Ana Kilani’s aesthetic describes her character. “Minimally eccentric,” she calls it. She’s small, elegant, soft spoken. Perhaps not what you would expect from a young entrepreneur. Her aesthetic extends to her workspace. Everything has function and everything has a simple beauty.
She works in a charming old house, her childhood home, near downtown Russellville. Its walls are plain yet sturdy. The hardwood floors creak, but the woodwork is still grand. There’s a warm glow about the place. It’s timeless and enduring, much like the clothing Ana now sources.
Ana officially opened Greenhaus, an online clothing store, on November 13, 2015. She focuses on sustainable clothing made with a minimal impact on the earth and manufactured under fair labor practices. Ana fights what she calls “throw away fashion.” Much like the house she works in, her clothes are built to stand the test of time.
The story of Greenhaus begins far away from the Arkansas River Valley. “I was a bartender in New York City. I was working in a small, family owned restaurant called Bread. I got off work; I had a little cash in my pocket. I was going to buy myself something new,” Ana said. Much to her disappointment, there were no stores she could trust to sell sustainable clothing. “I knew I could go to Nordstrom and find, maybe, a brand or two that were considered sustainable, but I would have to look through the entire store to find them. There were a few boutiques in Brooklyn that focused on sustainable clothes, but they had such a small selection that I wasn’t able to find what I wanted,” she said. For all the towering buildings in New York, Ana couldn’t find a sustainably constructed plain white T-shirt. Greenhaus was born out of her desire to find a trustworthy shop with a wide selection of merchandise.
Originally the scope for Greenhaus was much larger. It started as an idea for a giant department store focused on sustainability. She had visions of a six-story complex with everything from fashion to home decor. Quickly, she realized this grand plan wasn’t going to happen at once.
All dreams have to start somewhere.
Ana scaled her idea down, down and further down until she had one product — the plain white T-shirt she had been searching for that day in New York City. This T-shirt became her first private label garment. A white T-shirt might sound like no big deal, but for Ana, that’s exactly the point. Ana primarily focuses on staples, pieces that can be worn over and over again in a variety of situations. “You could put a blazer over it and go to a meeting. You could put shorts on and go play soccer,” she said. This T-shirt represents two core values of Greenhaus: simplicity and usefulness. Ana’s T-shirt is manufactured by Groceries Apparel in California with a mixture of recycled and organic cotton.
To understand Ana’s mission, you must first understand her definition of sustainability. It’s both a lifestyle and a fashion choice. “As a lifestyle, it means making smart choices that you think through to the end outcome,” said Ana. “Before you consume, purchase, or do something, think about the footprint you’re leaving.” As a fashion choice, this idea translates to the rejection of throw away fashion. Many people buy clothes that they rarely wear; they’re only good for a few occasions or they don’t last long. No one benefits from clothes that sit in a closet gathering dust. The Greenhaus motto is “Wear me out.” Ana believes that a garment should be cherished. “Wear it until you can’t wear it anymore,” said Ana. “And love it.”
It might seem strange to find a young entrepreneur with such anti-consumer ideals, but Ana believes that such values are essential to our society’s sustainability. “It’s important to think about what we’re leaving to future generations,” she said. Although she pushes for recycling and reuse, Ana understands the need for new clothes. A large part of her line is made with recycled or natural fabrics like organic cotton, recycled cotton, bamboo, hemp, and lyocell. All are materials with a light footprint. “I’m trying not to promote the use of polyesters and garments that do not biodegrade,” said Ana. “You could put a cotton T-shirt, especially an organic cotton T-shirt, in your compost; it will be gone in 50 years. If you bury polyester it will be around for generations to come.”
In addition to recycling fabric she recycles clothes. She edits garments and curates a collection of vintage clothes on her website. With their carbon footprint long since forgotten, wearing recycled clothing is an economical way to take responsibility for the environment. “I see where we need to make new clothes, but I also see where we have billions and billions of old clothes that nobody is using,” said Ana.
For many, the central argument for sustainable clothing is in the ethics of its manufacturing. Third world sweatshops are infamous for their horrid working conditions and unfair wages. In 2013, one such sweatshop collapsed after the overseer ignored repeated warnings to close the building. The Rana Plaza collapse took 1,129 lives and injured more than 2,000. The tragedy in Bangladesh was one of the worst in human history.
Ana’s goal is to help mitigate these disasters. The constant push for lower prices leads to lower pay for the workers, and the cost cutting is so extreme that it leads to substandard working conditions at the manufacturer. “We just see the glitz, the glamor, and the girls that look beautiful. We don’t think about the work. It’s not in our face,” said Ana. She won’t sell a piece of clothing unless she knows exactly where and how it was made.
It’s not easy finding suppliers you can trust, she explained. Much of her effort goes into sourcing clothing. It took a year just to find four labels. “People will directly tell me falsehoods,” she said. One supplier claimed their clothes were “made in USA,” but Ana’s prodding revealed that they were only designed in Los Angeles. The actual manufacturing was done elsewhere. “They use small wordplay to trick you,” she said.
Ana isn’t the only one who needs to be cautious. Consumers often fall prey to the same misleading tactics. The sustainable clothing movement is similar to the organic foods movement. Just as marketers may try to mislead you with terms like organic and natural while buying food, clothing retailers will try to mislead you while you browse for clothing. For example, some companies will use sustainable materials, but still outsource to factories that exploit workers. “I’m trying to build a brand that you don’t have to second guess,” Ana explained. Still, it’s the customer’s duty to buy responsibly.
Sustainable clothing doesn’t come cheap. Ana explained that in order to pay workers fairly, the consumer must be prepared to pay a higher price. This extra money ensures safer work environments and higher pay for garment workers. Even still, Ana focuses on bringing down prices. “If I could, I would make no profit. I would get as many people wearing sustainable clothes as possible,” she said. Economy of scale means that prices will drop steadily as the sustainable clothing movement grows. “It’s never going to be as cheap as Forever 21,” said Ana. “But Forever 21 shouldn’t be as cheap as Forever 21.”
Ana’s shop is currently online only, but she may open a brick and mortar shop as it grows. “I’m taking it slowly,” she said. Like an old house, Ana isn’t concerned about time. For now, she focuses on bringing sustainable clothing to the masses.
You can view Ana’s wares at shopgreenhaus.com.