• Ariel Green

A Chat with Caeresa Richardson, owner of Gypsy Freedom, a Sustainable Fashion Boutique

Updated: Feb 24


Fashion is one of the best ways to represent ourselves and our unique personalities. As someone who is concerned about environmental and social issues, learning about how your clothes are made is important. If been in the sustainability community for a while, you've probably heard the term, fast fashion, which is the mass production of cheap, poor quality, disposable clothing. Some of the top offenders are Forever 21, H&M, and Fashion Nova.


There are many problems with the production and lifecycle of these brands, including human rights issues for long working hours and hazardous working conditions, extreme water usage and the dumping of untreated toxic waste waters, as well as the shed of microfibers from synthetic fabrics entering our water streams. In order to avoid supporting fast fashion brands, many people turn to shopping secondhand, or supporting businesses with more ethical practices, like today's guest.

Today's featured sustainable brown girl is Caeresa Richardson, the owner of Gypsy Freedom - Central New York’s first sustainable fashion boutique. After spending many years as a corporate engineer Caeresa created Gypsy Freedom to unite style and awareness, making them accessible for the everyday woman. Through her unique perspective, both technical and chic, she empowers women to express their social values through their personal style.


Watch the video interview on YouTube


Visit Gypsy Freedom online

Follow Gypsy Freedom on Social Media:

Instagram: @shopgypsyfreedom

Facebook: @shopgypsyfreedom

TikTok: @shopgypsyfreedom

LISTEN HERE: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google Play | Watch on YouTube


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TRANSCRIPTION:


Ariel:

Hello and welcome back to The Sustainable Brown Girl Podcast. This show exists to connect black, brown and indigenous women who are interested in sustainability. Our goal is to inspire, encourage and educate each other; from gardening to thrifting, to minimalism, to veganism and everywhere in between. We're all on a journey to taking care of our bodies and our planets. I'm your host. Ariel Green.


Fashion is one of the best ways to represent ourselves and our unique personalities. As someone who is concerned about environmental and social issues, learning about how your clothes are made is really important. If you've been in the sustainability community for a while, you've probably heard the term fast fashion. This is the mass production of cheap, poor quality or disposable clothing. Some of the top offenders are Forever 21, H&M and Fashion Nova. There are several problems with the production and life cycle of these brands, including human rights issues for long working hours and hazardous working conditions, extreme water usage, and the dumping of untreated toxic wastewaters as well as the shed of microfibers from synthetic fabrics entering our water streams. In order to avoid supporting fast fashion brands, many people turn to shopping secondhand or supporting businesses with more ethical practices like today's guest.


Today's featured sustainable brown girl is Caeresa Richardson, the owner of Gypsy Freedom, central New York's first sustainable fashion boutique. After spending many years as a corporate engineer, Caeresa created Gypsy Freedom to unite style and awareness, making them accessible for the everyday woman. Through her unique perspective, both technical and chic, she empowers women to express their social values through their personal style. Thank you so much for joining us today Caeresa.


Caeresa:

Oh, it's my pleasure, Ariel. Thank you so much for having me. 


Ariel:

First of all, I love your background, the pink and the flowers, it's just delicious. 


Caeresa:

Thank you. Everything in Gypsy Freedom, the entire aura of it is meant to be very feminine, very modern so I love hearing that ladies are really attracted to the aesthetic. 


Ariel:

Exactly. Before we get too much into your shop, I want to know how did you become interested in sustainability? 


Caeresa:

It's actually a very short story. As an engineer, I really became firsthand introduced to some of the challenges that we were facing globally as a community as it relates to energy savings and sustainable living, climate change being a very real thing. Being on the front end of that as a contributor, as a manufacturer, I personally became a little bit more interested in how I could reduce my carbon footprint and do things like contribute to the world in a way that wasn't so harmful and damaging to our environment and ecosystem. As I was interested in that in my own life, I started wanting to expose values through the brands and organizations that I supported in my wardrobe. Because I personally had a difficult time doing that, it was really challenging for me to find brands that aligned with my values and for me to do all of that research into each of the brands, it's really hard to be a conscious consumer these days. There's a lot of information out of it out there and people just frankly don't have the time, they don't want to put in the time, you know, so it's easier to just go to the nearest XYZ and buy whatever it is you want. It's easier to not be a conscious consumer. So I really wanted to create a space to make it easy. 


Ariel:

Yes, you're exactly right because we're so used to just going to the mall and buying whatever's there, but most of the brands at the mall are not sustainable so it's difficult to, like you said, do all of your research and find the best brands, find the best prices, you know? 


