Anne Marie Johnson's clothing store helps clients elevate their wardrobes in an eco-friendly fashion.
By: Jan Boroff Miller
During the first quarter of the pandemic, I got really into a show on Netflix called Next in Fashion. It is hosted by Queer Eye’s Tan France and Alexa Chung, and the goal is to find the next big duo in the world of fashion design. I already have a long-standing obsession with Tan because he is a national treasure, but Next in Fashion got me completely hooked on Alexa Chung. She’s funny. She’s charming. She’s a little weird. She ticks all my boxes.
As you do with any new celebrity fascination, I started Googling Alexa and found a short YouTube series she completed in 2020 in which she learned about the lifestyles of French women. In the first episode I watched, she learned how to date like a French woman. In the second episode, she learned how to age like a French woman, and this video helped me to completely revamp my skin care regimen. (It’s about more than moisturizer, babes.) In the final episode, Alexa learned how to dress like a French woman. The video was a revelation to me, and it got me thinking about the quality of my clothing and how to shop in a more sustainable manner.
Lucky for me, I was able to connect with Anne Marie Johnson to learn more about the green fashion movement and how it allows consumers to make significant changes to their shopping habits. Anne Marie is the founder of Bitter Grace, a sustainable clothing store located in Washington, D.C. At the core of Bitter Grace is a mission propelled by three important tenants: Community and connection; self-image and awareness; and sustainability.
Before we jump into all the details that make Bitter Grace an elevated and meaningful shopping experience for clients and its community, let’s look at why consumers are in need of environmentally friendly apparel.
Environmental Issues & the Fashion Industry:
“The fashion industry is responsible for 10 percent of humanity’s carbon emission,” said Morgan McFall-Johnsen in the 2019 Business Insider piece. “That’s more emissions than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.”
The United Nations has cautioned that the world needs to globally decrease greenhouse gas emissions in half by the end of the decade. With 85 percent of textiles ending up in landfills annually, it’s time for the fashion sector to step up their game to evoke systemic change to reduce pollution. Updating to green shipping methods, protecting natural ecosystems, investing in restorative farming practices, and utilizing sustainable urban planning for new facility builds as well as retrofitting older buildings with renewable energy sources will all go a long way in helping this problematic industry limit waste and lessen their carbon footprint.
But at Lite Foot Company, we don’t really like to sit around and wait for big corporations and businesses to create high-level changes to protect the planet. We believe in taking action ourselves, which is why our friends at Bitter Grace are making such a unique impact in their community by refusing to sacrifice quality, sustainable pieces at their store.
Bitter Grace: “You don’t need more. You need more meaningful.”
Starting a clothing business was not something Anne Marie Johnson envisioned for herself. While she always had an appreciation for fashion and liked to dress well, Anne Marie was very much involved in the D.C. scene of politics, government and international affairs. But then, something shifted.
She began to reevaluate her desire to remain in the political sphere, and from there, she started to reconstruct her own self-image.
Self-image is so important because it dictates our behaviors and our attitudes,” Anne Marie said. “It has a tremendous impact on the life we get to create for ourselves.
Anne Marie pictured a curated space with beautiful, quality clothing. She wanted the items she loved and enjoyed in one store. So, in 2019, she launched Bitter Grace. In the beginning, Bitter Grace was an online venture as well as Anne Marie traveling to pop-ups around the city. However, when she started building a customer base that was interested not only in her clothing offerings but her great eye for styling, a storefront became necessary. She styled four clients in her own home before opening the brick-and-mortar Bitter Grace in October of 2020.
As she was finalizing the brands and collections Bitter Grace would carry in the storefront, Anne Marie received a customer inquiry online about the sustainability of the products she sold. When she started digging, Anne Marie realized that some of her brand partnerships simply refused to respond to her questions about the sustainable aspects of the products, and that was unacceptable.
Integrity is a major component of building solid relationships for Anne Marie. She wanted to be transparent with her clients and guarantee the products they were purchasing were quality and environmentally friendly. She made the determination that sustainability would be a non-negotiable aspect of the pieces sold at her store.
“As we’re growing our clothing collection, we’re always going to have partnerships,” said Anne Marie. “We’re always going to want to support other people, especially artisan work. We’re always going to want to support other communities and other people who are taking the steps, big and small, to create beautiful things that enable them to support their own families and empower them to create skills and take steps to be more sustainable. To be more inclusive. To create stories.”
The use of clothing to share stories intimately connects our self-worth to our sense of community, said Anne Marie. Which is why she wants clients to see their Bitter Grace purchases as a long-term investment in themselves.
On a practical level, Anne Marie wants the apparel offered by Bitter Grace to be about wearability and longevity. When clients come in looking for a piece for a special occasion, Bitter Grace employees are encouraged to engage the customer and provide examples about how an item can be worn in several varied looks. They don’t simply want to make the sale. They want customers to understand clothing should not be disposable. Additionally, staff go to the effort of ensuring shoppers understand the proper care instructions for the clothing so it can be washed and worn for several seasons.
Bitter Grace is also committed to helping clients cultivate a positive self-image. For example, if you are living that work from home life, Bitter Grace wants to help you find looks that will allow you to feel good and promote positive communication throughout your day, even if no one else sees you. The customer gets to determine if that looks like a cashmere sweater with well-tailored jeans or elevated loungewear.
“I want you to be able to see the long-term value of these investments,” said Anne Marie. “And I want it to support this future vision of you. I want it to support your lifestyle.”
Sustainability is not only found in the products sources or produced at Bitter Grace. It’s integral to the operations of the shop. Anne Marie said the storefront is a “green” building, according to the city of Washington D.C. Bitter Grace uses LED lighting to conserve energy as well as motion sensors. They limit plastic by offering bamboo shopping bags, which are also biodegradable. They use reusable dishware when hosting events, and they use washable rags instead of paper towels for cleaning in-store.
On top of that, Anne Marie’s husband makes a line of candles sold at that store. Customers are encouraged to return the empty candle jars so they can be reused in the future.
If it sounds like I’m gushing about Anne Marie and the impact she is making with Bitter Grace, I am. Her passion for helping clients realize a positive self-image while ensuring sustainability reigns supreme at her store is truly infectious. I will most definitely be watching Bitter Grace’s YouTube videos in the near future.
If you are interested in learning more about Bitter Grace, check them out at the links below.
What are your favorite sustainable fashion brands, tips or tricks? Comment below or email us at email@example.com.