled fiber, organic cotton, hemp, and Made in the USA clothing. Additionally, all of their screen printing is designed and printed in-house by their talented team of "buds."

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Cool Threads for Kind Heads
Recently, lead EcoEnclose Eco-Geek Erin was honored to be able to catch-up with Soul Flower co-founder and CFO Mike:

Erin: Hello Mike and thanks so much for taking the time to share your story with us and fellow eco-enthusiasts.
I am curious...what was the original inspiration for Soul Flower? 

Mike: Originally it was a lifestyle store that catered to the bohemian side of life. We wanted to have a store that could be a gathering place for like-minded folks. Also, after working for 10+ years in the corporate world, it was time to get back to who we were as people, and have our day jobs aligned with our lifestyle.

Erin: Good for you!  It is so important to do what you love and love what you do.
Soul Flower has a solid history.  What changes has Soul Flower witnessed in the clothing industry since 1999? 

Mike: The clothing industry is not exactly a “green” industry – lots of waste, chemicals, pollution, sweat shops. That’s why we decided to change the way we do business and instead of contributing to the problems, we wanted to bring a positive change to the industry. We can take comfort in knowing that the entire supply chain from farmer to manufacturing to the finished product is done in a way to minimize the negative impacts on the environment and workers, and create a positive energy from the clothes and designs that are Soul Flower. There are many many people out there that ‘get it’ and are trying to live a cleaner, healthier, more positive lifestyle, and this clothing line is one more option available to those folks.

Happy Me!
Erin: I have huge respect for what you have been able to achieve!  In my opinion, and with the little bit of background I have in the industry, affordable eco-friendly apparel is infinitely harder to attain than standard imported wares.  Kudos to you for maintaining your values in the face of challenge!
E-commerce was still pretty fresh in 1999. Did Soul Flower have an online presence from the beginning?

Mike: Peggy started the website in 2000. It was a free site called Freemerchant.com – about 4 days after going online we received our first order for a box of incense! Who would of thought that that one sale would propel us to where we are today.

Erin: Ah, yes. Those were the days. Free websites!  The website you have today is very user friendly and the design is on point.  I love that I can refine your selection by size, color, and eco-attributes; this is a great time saver for those of us that don't have the time luxury to browse each page.
Speaking of refining the selection, what is your curation process? How do you make the determination of what makes the cut and which items are featured in your store? 

Mike: First, we would like the product to be eco-friendly. Secondly, if it’s not eco-friendly, then it has to be either fair trade or have a story that fits our philosophy. Our own line (which is around 70% of our retail business) is all eco-friendly. We choose items from other vendors that compliment our clothing line. We’ve worked with some of our vendors since we first opened in 1999.

Erin: I am very impressed with both the affordability and the quality of your line!  You have a customer for life.
Aside from offering sustainable products, how do you try to “green” your business? 

Mike: While Soul Flower has outgrown its St. Paul shop, we’re still close to our roots and know how important it is to have environmentally-friendly business practices. A quick walk around the warehouse/offices can give anyone a taste of the little ways that we do our best to care for the Earth. Scattered around the offices are air-purifying plants; we use towels to dry our hands and dishes in the bathroom and kitchen; we recycle everything we can. A more recent eco-effort that we made was using EcoEnclose packaging for shipping our orders instead of “conventional” packaging materials that aren’t so great for Mama Earth. We started using EcoEnclose back in the Fall of 2013 and haven’t looked back! Because we’re an online-only retailer, we go through a lot more packaging than your typical “in-person” shopping retailer, so minimizing our environmental impact in that area has been absolutely amazing!

Erin: Ooo - air purifying plants!  What a great idea.  We may have to implement that in our space.
Who are the super fine guys and gals and adorable kiddos featured in your lookbooks and modeling on your website? 

Mike: Our photographer Jenn uses models that are a mix of friends, family and employees. We love to keep it real and give people a true idea of what our clothes might look like on them, incorporating as many body types and styles as possible. We like to keep our photo shoots local, natural, low-key, and FUN!

Erin:  That did it...I am officially in LOVE.  You guys are tops!  
Care to share your future goals & dreams for Soul Flower? If we had a magic wand and a crystal ball, what will Soul Flower look like in another 15 years? 

Mike: We don’t have any delusions of grandeur, but we would like to be recognized in the clothing world as a company that made a small difference in how people view their clothes. We admire companies like Patagonia who have become large, but not at the expense of their values. It’s okay to get big as long as it’s not compromising who you are and what you believe in. We’ll most likely be a wholesale business by then, selling our wares into yoga studios, lifestyle stores, and larger regional retailers that understand the value of being eco-friendly. The easiest way to grow the business and get our clothes into the hands of those who want them is to do it through other stores. It’s a win-win for everyone. The store carries a quality, eco-friendly line; the customer gets to buy their favorite brand (!) locally; the "buds" at Soul Flower all share in the success.

Erin: I wish you all the success and happiness in the world!
Anything else you’d like to share? 

Mike: We really like Eco-Enclose and what you’re doing to help reduce waste. We found out about Eco-enclose accidentally when one of our buds (Leiah) received a package in the mail. The store had used an EcoEnclose bag and she thought that was pretty cool and something we should consider. Joe took it from there and now it’s a big part of our shipping process. We also like that we can have our logo printed on the bags, and that the bags can be used (at least) twice for shipping. Thanks for doing what you do – you’re making a difference!

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Visit Soul Flower today and let them know we sent you!
www.soul-flower.com


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