Caeresa:

Yeah, and when you think about big-box retailers, that's why they exist. They're really answering us. We're telling them what we want them to provide us by going there and buying those things. As consumers, we contribute to the problem. 


Ariel:

Exactly. Yes. Okay. I love that. Let's go back to your engineering background. What really inspired you to make the shift from engineering to opening your own shop? 


Yeah, so that's a bit of a longer story but I'll make it short and sweet. I felt like while I was working as an engineer, I really was learning a lot of skills managing global projects, traveling the world, managing multi-million dollar product lines. I really felt like I learned a lot of entrepreneurial skills that I could use and transfer into my own business should I choose to. I always in the back of my mind planned to retire and open some form of a boutique or go into the fashion industry in some way, but I was just really scared. I was really scared that I had a nice stable income, I had a way to provide for my family; I was really scared to take the leap, but eventually two years ago I really just started doing some deep soul searching and mainly as it relates to elevating brands and organizations and people that don't deserve to be elevated and that really became apparent to me in the last presidential election. Not our recent one, but the last presidential election was really... to me was impactful because I felt like these were problems that as consumers, we have solutions for by just choosing where we wanted to vote with our dollars so I wanted to create a space that allowed me personally to do that and it just so happened that other women resonated with that idea in a way that made it time for me to retire a lot earlier than I originally planned. 


Ariel:

Nice. Wow! Tell us about your shop then. What can people expect when they walk in? Just seeing your background, I'm already excited, I want to make a trip to New York.


Caeresa:

Please do. I would absolutely love to host you here. Well, people can certainly expect it to be beautiful, very modern. I was very conscious in making it look like a very modern retail boutique, although it's very much a showroom. Gypsy Freedom is an online sustainable fashion boutique. Although our showroom is based in central New York, majority of our customers are actually out of state and out of this region in general. I do a lot of business with customers. A lot of customers are in the West coast, tons of customers actually in Texas so Hey to those Texas girls and we'll actually be planning throughout the year, a couple of really fun pop-up shops and trips to introduce ourselves to some of our out-of-state customers. Certainly, stay tuned for that, but definitely, people can expect it to be modern. I was really conscious of that as well because the perception of sustainable fashion, I would say misperception is that it's not modern, that it's not wearable, that it's not everyday clothing that I can go to work in, that it's this very hippie aesthetic, but that is not true, they're very modern wearable brands. We carry phenomenal denim brands, awesome vegan leather brands, a lot of which I'm wearing so it was really important for me to make sure that that translated into my aesthetic. 


Ariel:

Absolutely. Yes. You say it's a showroom, do people come in and shop? Do you have like a variety of styles and sizes in the shop? 


Caeresa:

Absolutely. Yeah. It's a very shoppable showroom. We're open every single day of the week, Monday through Sunday, different hours of the day. There's a retail component; people can also book private shopping hours with me where I can do some styling for them and help them identify what their values are. I think one concept of being a conscious consumer that has sort of gotten lost along the way and our big box consumerism is this thought and idea that you come into a store and it's like, "Tell me what I should buy." Whereas, I love to bring it back to you. What are your values? You might be vegan so I want to be able to show you our vegan options, our non-wool options. You might really care a lot about brands that donate to charities so I really want to show you those brands and then learn more about what's missing from your wardrobe and help you plug those brands into your wardrobe. 


Ariel:

Wow! That's such a personalized experience. I love that! 


Caeresa:

It's a very personal experience. 


Ariel:

Yeah, that's amazing. Is that something that you only offer people who come into your store? What about people who are shopping online? 


Caeresa:

I have tons of fun with virtual shopping appointments. I also offer one-on-one virtual shopping appointments. So again, people can either email us or call our showroom to set up an appointment with me to do some personal shopping. And again, one of the additional services that we plan on offering throughout the year is some sort of a closet cleansing service or a closet analysis service. So again, stay tuned. A lot of growth is happening with Gypsy Freedom, even though where it's a pandemic and things are in a downturn and all of the naysayers of things, but we're actually in a growth period of my business; adding services where it provides value to the ladies who need it. 


Ariel:

That's fantastic! Wow! That's so amazing. I'm really excited for you. I'm probably going to have to check out one of those virtual appointments because I need a little help. 


Caeresa:

I would be so pleased. Yes! They're fun! They're meant to be little mini sip'n shops. I also host these monthly sip'n shops the third Thursday of every month and it's so much fun, Ariel. So literally it's just you with your quarantini whatever version of it you want. Mine is typically some form of a cocktail and we have live models and we broadcast live on Instagram and Facebook and that is meant to really just connect with this community of women who support Gypsy Freedom and who wants to be more informed consumers. We educate you about the materials, we always have some form of a brand highlight. I've had tons of the founders of our brands at each of our sip'n shops so they're really fun. 


