In 2020, the buyer for H Project, a sustainability driven division within the luxury Canadian department store, Holt Renfrew, reached out to us to learn more about our brand & ethos. We discussed our shared passion for eco-friendly fashion and supporting independent designers.
Since then, salt+umber has been featured in H Project shops every Spring! We are so appreciative of Natalia and the Holts team for discovering our tiny, yet mighty brand.
This season, Holt's fell in love with the story behind SANSA our 100% upycled cotton sandal. Here is our Q+A with Natalia where we deep dive into all things sustainable fashion!
Q: What was the inspiration behind H Project and how has it evolved since its genesis?
A: "Alexandra Weston believed that fashion and consumerism could be used as a force for good. She founded H Project back in 2013 as a platform for change. H Project is a permanent department within Holt Renfrew that offers our customers an easily identifiable assortment of sustainable, artisanal and charitable goods from around the world. We ensure our space, similar to what you might see in an art gallery or museum, contains story telling for each brand. As sustainability has become more prevalent within Holt Renfrew, we have expanded our H Project criteria to include circular and innovative. This ensures we continue to celebrate and support brands that are ahead of their time and pushing the industry to a better place."
Q: As a buyer for H Project, how do you seek out emerging brands within the sustainability space? What makes you drawn to a certain product, and how do you keep your customers in mind while sourcing?
A: "I started buying for H Project back in 2017 and the availability of sustainable products, as well as transparency to materials & production has increased exponentially. Nowadays I can find amazing sustainable, emerging brands through social media, trade shows, word of mouth and brands reaching out to me directly. The look and feel of a product always comes first. This is both to ensure a long term partnership with the brand, but also to ensure the end consumer is truly in love with the product. Otherwise that product will sit in their closet, never be worn, the item will be donated and another more suitable item purchased. That to me is unsustainable no matter how virtuous the fabric and production are. Once the aesthetic has hooked me, I fall in love with the story. Founders and creators within both emerging brands and the sustainability space are incredibly inspiring! Learning their story and journey is my favourite part of the job!"
Q: By helping tell the story of smaller sustainable brands you are helping to bridge the gap between the people who make products, and your end consumer. Why do you feel this support and transparency is important?
A: "Communicating the story behind the products is incredibly important, because it gives them a soul. As the end consumer you’re able to celebrate the hands that made your product and the impact it had on their lives. You can appreciate the time, effort and generational skill it took to create the item in your hands. When someone compliments you, you can share the story and ultimately know that you had a positive impact on a human being and you did your due diligence in protecting the environment around them. This makes you more likely to keep and love that item forever."
Q: It’s admirable to have a company like Holts seeking out ways to support small brands like salt+umber. How you continue to spotlight independent designers missions and the story behind the product?
A: "H Project aims to be a platform for positive change. Beyond purchasing product, this support comes through education and partnership as our H Project brands deliver to a department store, often for the first time. This is also by celebrating their story through amazing social and marketing programs including Sustainable Sundays, Behind the Scenes, emails, as well as immersive pop-ups. I am also proud to say that our H Project ethos is being adopted by the wider buying team at Holts, through our Sustainable Edit program."
Q: Holt's Environmental and Ethical Trade Requirements go above and beyond federal legislation and surpasses most luxury department stores. How do you tackle the processes of vetting your suppliers? Do you wish there was more world-wide legislation surrounding these issues?
A: "I would love for our Environmental and Ethical trading requirements to be the norm world-wide. The fashion industry is fraught with issues that are often hidden to the end consumer. Our Environmental and Ethical trade requirements aim to tackle these, and ensure that basic human, animal and environmental rights are in place, so the costumer can feel confident in their purchase. They are embedded into our vendor contracts to ensure all vendors are in line with our values."
Q: What is your overarching philosophy on sustainability in today's world?
A: "Sustainability in regards to consumerism, for me is two prong. I believe that consumers have the power to change the world, so we must vote with our dollars. As a buyer, I can only provide long term support to collections that our customers purchase. When purchasing products as a consumer, I think about the impact the product has had on both people and planet. Did it keep a cultural craft alive or minimize the environmental impact of production? And second I buy with forever in mind, rather than a passing trend. If we ask ourselves whether we’ll still love our purchase in 10 years, we reduce our impact on the planet, save money and create a personal style that’s truly reflective of you."
Q: What is your favorite salt+umber style from the past 3 seasons we have worked with you?
A: "My favourite salt + umber style is still the SAVOY in Tutti Fruiti. It’s my go to beach shoe! The Savoy caught my eye on Instagram years ago and was the impetus that started our partnership with the brand!"
Q: What are some trends you're excited to see for the Summer 2023 Season?
A: " This summer season I am very excited for brights & neons. Nothing makes me happier than sunshine and a pop of colour! From a sustainability perspective, I am really excited about some incredible innovation happening within the fashion industry, from plant based leathers to 3D knit garments and neoprene swimwear made out of limestone and recycled plastic bottles."
Q: What do you do on your free time, when you’re not at your 9-5?
A: "In my free time I love to hike, swim and read. I am a big fan of self care, so the perfect evening for me is a delicious meal, warm bath and a yoga class."
Interview with Natalia Chryssoulis, April 2023