Sew natural

Laura and Becky Carter

Velvet Leaf designers Laura (left) and Becky Carter (right).

Velvet Leaf designers Laura (left) and Becky Carter (right).

Photo By SHoka

The contrast between sisters Laura and Becky Carter’s Velvet Leaf (1115 H Street) and the body shop located next door is pointed: They’re an eco-friendly DIY fashion boutique, the neighbors repair cars. And the differences go deeper: Designers Laura and Becky sell certified organic and sustainable clothing crafted by their very own fingers, which hardly leave a carbon fingerprint. Their store has a charming ambience that surely will make the shopping experience pleasant for customers as well as Mother Earth.

What are the biggest challenges for two people starting a small business nowadays?

Becky: Finding a balance. People try to go too big too soon. When our sales were down, we started our own manufacturing facility instead of paying somebody else. Downsizing is more toward our mission statement of being sustainable; we’re cutting out wastage.

You’re sisters: What’s it like working together?

Becky: It’s fun. You know each other inside and out, and we have the same mind and work the same way because we grew up together.

Laura: Both of us are better at different aspects of the business, so she can carry out things that I’m not very good at and vice versa.

Describe how this began.

Laura: It started when Becky went to college. We started sewing clothes to sell at farmers’ markets and craft fairs. Then someone asked if we’d be interested in doing a full clothing line. Now, for the last four years, we’ve been learning the business.

So where did you pick up your sewing savvy?

Becky: My grandmother was a seamstress and taught my mom the trade and [mom] taught us. My grandma worked in garment factories then, so it’s crazy to think that we’ve carried the legacy.

Why organic?

Becky: When we lived in Santa Barbara, we started to explore. We did the research and thought, “Wow, we really want to have sustainable organic products.”

Laura: For me personally, when I was younger, I looked at the fashion industry like it was this horrible thing. That world is crazy, but it’s only as crazy as you make it. It’s getting easier to find cool, interesting organic fabrics, too.

If you are so interested in sustainability, why focus on clothing? What’s the green impact?

Becky: Cotton makes up about 25 percent of the textile market alone. Growing organic cotton has a huge impact on the environment. The most sustainable way would be to keep recycling old clothes, which is why we sell vintage items.

Laura: Being able to make clothes locally in Sacramento, we’re able to oversee everything, so we know exactly what’s going into our products. A lot of major corporations are just getting everything pushed out en masse in sweatshops, and the transportation alone has an effect on the environment. So going smaller and making everything on our own is more of a lateral move. We’re the factory.

How do labor practices tie into sustainability?

Laura: We’ve made a sweatshop for ourselves. My sister, my mom and I once stayed here for three days straight, sleeping and working in the shop to finish some samples.

What appeal does ’60s-style clothing hold in 2009?

Becky: The best way to put it is we have a modern take on vintage clothes. Last season was pretty mod, but every season is a little different.

Can the masses purchase sustainable clothing for a reasonable price?

Laura: At this point, the price for our clothes will go down because we’ve cut out the middlemen. If people were more selective and bought clothes to last longer, they could focus on the quality of the item. Dresses shouldn’t cost $20. They probably cost $3 to make, and who gets paid for it? We should buy in socially responsible way, even if that means buying less.

If you could choose one fashion muse, who would it be?

Becky: History. Our last season was this medieval-armor, badass, empowered-women theme.

Laura: This was the time the recession was hitting and we were thinking, “Shit. We need to suit up for the long haul.” It’s cool to look back a year later and realize how much something had to do with your life.

An essential piece from your line?

Becky: I would say to come in and get at least one piece of organic clothing is a good place to start. It’s hard to say, “Well, they need the Dylan top.”

Laura: Personal style is important to us, and being able to design that for other people is our goal. We encourage people to just start somewhere.

What’s the best compliment you’ve received?

Becky: Laurie Goldstein, a top stylist, pulled a whole line for a shoot with Anne Hathaway.

Laura: I even got an e-mail from a girl in London who was showing me her sketches. It’s cool to see a girl in London knows about our work and thinks I’m an inspiration.