Ariel:

Wow! That is so cool. Okay. Now I'm wondering about the different brands that you have in your shop. So how do you source them and what qualities do you look for in a sustainable brand? 


Caeresa:

Yeah, so there are three qualities in general that I'm looking at. First, is ethical and humane production. I like to look at the brands and see if there are any form of fair trade certifications. A lot of times, being a fair trade certified brand is expensive so smaller brands may not be able to invest in the certification, but that does not mean that they're not using fair trade practices so, for those brands, I like to meet with the founders of those brands and learn about their practices with their garment workers and things like that. That's the first tenant of what I'm looking for in a brand. The other is materials. If they have any aspect of sustainable materials, I am very much interested in carrying that brand in our store. Many of our brands are using hemp or bamboo or tencel, which we all love and linen and all-natural goodie fabrics. 


And then the other tenant is a social consciousness. So say if a brand... At a minimum have to have some form of fair trade production practices, that is our basis. But, say they don't necessarily use sustainable fabrics, but there's a huge social cause that they're tied to and they donate to charities and that is the central model of their business, that their businesses formed around then I'm excited about that brand and want to carry them. 


One of the brands that fall under that type of window would be something like a Starfish Project, they are a jewelry brand. It's not that they are not interested in using sustainable fabrics and materials, they're more interested in saving women from human trafficking and using the proceeds of their jewelry products and accessory lines to fund their work in that area. 


Ariel:

I see. Okay, that makes sense. There are many ways to be sustainable. It's not just about the types of materials you use and the packaging, but things they are in. 


Caeresa:

Absolutely.


Ariel:

Yeah, that's great. 


Caeresa:

That's one of the things Ariel that makes it a bit intimidating. If you're just now entering this, what does it mean to be sustainable? You might think you have to check all of these boxes and I again, like to just bring it back to you, what do you value and how can I help connect you to those values? 


Ariel:

Yes, that's amazing. And I feel like by shopping with you, of course, you have all of these beautiful products and... But you don't have to worry about making sure that it comes from a sustainable company and all that, you do all the work for us so it makes it so much easier like we were talking about earlier. 


Caeresa:

Exactly! Because I was in those shoes girl, I was working a 9-5 and wanting to find these things and it was difficult so I'm coming from the same fabric. 


Ariel:

You have the first sustainable fashion boutique in central New York so have you faced any challenges with starting your sustainable business? 


Caeresa:

Yes. The initial challenge was finding enough brands to carry in a retail space as large as mine, so that was an initial challenge. And it's not that all of these brands don't exist, a lot of them don't exist to carry through a retailer. A lot of them are just direct to consumer and that's excellent. We actually raise awareness for those brands in other ways. That was my initial challenge; trying to compete with other big box brands and not being able to have a diverse offering. I worked really hard to identify enough brands prior to deciding whether or not I should open a brick and mortar. So, that would be an initial challenge. 


Ariel:

I see. And since you're in central New York, I'm not sure what the demographics are but, have you faced any challenges with being a woman of color owned business? 


Caeresa:

Yeah. So the main challenge is being alone in the space, we're not plentiful, but there are certainly other women of color in business in central New York. But, we're certainly not plentiful, I want more of us. I want more of us in downtown areas, I want more of us in our metros. I want more of us owning the spaces that we operate in, owning these brick and mortars and not just leasing them. I think that another challenge is not having a network of women in this space that my counterparts are used to having. They're used to having that network that they can pull on. So me having to work very hard to plug into every network I possibly can to make sure that Gypsy Freedom is growing in the way that she deserves to grow. 


Ariel:

Yes. One thing we talk a lot about here is the importance of community. Just having someone who's like on the same level, going through the same problems that you are, who can help you give advice, it's just unmatched. 


Caeresa:

It's very challenging but, one of the things Ariel that I've been really working hard in doing is building off of some of the skills that I learned when I was in corporate America. So just connecting with people, whether they do or do not look like me, but they have access and opportunities that I would love to learn from. I am not shy in saying, "Hey, can we have a cup of coffee so I can learn from you?" In fact, I have to. I think being in business for myself has really made me even more comfortable with doing that. 


Ariel:

That's great. So if someone is looking to start their own sustainable business, do you have any tips for them? 


