1) Briefly describe yourself and your business.
My name is Amber Reiners and I own Stonesthrow Boutique, a woman’s clothing and accessories store here in Eureka, CA. Owning a boutique has been my dream since I was old enough to have career aspirations! I didn’t feel confident enough to pursue fashion after high school, nor did I have the knowledge or capital to start a business, so I ended up getting a degree in education and working as a teacher for five years. Throughout high school and college I enjoyed working in retail but didn’t see myself having a career working for a large chain store or corporation. While I was working as a teacher my mom opened a franchise boutique back in my home state of Minnesota. I worked for her on weekends during my last year teaching and that’s when I realized how much happier I would be if I pursued my dream of owning a store. I moved from Minnesota to California in the spring of 2015 and by that September Stonesthrow Boutique was open for business!
2) What do you sell at your store? Do you try to incorporate any cruelty-free / environmentally responsible / ethically sourced fashion?
We sell clothing, handbags, shoes, jewelry, and other small gift items like cards and candles. Some of our brands are proud to advertise that they are environmentally responsible and cruelty-free, while others make it harder to know. While I don’t know that any of the brands we carry right now have unethical practices, sometimes there isn’t a lot of information regarding this topic available. Often times the representatives we work with from the companies themselves do not know much about the factory where the clothing is made so we have to do our best to find information ourselves, or look for brands that readily share their practices. I’m really excited about some of the new graphic tee brands we are bringing in this summer! One is called Educated Earthling – their shirts have great messages, but they’re also ethically-made in the USA using water-based inks, with 100% recycled and plastic-free packaging. A portion of their proceeds are donated to environmental organizations as well.
3) Do you have inquiries from customers regarding accessibility to these types of fashion choices? Do you think people make the connection between fashion and animal byproduct use at all?
Unfortunately it is very seldom that customers ask about cruelty-free / environmentally responsible / ethically sourced fashion. On the rare occasion that it does come up, we show them the options we have in-store that meet this criteria and let them know that we are always looking to bring in more brands with similar missions and values. I do not think the majority of consumers realize how impactful these issues are within the fashion industry, or how much waste is produced by it each year. We do have customers ask if our handbags or shoes are made with real leather from time to time. Some people ask because they don’t want real leather while others ask because they only buy genuine leather. Polyurethane (aka “PU” or “vegan leather”) has improved dramatically in look and quality and we make an effort to show customers that high-quality accessories can have the same look and feel of real leather without the negative impact on animals and the environment. But some people are harder to convince than others.
4) Do you believe that you can provide the same quality and style not using animal products? Particularly with shoes, purses, accessories, etc.
Yes I think so! We only have two real leather items in the store and they are great quality, but the similar items we have that are vegan leather are also high-quality, but with a much lower price point. I think brands are starting to realize they don’t need real leather to make nice products and consumers are starting to catch on as well. As stylists we continue to educate customers on the materials and benefits of choosing responsibly sourced, cruelty-free items, and that also makes a difference.
5) Is it difficult to find high-quality fashionable alternatives to lines that typically utilize animal products?
Not for us since the majority of what we carry isn’t designer or high-end labels, which is often where animal products are incorporated into fashion. I’ve been looking to replace the remaining non-vegan items at Stonesthrow with cruelty-free alternatives, and the process has been easier than expected. I’m attending a big trade show in August, and I’m looking forward to talking with the representatives from a specific brand we work with to let them know we would be greatly interested in seeing them offer vegan alternatives (or even better, shifting toward only vegan products throughout the company). I also enjoy taking the opportunity to seek out new, ethical, environmentally-friendly and cruelty-free lines at trade shows.
6) Do you notice a shift in the industry to offering more socially and environmentally responsible alternatives? Ie: banning fur
Yes I definitely notice a shift! I think the general population has become increasingly aware of being more socially and environmentally responsible in recent years and that is reflected by the fashion industry. Major labels such as: Tommy Hilfiger, Stella McCartney and Giorgio Armani have been fur-free for a while and more recently other notables including: Versace, Michael Kors, Gucci and Prada have followed suit. These luxury labels set the trends so I believe it’s only a matter of time before the rest of the industry catches on.
7) Do the cruelty-free fashion options cost you more to purchase, therefore causing the price to go up for customers?
Cruelty-free doesn’t usually cost more because the materials are less expensive than animal materials to produce. Some smaller brands do charge more for being made in the USA, being environmentally-friendly, or using less wasteful packaging materials, but fortunately it’s not typically enough of a cost increase to make a difference in whether or not we order from that brand, or resell to customers at a standard price point.
8) What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten?
Not to worry about what others are doing, especially your competitors. Just focus on making yourself and your business the best you can, and everything else will fall into place.
9) What has been the biggest challenge / biggest reward from owning your own business?
The biggest challenge I face as a small business owner is learning how to manage my time. I serve so many roles in my company and it can be challenging to get to every task in a given day, or to allocate my time to what needs the most attention. Ironically, I also struggled with this as a teacher! It gets easier as time goes on and I gain experience. I’ve also become better at delegating tasks to my employees and asking for help when I need it. Another challenge specific to the fashion industry is predicting trends ahead of time. Much of our buying takes place at a trade show two or three seasons before the products are in-store for purchase. In August I will be picking out styles that will be shipped to the store before the holidays and in early spring.
The most rewarding aspect of owning a business is seeing people wearing things they purchased from my store. Nothing makes me happier than seeing a girl out in public looking great in something she got from Stonesthrow, or when customers come back to the store later to tell us how much they love what they purchased. When you like what you’re wearing and look good in it, you feel good too. We don’t just dress people, we help them feel comfortable in their skin and proud to present themselves to the world. That’s why I do what I do.
10) What is one book that changed your life? Briefly describe why.
My favorite book (and one that changed my life) actually falls into the young adult genre. It was first read to me by my fifth grade teacher, and I’ve read it at least a dozen times since then. It’s called Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech. The title comes from the phrase in the book: “Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked two moons in his moccasins.” This reminds me to put myself in someone else’s position before judging them or making assumptions about how they feel, which helps me as a business owner and also in my personal relationships.
326 2nd Street, Eureka CA