May 07, 2024 2:11 PM

A unique boutique

Posted May 07, 2024 2:11 PM
Photo by John Lovretta
Photo by John Lovretta

Traces offers sustainable clothing and an upscale resale shop

By Chris Faulkner

Tracy Dunn started her Traces Boutique business on Earth Day, April 22, 2021.

It was an online-only business, offering environmentally friendly products from her kitchen. Soon, she was doing pop-ups at Corked 101.

Four months later, Dunn bought the Fiber Addicts store at 403 Jefferson St., and she marked her business’s third anniversary this past week.

“Everything is sustainable in nature,” Dunn said of all her products and clothing items, “either how it’s made or where it’s made or what it’s made from.”

There are three prongs to sustainability, she said: “Environment, economics, and ethics.

“You need people to be able to put into the economy,” Dunn said of the second part. “There needs to be economics and be able to sustainably run without affecting the other two prongs.”

She then said, “Ethics is a big one that a lot of people are focusing on. It’s a fair wage, fair trade.”

As an example, she used “that horrible brand Shein. You can get boxes and boxes of clothing for a hundred bucks. It is so cheaply made,” Dunn said. “But all of their workers are extremely underpaid.”

In contrast is the Elegant Tees brand.

“The owner has women in Nepal at a sewing center,” Dunn said. “These women used to be trafficked. But now, in the sewing center, they’re getting a fair wage, so they can be put back in the economy.”

The clothing is environmentally friendly as the owner uses deadstock, the last bits of fabric, Dunn said, and she noted that a portion of the purchase price goes back to shelters for human trafficking victims.

Another company, Certified B Corporation, offers certificates that give a stamp of approval many companies seek out.

“They have to go under stringent environmental, ethical, and economic data collection,” Dunn said. Certified B “goes looking all through their supply chain, their water usage. All of those sorts of things that people care about for the environment,” Dunn said.

The upscale resale section is to avoid the wasteful “Fast Fashion” that several stores are promoting.

“They bring out clothing every week,” Dunn said, instead of marketing for the four seasons. You wear it once or twice and then throw it out.

“Putting more clothing into the world is a stressful thing,” she said.

Dunn resells well-made clothing items that may be “medium-speed fashion. We want to give them a new life,” she said.

That’s why she keeps her inventory small but with multiple sizes.

“We just have brands that are made very well,” Dunn said. “I’ve got pants that I’ve had for three years, and they don’t look like I’ve had them for more than three months. You can be sustainable and still look fabulous.”

The store is open Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dunn has a full-time job as engineering manager at the Iowa Army Ammunition Plant.

Socks Are A Big Seller

Dunn has around 20 name brands. The best-sellers are her Conscious Steps socks.

The unisex socks come in a variety of “really fun” patterns, Dunn said, but the main selling point is the charity the purchase supports.

If you buy “socks that save cats,” proceeds go to the Best Friends Association. If you buy “socks that support mental health” the company gives a portion of the sale to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

“Everybody has a different charity they’re involved in,” Dunn said.

Another interesting product is plantable cards by Artsy Em. “It’s seed paper,” Dunn said.

It’s blank on the inside, so you add your own greeting. After reading the card, the recipient soaks it in water and plants it to become flowers. “Bee food,” she said. “It’s its waste stream.”

Dunn donates a portion of each purchase to plant a tree.

“We’re working on planting an entire mangrove forest in East Africa,” Dunn said.

Dunn is aware that “sustainability is a very personal goal. It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution.”

One customer wanted to buy sandals for her daughter-in-law, who refuses to wear leather.

So Dunn said that would rule out the hand-made, hand-beaded sandals from Africa.

“Let’s go find a different pair of recycled tire sandals,” Dunn said.

Some don’t want cotton products. Some only want products made in America.

“We’re trying to appeal to a wide variety of consumers to help start their sustainability journey,” Dunn said.

Dunn earned her mechanical engineering degree at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Ind. But during that time, “when I was supposed to be studying, I would look through Pinterest. I had an idea of starting my own business, and it was a clothing store,” she said.

It took a while for that seed of sustainability to germinate, but now that it has, Dunn said, “It was a whirlwind how it all came together.

“I wasn’t expecting it to grow and expand and be what it is,” Dunn said. “Right now, I’m just riding the wave.”

Dunn said the whole point of this “is to bring sustainability to light.”

She said her favorite quote, posted in her storefront window, is, “We don’t need a million people doing sustainability perfectly. We need a million people doing it imperfectly.”