Caeresa:

I would say, ask tons of questions, certainly, reach out to others who are in this space so, other bloggers such as yourself. Do not be shy to either be told no, or to not get responses, but keep reaching out to others mainly because that community building piece is so important, especially when you're thinking about starting up a business. There are so many things that you don't consider when you're in that creative space, that creative mindset that you really should be thinking of as a potential business owner and someone who's already been there before can lend that advice and perspective to you. 


Ariel:

Yes, exactly. So just try to find a community pretty much? 


Caeresa:

Absolutely, get plugged in. And luckily, the sustainable fashion community is very collaborative. There's so many of my brand partners that I carry at Gypsy Freedom, the founders, I talk to regularly and ask advice regularly and that is so rare as a retailer to experience.


Ariel:

I see. Wow! We talked about your plan for pop-up shops this year and more virtual events. Do you have anything else planned for the shop? 


Caeresa:

We have many things planned and here is what I'm going to offer to you Ariel and your listeners, please follow along and sign up for our newsletter so that you can be the first to hear about them. I mentioned our pop-up shops, I mentioned our sip'n shops, which are the third Thursday of every month. Those are sort of our community building. The one other aspect I'm really excited for, is this space right here in central New York where I am trying to use as a conduit to expose others to zero waste living and just sustainable living in general. We actually will begin hosting many trunk shows here for other brands. Other sustainable fashion brands and business owners who may be online, similar to how I was with Gypsy Freedom prior to opening my brick and mortar. It's a great opportunity to get exposure to physical customers, to talk to customers live one-on-one and to also learn from a business owner like myself. 


Ariel:

Yes! Wow, that's great! Did you say it's just for fashion people or also like other types of brands too? 


Caeresa:

Actually, other brands as well. I am aligning with several different brands who preferably do not already have a brick and mortar and are looking for opportunities to get in front of their customers. In looking for opportunities to do market analysis and evaluate which products do well and things like that. Pop-up shops are an excellent opportunity for that so we'll be presenting them as trunk shows so longer-term pop-up shops, one to three-month-long pop-ups. 


Ariel:

Wow! That's a great opportunity. 


Caeresa:

Yeah!. If you know of folks with startup sustainable type businesses, certainly please have them email us at shopgypsyfreedomatgmail.com where I can connect with them and better learn whether or not this will be a great alignment for them. 


Ariel:

Yes. Okay, will do. And if you're listening and you think that your brand will fit in with her mission, then please reach out. Now, in regards to fashion, what is one thing that anyone can do to be more sustainable? 


Caeresa:

I would say start with your own closet. First, take inventory of everything that you have in there and wear it. I really would love to just eliminate this excuse of, "We have nowhere to go that's fancy so I can't wear my fancy clothes." No! This is why we purchase these clothes to begin with, put them on and wear them. So that's the main start. You can not be more sustainable than using what you currently have as often as possible. The best way to do that, I always love to share tips about this, get in the mirror, try things on, make outfits, make different outfits, pull inspiration from others and then, when you're stuck, ask for expertise like mine, reach out to a stylist and see how you can maximize your own closet before you go out and start adding things to your closet. 


Ariel:

That makes sense. So look at what you have and try to see what you need and what you can work with, what you already have. 


Caeresa:

Yes! And then when you're ready to add things, add them sustainably. Look for thrifting, maybe swapping with friends, look for sustainable brands. I always like to say, before you actually start buying beautiful high-quality pieces, look at what you have in your closet and figure out the materials and fits and styles that you absolutely love so that when you invest in those investment pieces, you're confident about it because you know that material you're happy with it, you've had experience with it and things like that. 


Ariel:

That makes sense. Great tips, thank you for that. And so lastly, where can everyone find you online and where can they find your shop? 


Caeresa:

So everything in our shop is at shopgypsyfreedom.com. We're actually having a really fun Valentine's day promotion this week and next week is our sip'n shop live on Instagram and Facebook. And we are on Instagram and Facebook @shopgypsyfreedom. 


Ariel:

Perfect. And what city is your shop in? 


Caeresa:

We're in Syracuse, New York. 


Ariel:

Gotcha. Perfect. If you're in that area, please go visit Caeresa's shop. I can't wait to go, I hope I can get up to New York soon. 


Caeresa:

Oh My goodness! Would love to have you, Ariel. 


Ariel:

Thank you. And thanks so much for being on the podcast. 


Caeresa:

Thanks for having me. 


Ariel:

Thank you so much for listening to The Sustainable Brown Girl Podcast. Be sure to subscribe and share it if you loved it and leave a review. You can find us on Instagram @sustainablebrowngirl and check out our Facebook community, we would love to have you there. Until next time, let's continue to make healthy choices for the health of our planet and the health of our bodies. Thanks for listening.