Do shop-for-charity initiatives fall within the ethical fashion movement? Sometimes, and we're all for them when they do. But it's also true that charitable donations are no replacement for responsible business practices (ahem, Walmart–the country's most philanthropic company); that some corporations do a whole lot of pinkwashing, greenwashing and then some; and that there are legitimate questions about how and when aid is effective.

More importantly, we've always believed that supporting ethical fashion cannot feel like an act of charity if the movement is to have long-term success. Philanthropy can have tremendous results, but most of us engage in it sporadically. Our goal, on the other hand, is to shape an approach toward fashion that is consistently thoughtful and deliberative—one in which we always ask ourselves how our purchases are impacting our world.

Angela · Roi, the first philanthropy-focused brand that we've introduced to Ethica, is about both charity and change. This vegan handbag label allocates $5 from each sale to nonprofit groups working to end cancer and other endemic diseases. And it does so through a Donate By Color model, meaning that customers can support specific charities based on the handbag hue they select. Going for basic black? Your new bag will help fund melanoma research. Looking to add a pop of color to your closet? Red bags benefit an AIDS organization, while yellow bags support efforts against childhood cancer. It's a clever way of engaging shoppers and prompting them to consider how they'd like to use their purchasing power.

By attaching signature cause ribbons to every bag and sending out information about their charity partners with each purchase, Angela · Roi is also endeavoring to raise awareness, spark conversation and encourage philanthropic activity. That's a lot of purpose to pack into a purse! Check out what co-founder Roi Lee had to say about the bags and their mission.

You've said that quality and durability were among your highest priorities when developing your bags. Tell us about creating a product that's built to last. We wanted to make the highest-quality vegan handbags on the market. People think that vegan leather is low-quality and cheap, and [they] pay a high premium for real leather. We wanted to prove that the quality of vegan leather can be good and fashionable. We’re proud of our craftsmanship. Our manufacturers use sewing machines to make the handbags, and some handmade process is involved.

Angela · Roi uses PVC* for its Palette crossbodies. Have you considered working with vegan materials that are more environmentally friendly, such as cork-based synthetics or recycled plastics? We admit that PVC is not an environmentally friendly material. We did consider using other materials, but we were unable to push it. It's very hard to come up with design and style that we admire with those materials, at our stage as a company. But it’s something we look to do in the future as we grow.

Customer service and corporate social responsibility are often two distinct areas, but Angela · Roi's mission statement links the two: "We prioritize ethical and respectful treatment of our customers. Our products reflect a value system that is focused on customer satisfaction, not profit margins.” How did you develop this business philosophy? It's very simple. We like to do good and make people happy. We try to make the world a better place. It would be ironic if we mistreated our customers and made them unhappy.

Your father suffered a cerebral hemorrage when you were young, which is part of the reason Angela · Roi support nonprofits with health-related missions. How did you select your charity partners? The first thing that mattered to us was whether the charity is transparent and healthy in the way it spends its money. Plus, we wanted to work with people who shared the same vision. Angela · Roi is not a nonprofit organization, but we are certain that we can build a sustainable model to support cancer- and disease-fighters. We spent a good amount of time and effort in finding these groups. Lastly, we sought to find a balance between local- and national-size charities within the U.S.

One of the things we love most about your company is the emphasis you place on community and sparking a conversation–for instance, including awareness ribbons on your bags and sending out reading material related to the charities you support. What is your ultimate dream for Angela · RoiOur ultimate mission is to change people's consumer behavior. We want to let them know that when they consume fashion or other lifestyle products, they can help others at the same time. People who are shopping have disposable income. On the other hand, many others can't afford to fight a disease they're suffering from. We can make the world a better place if we are able to connect those two extreme sides in the right way.

How is Angela · Roi driving change within the fashion industry? In the past, companies gave back to society when they had strong financial results. For example, if Company A hit a net profit of $10 million, they allocated some amount of that to CSR. Nowadays, more companies are coming up with models where every sale gives back. We think these models are more sustainable, and we really expect to see more of those in the industry. 

In what ways would you like to see fashion change? We would like to see more people feeling proud of themselves by supporting meaningful causes, not by wearing expensive logos, when it comes to fashion. Coco Chanel once stated, "Elegance is when the inside is as beautiful as the outside." 

*Note: Angela · Roi’s Palette crossbody bags are not eco-friendly; PVC is a hard-to-recycle plastic that falls short of our commitment to sustainable synthetics. We've made an exception in working with this brand because we admire their mission and methods, but most importantly because they've been transparent about the fact that sustainability was not an initial priority. We take Lee at his word when he says the company intends to explore sustainable alternatives–a change that we, as a retail partner, hope to encourage and support.


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