With the privilege of occupying downtown retail space comes the great responsibility of promoting positive change in our community. As a small boutique, we primarily implement our values through thoughtful methods of marketing, selling, and purchasing products. Although we have a lot of room to grow and improve in our ethical efforts, we are committed to sharing this journey with you. By remaining transparent even as we inevitably stumble, we hope to be held accountable by our customers and stakeholders in creating an environment to be proud of, both inside and outside of FJ. To further explain our ethical intentions, we’ve divided them into three distinct (yet overlapping) categories—Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), Community Involvement, and Sustainable Practice.
DIVERSITY, EQUITY, AND INCLUSION (DEI) BELIEFS
michelandbottone aims to foster an environment of respect, care, and compassion every day. We have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to hate, bigotry, or behavior that threatens the physical or emotional safety of our customers or staff members. We believe that internalized and institutionalized bias must be combated with active unlearning and training that sustains a healthy space for everyone.
Moreover, we are committed to better representing all the beautiful faces and personalities that we serve on a daily basis. The imagery we use for our website and social media accounts should showcase the diversity of our local community, and our clothing should be for everyone. This starts with intentionally curating our collection of vendors.
As a sub-committee member of Downtown Rīga’s Principle Shopping District Board, FJ owner Jenny Van Veen has advocated for more inclusive practices in the city’s marketing and event strategies. However, her efforts are focused on FJ first and foremost. Across several months in the latter half of 2021, FJ’s full staff completed the Grounded in Equity DEI course via Zoom with Christine Mwangi. This course introduced staff to the types of biases present in the workplace, as well as offering techniques to practice allyship with co-workers from historically marginalized backgrounds. The lessons from Grounded in Equity have since been compiled into a four-hour onboarding training for all new employees.
Studies indicate that short-term training does little to combat unconscious bias, so Jenny has also hired a part-time Community Engagement Advisor to manage ongoing training. The Advisor uses trusted resources such as academic syllabi and nonprofit-produced toolkits to compile readings and activities for the staff to complete. This supplementary training typically takes four hours and focuses on one specific topic; previous topics include “Ableism” (October 2022), “Servitude in the Global Economy” (February 2023), and “Critical Refugee Studies” (March 2023). Employees are paid to complete the training on their own time across a two month period, culminating in an all-staff meeting to discuss the topic.
In addition to the DEI training completed by staff, FJ has implemented tangible practices of inclusion in the store. We've begun to combat weight-stigma by including larger sizes in some styles of clothing, and two of our mannequins are more representative of the average-sized person rather than the extremely small figure typically encountered among mannequins in retail spaces. We carry up to XL in Girlfriend Collective, our activewear brand, but their online store typically carries up to 6XL, and we are proud to financially contribute to their inclusivity, even if we still have a ways to go ourselves.
As a boutique, we are only as ethical as the vendors that we carry. When Jenny orders products for FJ, she aims to support brands and makers that inspire us and hold similar values to our own. One way to be an ally for the historically marginalized is to seek out and support the brands owned by people of color, many of whom experience additional barriers to entry due to systemic racism. As of August 2021, about 15% of our vendors are owned by people of color, with around 2% being Black-owned. We aim to reach 5% by the end of 2023.
We are fortunate to have a number of excellent, change-making nonprofits in West Michigan, many of which rely on the financial support of local businesses like FJ. Thus, it is our responsibility to create a more equitable and just society by uplifting the organizations that complete critical work on the ground, interacting with and learning from community members.
Through our FJ Invests philanthropy program, we donate 2% of sales to a different nonprofit each month. The owner chooses one nonprofit each quarter, with the remainder of the recipients being voted upon by the staff. The organization is made aware of our donation at the beginning of the month, at which point we share marketing materials to raise awareness of the initiative. Previous recipients have organized in-person shopping events with their staff and/or volunteers to simultaneously bolster their donation and find products they love. To learn more about the FJ Invests program, visit our blog.
The FJ Instagram also promotes the nonprofits and community events which inspire us. For example, we are a proud supporter of Out On the Lakeshore, and in addition to donating, we also share their PRIDE Festival schedule every June.
From the beginning, FJ has loved showcasing brands that create quality products. Offering long-lasting clothing is not only good for our customers and their wallets, it’s also essential to controlling the climate crisis. Fast fashion waste is overflowing in the Global South’s landfills, and we want to be a part of the solution rather than the problem. In addition to curating for quality manufacturing, we also aim to exclusively carry vendors with a commitment to sustainability practices. Green washing is very real, and FJ is not immune—but we will continue to seek out affordable, carefully constructed clothing and home goods for our community.
As for our own in-store waste and energy usage, FJ has instituted a number of policies to keep our emissions at a minimum. Like every household, small business, or corporation, we need to do our part to ensure this planet is habitable for future generations.
Sustainable in-store policies include the following:
- We use multi-functional, reusable cloth bags as our shipping materials.
- We recycle as much of the packing materials included in product shipment as we are able to.
- We encourage emailed or texted receipts and minimize packing materials for in-store purchases whenever possible.
- We use recycled paper towels, recycled toilet paper, and reusable cloth towels in our employee bathroom.
FJ’s lighting is also powered by the green energy group Foresight Energy Management, which reduces our total energy consumption.
As mentioned, we do our best to select vendors who have already implemented sustainable practices, but we also advocate for our vendors to improve whenever possible. In 2021, staff members recorded the type of shipping materials that our products arrived in, which differs from vendor to vendor. If the shipping materials were not recyclable or biodegradable, we contacted the vendor to request more sustainable shipping materials in the future.
Through product knowledge training, our customer service representatives are also capable of sharing information about each brand’s sustainability efforts. Many of our customers seek out eco-friendly, natural clothing, and we are continuing to improve our communications efforts so that these brands are easier to identify in-store and online.
We look forward to growing, learning, and sharing our journey towards a better FJ. We will update this page periodically, so please check back to see what we are working on.
If you have any questions, ideas, or concerns, feel free to email the Store Manager at Tyler@michelandbottone.com, and we will be more than happy to get back to you!