Walk past the hipsters and the casually cool coffee shops on Orchard Street in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and you might just stumble upon Kaight (kaightnyc.com), an eco-fashionista’s shopping haven. Founded by Kate McGregor last summer, the shop combines sleek silhouettes with sustainable materials. Plenty sat down with her to chat about her vision for the store, her favorite designers, and eco-friendly clothes that don’t compromise sophistication or style.

Plenty: What inspired you to open your store?

McGregor: The idea came from a few different sources. I had been working as a reporter for a financial media company, and I wasn’t excited about what I was doing. Independent of that, I became intrigued by and excited about clothes. I wanted to feel like I had a connection to what I was buying and wearing. When I was doing my research, I found that many designers were creating really cool stuff, but I couldn’t find it anywhere in stores. So I was frustrated with my job, I wanted to open my own store, and it seemed like there was a need for a shop like this.

How do you feel after the first year?

It’s definitely been a learning experience, but people have responded really well to the idea and to the store in general.

What have you figured out?

It’s a constant challenge to own your own business, and you have to understand what people want. I’ve also been fine-tuning my concept. When I first came up with the idea for the store, it was very high-end, fashion-forward green clothing — a departure from what you typically see out there in terms of organic. When you talk about green fashion, eco-fashion, or organic fabrics, people don’t have an image of beautiful clothing. They think of T-shirts, maybe some hemp pants, Birkenstocks — not high fashion. I want to continue to move beyond that idea and show that there’s a lot more out there to choose from.

Who shops at your store?

When I first opened, I would say 75 percent of the customers didn’t know my concept. It was people walking in off the street. But it’s becoming a destination because people are interested in organic clothes. They read that I carry bamboo T-shirts, and they want to come in and feel them, and look at them. And they have this idea of what that is and then … it’s not; it’s a regular T-shirt!

Who are some of your favorite green-fashion designers?

Linda Loudermilk is amazing. She’s one of the few designers doing high fashion in this space. Another design company called Viridis Luxe creates a blend of hemp and cashmere that makes stunning sweaters and coats. And there are a lot of interesting European designers. Noir is a design company based in Denmark that has its own ethical-and-organic-fabric brand. And there’s a new denim label called Sling & Stones. Everything is earth-friendly, including its nickel-free and reclaimed hardware.

Besides the clothes, is there anything about your boutique that’s eco-friendly?

The floors are made of bamboo and the shelves are all custom-steel that is made locally in Brooklyn. My desk was made out of the leftover flooring, and I had benches made from reclaimed wood and shelving made from old railroad ties.

Do you wear strictly organic fabrics?

Anything I buy new is organic, but I still have favorite pieces of clothing that aren’t. I don’t necessarily believe that just because I opened my store, I should throw away everything in my closet and replace it with organic stuff. I don’t think that’s very green either.

What are the challenges to buying strictly eco-clothing?

The price point can be a barrier, which is unfortunate. There’s definitely a hope that once organic cotton is farmed more, the price will come down. Right now it’s really easy to go to a chain store and buy six T-shirts because they’re $9.99. A T-shirt here runs $40, but do you really need six of them? The whole goal is that people will eventually buy more environmentally friendly clothing, and it will make them think a little bit more about what they’re choosing. I think one of the bigger problems is the assumption that a wardrobe is disposable. ‘Oh, I’ll just buy this and wear it once and throw it out.’ I think a lot of people think that way. Hopefully if they spend a little bit more money on something, they won’t feel the need to do that anymore.

Story by Alison Sherbach. This article first appeared in Plenty in November 2007.

Copyright Environ Press 2007