virtue + vice: Q&A with Shop Owner Melanie DiSalvo

When Melanie DiSalvo, founder of the sustainably and ethically-made clothing line virtue + vice, reached out to me in hopes of collaborating, I knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Melanie has an incredibly unique perspective: after years spent working in Asia sourcing and developing clothing for well-known, big-brand retailers, she chose to start her own clothing line (namely, virtue + vice) as an alternative to the morally unjust and environmentally hazardous practices she witnessed firsthand.

Pictured above: the WINNE caftan and LANEY modal wrap skirt, both available at shopvirtueandvice.com.

“I want to provide eco-conscious women with style that promises to produce the smallest possible carbon footprint, while providing a safe work environment and living wage to artisans in India,” Melanie says.

Melanie and I got #real and talked all things life, ethics, and business in our Q&A. Wondering about what it takes to start your own ethical clothing line from the ground up? Click below the jump to find out.

Q: Tell me about yourself! Any hidden talents or fun facts?

[I was] born and raised in New York. No hidden talents. My elbows are hyper extended, but I think that’s more of a mutation than a talent.

I love animals, especially dogs. I have adopted two dogs, a pitbull and a chihuahua. In India, there are a lot of stray dogs and puppies, and it takes all of my self-control not to bring them all home with me. They are just so stinking cute. I am a vegetarian, 90 percent vegan. It’s hard while traveling in Asia to make sure no eggs were added into bread and pastas and stuff like that, so I do what I can, when I can to be vegan.

Animals and clothes … that sums me up!

Q: You used to work in Asia, sourcing and developing garments. What did you see during your time in Asia that changed you and motivated you to start virtue + vice?

I saw a lot of great factories and a lot of shitty ones. I have seen a lot of poverty, and all of it was very upsetting. I used to cry every night that this was what my life had become and that I was part of this negative process. I felt very helpless and didn’t know what to do. I thought a lot about changing careers.

What really kicked me in the ass to do something was an experience that happened in New York. There was an older woman who had been in the industry for something like 40 years, and she overheard me telling someone a story about being in a factory in Asia. She butt in and started bragging about all the terrible things she had see, and that really got to me. I was thinking that everyone was as upset as I was about these types of things, and this woman told her horrible factory stories with pride. And I was like, fuck … these people are all sick. So, I decided to do something about it.

Q: What’s the story behind virtue + vice as a brand and clothing label … how did you start the label and design the garments? How big/small is your team?

Right now, it is just me and my boyfriend. I do all of the creative, and he handles the money. We have a fantastic freelance graphic designer, too. I kind of describe the prints I am seeing in my head and she draws them up, and we go back and forth making changes and tweaks. Some of our friends are helping out for free with PR, social media marketing, and photography. It has been really amazing how many of our friends want to help out and support us.

Q: What are your priorities for virtue + vice?

I want to educate consumers. Most of my friends aren’t in [the fashion industry]. But when I tell them how things are made, they seem really receptive and want to make changes to how they buy their clothes. I want virtue + vice to be a platform for educating consumers on how their purchasing decisions affect the earth.

“I think if more people understood the magnitude of their purchasing decisions they would choose to buy differently. And if you want to buy our clothes, that’s amazing, but if not, at least we have given you the tools you need to find other eco-friendly options.”

Q: Have you faced any challenges with launching and promoting virtue + vice? On the flip side, have you reached any business goals?

[virtue + vice] only launched on Saturday, April 22, Earth Day. I’m most nervous about promoting the product. My background is in making clothes, not advertising. But, I have some great friends who specialize in media and advertising [who are] helping me. Again, it’s been really amazing how many people have offered to help me for free because they believe in the cause.

Q: What are your tips for someone looking to launch an ethically-made and eco-friendly clothing line? What are the first steps, the need-to-knows?

Partner with someone that knows the product. There are so many sustainable brands out there right now that aren’t really all that sustainable because people don’t know the right questions to ask from mills and factories.

Ask questions. And live where your clothes are being made. Very often, orders are subcontracted out, and then those subcontracts are subcontracted, and on and on, and no one knows where this stuff is really being made. I go to India and I sit there for weeks, watching everything that is happening. Is it glamorous? No, but it ensures ethical conditions and quality.

Q: What’s next in store for your brand?

We will be launching a more affordable basics line in the fall to pair with our statement pieces. A lot of sustainable companies only do basics, but we want our focus to be on fun pieces made the right way, you don’t have to dress in black, white, and khaki pillowcases to be sustainable; your wardrobe can still have personality.

A HUGE thanks to Melanie, who took time out of her busy schedule as a one-woman show to answer my questions. Cheers!