Before co-founding Rêve en Vert, a sustainable luxury online shop, Cora Hilts cut her teeth as an intern at Stella McCartney, a brand that is widely recognized as a leader in sustainability in fashion.
During her first day as an intern, Hilts was shocked when she was told to remove her new red leather gloves. Leather and other animal products were banned from the company — at all levels.
“[Stella] really made sure people were following the tenets that were important to her brand,” Hilts says. “I really respect that, and I learned a lot from it.”
An uncompromising attitude was a major part of why Hilts decided to found Rêve en Vert. Her vision for the company focuses on ethics and sustainability, without sacrificing a curated, luxury shopping experience.
Before co-founding REV, Hilts studied environmental politics in London. Hilts’ co-founder Natasha Tucker also had a background outside of fashion. She had been working on an organic farm.
“She was just like, ‘I am that consumer,’” Hilts says of Tucker. “‘I want to shop well, but I also want to look a certain way. I need the ease of shopping in the city.’”
Hilts noticed that the fashion industry as a whole, while creative and pioneering in many ways, has long been lagging in terms of sustainability. So she and Tucker set out to create “an ethical Net-a-Porter.”
Hilts and Tucker self-funded the company until they met Jean Raazi, who became one of the company’s earliest investors. As a high-powered Citi employee who frequently used a Net-a-Porter personal shopper Raazi also had a love for the outdoors, and identified with the company’s mission. She soon joined the brand as chief financial officer.
“I quit a 20-year career on Wall Street to join REV full-time as CFO, and I’m excited about the growth prospects going forward,” Raazi says.
In February, the new team decided to launch a campaign on Crowdcube – a UK-based equity crowdfunding platform — with a goal of raising £350,000 ($448,700 at current exchange). They chose Crowdcube because of the opportunity for support and feedback from customers and fans. The founders look at crowdfunding not only as a tool to raise capital, but also as a chance to create a community around REV and its values.
“It’s kind of interesting, because you not only get the core investment of cash, but you also get people who are really interested in the outcome of your company,” Hilts says.
The money raised on Crowdcube would be used to broaden REV’s assortment into areas including menswear, maternity and accessories, so the brand can position itself as a full ethical lifestyle brand. New funding will also be used to support the company’s marketing and PR efforts.
“We really do see it as being the destination for any beautiful, sustainable lifestyle products,” Hilts says.
REV did not end up meeting its fundraising goal of £350,000, but it has received some outside funding that will be put toward marketing, PR and stock, as planned.
When selecting brands for REV’s website, Hilts and Tucker look for four main qualities — is the brand organic, re-made, local and fair? Because it would be difficult for all designers featured on the site to follow all of these tenets, they require that they follow at least two.
The search for a balance between these tenets is meant to acknowledge the breadth of ways to be sustainable, and the fact that different standards are held at a higher value than others by different people.
Some sustainable shoppers are searching for vegan items only, while some, including Hilts, believe that using discarded leather is the most eco-friendly approach to leather.
Fairness is required first and foremost by REV.
“It would never make sense to have an ethical website, and have it made by children, or people not being paid a fair wage,” Hilts says.
Hilts and Tucker aim to focus on clothing produced locally to each designer, in order to reduce transportation and resulting energy usage in the production chain. The founders also hoped this standard would place emphasis on enriching designers’ communities.
“It’s really more about cutting down on the carbon footprint and supporting local communities,” Hilts says.
Hilts acknowledges that ‘re-made’ is probably the most challenging tenet for designers to meet. The site’s Re-made Collection currently offers pieces from five designers. But Hilts is optimistic about the future of this collection, because of the “inherently creative” nature of designers.
The purpose of this tenet is to emphasize upcycling and using available materials, in an effort to extend their life cycles and divert more new materials from landfills. Yoga Democracy – one of the brands featured in the site’s Re-made Collection – makes yoga pants from 95 percent recycled fibers.
Hilts and Tucker regularly talk with designers about what they’re designing next, and encourage them to delve further into sustainability. They set the requirement of meeting two tenets with the hopes that designers make it a goal to work toward the other two. And they may suggest a designer take on the challenge of producing upcycled pieces for the first time.
“I do appreciate that things don’t happen overnight,” Hilts says.
The team at REV recognizes the opportunities for cost cutting that their designers are giving up in the name of sustainability. When so many fashion companies produce their clothing using low labor costs in countries like Bangladesh, it’s hard to choose a different path. REV champions designers who work to enrich their communities, despite the higher costs.
Hilts says she understands that when people adjust the way they live to become more sustainable, it’s a process.
“I know personally, I started this company as pretty environmentally, sustainably-minded person, but within the last four years, knowing what I know now, I’m so much further down the line, and I’m glad that I’m further down the line,” Hilts says. “But I appreciate that that’s been four years of my own life, and I wouldn’t expect anybody to the make the change any faster.”
Through social media and the company’s website, Hilts and Tucker hope to create a community where people can help and encourage each other during that process. They plan to add a comment section to REV’s blog to further the discussion online.
REV’s blog discussion, along with social media, largely takes the place of in-person discussions. The company’s digital platform is essential to reaching its customer base, as it currently sells to over 30 countries
With fast fashion being the main option for many young women, the mindset surrounding clothes has changed vastly over a couple generations.
Hilts talks about how Tucker’s grandmother, “kind of laughs at us,” because she doesn’t see how REV is doing anything special. She has always considered where her clothes were coming from and where they would go.
“She thinks that’s just how people should shop inherently,” Hilts says. “You should be purchasing pieces of quality. You should buy things that you mean to pass down to generations that follow you. You should be looking at materials and cut and all of these things.”
The road to sustainability is a long one, but with companies like REV, people are encouraged more every day to consider where their clothing is coming from. The mindset surrounding sustainability and luxury fashion has changed vastly even in the four years since REV was founded.
“People told me I was crazy for even broaching the idea of combining sustainable and luxury fashion, because, inherently the two things would never go hand-in-hand,” Hilts says. “But now we’re having designers prove that.”
Hilts finds efforts like Emma Watson’s sustainable and ethical press tour wardrobe and Livia Firth’s Green Carpet Challenge encouraging, but also knows that as the second largest polluter in the world, the fashion industry must move faster.
“I think that fashion has a real, true responsibility to do more than it does,” Hilts says. “Natasha, Jane and myself feel that we could be and should be doing more, and we hope to be at the forefront of that conversation with Rêve en Vert.”