Eco Citizen Reveals the Allure of Organic Fashion

Story contributed by Polina Selyutin.

“It’s about finding your truth” says Joslin Van Arsdale, owner of Eco Citizen, a green apparel boutique in San Francisco’s Russian Hill neighborhood. Joslin’s path to Eco Citizen passed through London for fashion design, NYC as a stylist/designer, researching textile trends in Paris, London for grad school at Goldsmiths College, and Santa Fe, New Mexico working as a gallery director before landing in San Francisco to launch Eco Citizen 3 1/2 years ago.

When deciding what designers to carry in her stores, Joslin searches for a unique and fashion forward design aesthetic, Fair Trade and sweatshop free apparel. As a member of Green America, it is a top priority to ensure she knows where the clothes are coming from. Another criterion for her boutique is to carry apparel made from sustainable/recycled materials. “I also support local designers who produce locally, who may not use sustainable materials (Sara Shepherd) but make all of the clothing themselves thereby producing a very small carbon footprint” says Joslin.  Most of Joslin’s designers use organic fabrics such as hemp, organic cotton, lyocell and a small percentage use recycled materials. “Each one of my designers brings something unique to the store. I try to curate a diverse selection of ready to wear to evening wear.” Linda Loudermilk, John Patrick Organic, Josh Podoll, Terra Plana, Melissa shoes, Feral Childe, Prairie Underground, Sara Shepherd, and Stewart+Brown are some of the designers she carries at Eco Citizen.

When Joslin mentions the amazing community of people involved in sustainability in San Francisco, I get a feeling her nomad streak may be tamed while she immerses herself in the adventure of running Eco Citizen. Motivated by defining her own vision, Joslin is inspired by San Francisco’s green community and the people she meets day to day. As the sole owner, she does it all—including the photography for all of the items on Eco Citizen’s website—and is finding her biggest challenges are related to social media and web optimization to get people through the door.

While the slow fashion movement can use all the help it can get, Joslin emphasizes it’s equally important to have knowledge of design. “Its important to have this knowledge in order to avoid creating bad design and therefore more waste” says Joslin.  Joslin also supports the Made in the USA label. “Made in USA is extremely important, as it appeals to both sides” says Joslin. Since sustainability can be a polarizing topic among people struggling to make ends meet, it is clear to see how a country divided by politics can come together to support products made in the USA, while benefiting from reductions in the supply chain and allowing greater visibility to fair labor. Ultimately, Joslin feels the bottom line, and solution to growing the sustainable apparel market, is education. As consumers get educated the demand will ensure a supply of sustainable apparel. To promote education, Joslin is interested in participating in a traveling series of forums and talks at universities.

As a high-end boutique catering to sustainable fashion, some items seem to be priced higher than apparel from mass appeal chains such as Banana Republic or Zara, but unlike almost all of the apparel industry, the prices at Eco Citizen include the actual costs of producing the items with fair labor and sustainable materials. My first visit to the store left me in awe of almost every single piece of clothing. The detail, fabric, and originality of the design made me examine each piece with curiosity and respect. Although there is interesting art for sale on the walls, each piece of clothing on display is the real artwork to admire. I must admit the higher price point psychologically adds a layer of appreciation, but during my visit, I also felt a connection to the designer and the chain of people involved in ensuring it was manufactured sustainably. If most of us could commit to buying just one piece from a green boutique, we would be helping them stay in business, and consequently, ensuring a diversity of small businesses devoted to spreading sustainable apparel. In today's world of mass production and H&M-type chains encouraging disposable purchasing to keep up with the latest styles, it’s easy to disassociate ourselves and lose an appreciation for the clothes we buy. Places like Eco Citizen bring art and meaning back to clothing, which is why I am headed back to buy the creamy white organic slip dress with a gorgeous design that felt as soft as a tulip.

Polina Selyutin lives in San Francisco, spends her days as an operations manager, and her nights enjoying the city. In her free time, she is dedicated to finding ways to live sustainably, while supporting and promoting the fearless and innovative leaders who run sustainable businesses in the Bay Area.