Social entrepreneur E.A. Lepine is the founder and CEO of Arrowroot, an ethical online dress shop based in Denver, Colorado. Arrowroot and Lepine partner with artisans through Mi Esperanza (which means The Women of My Hope), the Maya Tradition Foundation, Woven Joy and the Mile High Workshop.
According to the Arrowroot website:
“The fashion industry is known throughout the world for unethical treatment of workers and harmful effects on the environment. We believe that good clothing isn’t just aesthetically on point, but uplifts the people who made it physically, emotionally and financially.
“To ensure that each of our dresses is ethically produced, 100% of our production happens through partnerships with amazing organizations who are committed to providing fair-wage, safe jobs for women who need them. Check out our partners above and watch the video below to learn more about Mi Esperanza, where the vast majority of our production happens.”
Lepine is committed to the ethical production of dresses and sees her role as more of a mission. A 2007 graduate of Little Rock Christian, she received a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Samford (2011) and a Master’s in Counseling from Denver Seminary (2013).
Lepine began to develop the idea to help many of these ladies when she was an intern for Mi Esperanza after her sophomore year in college. Recently Business Insider featured her as one of their “50 coolest new businesses in America.”
Talk Business & Politics caught up with Lepine to learn more about her and her mission creating hand-sewn dresses.
TB&P: What was the catalyst that caused you to start Arrowroot?
Lepine: The major event that ultimately lead to Arrowroot was a short-term mission trip I took to Honduras. We were there to build houses, but I met the founders of our now non-profit partners, Mi Esperanza on that trip. I was really inspired by the work they were doing with women in the communities there and I knew I wanted to take part in it.
TB&P: What was the biggest challenge for Arrowroot in the first couple of years?
Lepine: The biggest challenge with starting anything, I think, is trying to make all the pieces run without a lot of hands to do it. It took awhile to learn how to balance all the different facets of running a business from order fulfillment to marketing to customer service. It really has taken two years, but we’ve finally gotten that rhythm down and things are running a whole lot more smoothly.
TB&P: Can you explain the purpose behind Arrowroot and how it meets your personal vision?
Lepine: The purpose is twofold. Of course, our main focus is to provide safe, fair-wage employment for women who need it. My other vision for Arrowroot is to make clothes that allow for effortless dressing but still look awesome. I started to play with this idea because I was tired of spending so much time putting outfits together every day. Finally, I got rid of the mounds of cheap clothes I never wore and made a few easy-to-wear dresses for myself.
They might not seem related, but I think these two purposes really go hand in hand. The reason so many of us have closets full of clothes we never wear is because fashion has become a “more for less” industry. Workers get paid less so that companies can charge less and we can, in turn, buy more. It’s sort of the same as filling your pantry with cheap bags of chips instead of a few well-chosen snacks that will actually fill you up.
Investing in fewer, higher quality pieces is just better all around. A woman gets paid a living wage and you get to build a closet full of well-made clothes you’ll truly love for years to come.
TB&P: What person or persons had the biggest impact on you and Arrowroot?
Lepine: There have been so many amazing people along the way, so it’s hard to narrow down. More than anyone, I’d say our seamstresses in Honduras. I’ve grown really close with them over the years and consider each one a personal friend. As I’ve learned how stable employment has impacted each one of their families, I’ve grown more and more passionate about what I do. Not because I’m doing some great thing for them, but because everyone should have the opportunity to provide for their family.
TB&P: Do you have plans to work with another source or group of women for clothing?
Lepine: We also work with a group in Denver called Mile High Workshop. They provide employment for people needing to get back on their feet before they re-enter the mainstream job market. It’s a really cool thing they’re doing and we love working with someone local.
TB&P: What is your main marketing channel for Arrowroot?
TB&P: What are your favorite tools that you use while running your company?
Lepine: Honestly, my favorite tool right now is my new workspace. Arrowroot was operating out of our small apartment and we definitely outgrew it. This past December, we moved into a house with a basement office and it’s been amazing.
Editor’s note: Below is a video of a trip to Honduras that Lepine referenced earlier.