It is well known that since the start of the pandemic, online sales have increased. People who were no longer able to take full advantage of the retail experience that was present before COVID, have turned to online stores in search of everything from garlic presses to weighted blankets.
While the joy of receiving an Amazon home package is a serotonin booster, more and more people are looking for ways to put money back into the small independent businesses that dot their neighborhoods.
Those looking for guilt-free retail therapy can find it in the online store Past life the collective. The brand, designed by native Boulder Berkley Bering Gamble, combines earthy portability with an eco-conscious edge.
From flower-print maxi maxi dresses to puffy blouses, the range of vintage-inspired items in the arsenal of lines look like the kind of inventory one might easily find in a charming minimalist Big Sur boutique. The catch pieces are all made in the USA, in small batches, using recycled fabric.
In November and December, 10% of profits from Past Life the Collective will go to benefit the Boulder-based nonprofit. Protect our winters, an organization dedicated to the impact of legislation on climate change.
We caught up with the unlikely fashion entrepreneur who graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2016 and now lives in Denver to find out what inspired her to start a green business in 2020, her inclination to childhood to reorganize her own wardrobe and what future goals she has for her sustainable business.
Daily Camera: Starting a business during a pandemic can seem risky to many. What inspired you to start this business in 2020?
Berkley Bering Gamble: Risky indeed. Well, honestly, I didn’t really have a choice. Although this business was launched this year, I had been working on it since summer 2019. We started making all the clothes in hopes of launching a small collection for spring / summer 2020.
Everything changed in March when the pandemic hit. I chose not to go for it because it felt extremely out of alignment with our world. Instead, my production team rotated and we made 500 masks using leftover production fabric. It kept my production in business and kept me busy. Now, maybe it could turn out like it was easy, but it wasn’t. I was extremely stressed about my business finances, I was already on my knees in production for Fall / Winter 2020 and really felt like I had no choice but to continue to move forward, take one step at a time, and trust that things will work out. working out while remembering those times are tough for everyone.
I may have learned from my athletic experience, but I strongly believe in controlling those things that you can control and obviously the pandemic is nothing we can really control. Having said that, I’m looking for the positives as well and this pandemic has clearly caused more and more people to take notice of their purchases. Supporting the little ones and bringing them back to the community is also becoming a fundamental value for consumers. My whole brand is built on ethics and sustainability and buyers are starting to really think about conscious choices and not just price.
DC: What do you think sets Past Life the Collective apart from other retailers?
BBG: I’d like to think of us as ‘anti-brand’ now, that probably sounds strange, but for a clothing brand we don’t follow any traditional marketing or business model. Top to bottom, bottom to top, we make all the right choices about the business. They are generally not the cheapest or the fastest option. For example, I could easily have all the clothes made in Asia, which would significantly reduce the costs. But instead, we manufacture everything locally in Denver from a small, ethical manufacturer. This way, I know that all seamstresses are paid well, treated fairly and that we have a low carbon footprint on the manufacture of items.
Our fabrics are all made from “animal carcasses,” another fabric that the manufacturers did not intend to use. Instead of wasting it, like going to landfill or burnt, we use it. We are also zero waste, which means that all of our scraps and production cuts are kept and reused. For example, currently all of our notes are turned into hang tags.
Another thing that very few brands do is show the customer the breakdown of the cost per item. We do this. We show where every dollar goes, how much ethical work costs and how much money we make in the end. Transparency is very important to me. I don’t want to be a profit driven brand. I firmly believe that if you do things the right way, good things will happen over time. Make no mistake, profit is necessary to stay in business, but there is a good process to follow. First come the people and the planet. Profit comes later.
DC: Did you always know you wanted to do something in the fashion line?
BBG: Definitely not. I was a classic millennial who after college had no idea where I wanted to go. I have moved to several cities, held various jobs in the service industry, and overall have struggled to stay in one place. I love the beauty of the outdoors and really wanted to find a way to make a difference in my life. I kind of fell into fashion.
The real reason I came here is my passion for protecting the planet. However, I think my grandmother Natty would have predicted this career path for me. When I was little, I ripped jeans, sewed beads on them and spray-painted them. I’ve always liked to express myself through clothes, but as I got older I became more focused on playing varsity sport. And to be honest, there’s no way I could have released Past Life the Collective without my creator, Addie sweeney another native of Boulder who has been with me from the start.
DC: Would you say that growing up in Boulder had an influence on your own personal style and aesthetic?
BG: It’s such an interesting question because I feel like I’m growing up here, everyone is so laid back. It’s one of the only cities where people can go to the nicest restaurants and wear yoga pants, which I love. I grew up barely brushing my hair, I’m sorry mom rarely wears makeup and that natural attitude is still a part of me. Now you’ll find me dressed in Past Life the Collective clothes, but you’ll probably find me in Converse rather than heels.
DC: Who do you think are the potential buyers of Past Life?
BBG: We have a wide range of people who identify as women who can shop with us. Between my age of 26 and my mother’s, I dare say they all look awesome and find their unique style within the brand. The clothes we make are timeless, high quality and also in limited edition. So you know everything is special. Most importantly, buyers should be looking for more than a pretty top. We have it, but we offer much more. By buying with us, you take better care of the planet and its inhabitants.
DC: Finally, what ultimate goals do you have for the brand?
BBG: I mean above all, I want to get through this pandemic and really start building the brand. Hopefully, it becomes a staple brand for Colorado residents, while also becoming a lifestyle brand and a place where customers can shop for a variety of sustainable products. Plus, I would love to have a brick and mortar someday in my favorite place in the world, Boulder.
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