Meet Sara Weinreb, Founder Of IMBY
While much of the slow fashion movement has been built through partnerships with international artisans, Sara Weinreb built a business based on American-made products. IMBY is the product of Sara’s passion for entrepreneurship, her first foray into fashion, and her desire to simplify the shopping experience for conscious consumers. She set out to solve a problem—how to shop responsibly—and in doing so built a brand that is empowering women to simplify their closets, choose responsible basics, and vote with their dollars.
Before running your own business you built a career advising other social entrepreneurs. What role do you see entrepreneurship and market-based business playing in our collective effort to solve some of the world’s seemingly intractable injustices?
I think business and entrepreneurship has the potential to make a huge dent in many of the largest problems of our time. The beautiful thing about social entrepreneurship, in particular, is that it is often a ground up effort—people experience an injustice, or a societal challenge, and feel compelled to take action towards those issues. Because they are often fighting from within, they have a certain level of empathy that is required to make real, definitive change. Of course this isn’t easy, and it’s often a slow build, but I believe that entrepreneurs no longer accepting the status quo can—and will—influence the way the world moves.
Among socially driven businesses, there appears to be a push to partner with artisans in low-income communities. While there is incredible value in brining economic opportunity to developing countries, IMBY - true to its name - decided to pursue products that were American-made. Why?
I focused on American-made products because I wanted to focus on an issue in my community, in my backyard (IMBY). I admittedly know very little about artisan-driven products across the globe, and didn’t feel I was the one to tackle that issue, though I absolutely believe in and applaud those working in that field! I wanted to take on an issue that I could have direct empathy for, experience myself by visiting factories, and could bring back jobs to dying garment production communities across our country. As a consumer, I support all ethically-made items whether they are made domestically or abroad, but as a business owner, I wanted IMBY to be hyper-focused on American-made.
Rather than design and produce your own line, you’ve chosen to aggregate some of the best of what’s already out there in terms of American-made basics. What solution are you trying to offer the conscious consumer?
I started IMBY as a frustrated consumer—I wanted to shop responsibly, but it was really hard! The concept for IMBY came from the idea of creating a curated, easy to navigate collection of mix-and-match closet essentials. It wasn’t enough, though, that everything was ethically made, it was also important to me that the items we sell were made to last and versatile enough to wear many different ways. The curated pieces allow our customers to pare down their closets and include items that are easy and comfortable to wear and will last a long time to come. I went multi-brand because I knew there were so many wonderful brands and designers out there committed to ethical and sustainable production that I wanted to provide a platform that marketed them instead of creating more products myself.
Let’s talk more about capsules - their potential to simplify our lives and focus our impact! You have done a beautiful job curating a collection of clothing from designers and producers here in the United States. How would you describe the IMBY style and what inspires it?
We are moving to focus more heavily on helping women simplify their lives through their closets and beyond with highly tailored, personalized capsule wardrobe recommendations and content around decluttering physically and emotionally. Life’s too short to stress about what to wear and we are seeing a real pain point from our customers in shopping and deciding what to wear. We’re aiming to take all the hard work out of the process for them!
The IMBY style is a collection of pieces you feel great in and aren’t eager to take off when you get home. Everything is easy to wear, simple to style in many ways, and seriously comfortable. They are solid foundational pieces that will be your closet heroes. I have gone from yoga to a work meeting to a date in the same outfit with a few accessory and shoe adjustments. The IMBY collection is curated to serve women in their day to day lives, to work for them, not against them!
The fashion industry is ripe with opportunity to improve the ethics and responsibility of production. What is your perspective on the social and environmental impacts of a traditional supply chain and how is IMBY improving upon it?
It’s inspiring to see more and more companies take action towards responsible behavior in their supply chain. But it’s still disheartening to look at how large the problem is, and how challenging it is for ethical fashion brands to really scale due to consumer’s unrealistic expectations of what clothing should cost. Corners are being cut when you buy a $5 t-shirt in terms of the environment and the treatment of the person making it. I see companies like Eileen Fisher and Patagonia as beacons of light for how ethical and responsible fashion can work at scale. Other companies are starting to make strides as well, but it’s such a massive problem that it will take time, and it will depend on consumers to demand it of the companies they shop from.
There’s such a culture of “must-have quantities” that people believe they can’t “afford” responsibly-made fashion when really, they just need to buy fewer, better things. We don’t need an overflowing closet, we need items we love and look great in, and feel great in. While IMBY doesn’t have a direct role in the supply chain since we are a retailer, we will only work with American-made brands that can trace their fabrics, and that use fibers that are sustainable, organic, or recycled/deadstock.
You had advised so many social entrepreneurs before launching your own, so you were arguably more prepared than most. What has most surprised you about entrepreneurship?
You can be the most prepared person, ever, to be an entrepreneur, and still not understandhow much of an emotional rollercoaster it can be! Every day and week is a different experience. I have learned a ton about retail, which I had never worked in before, and a lot about myself, what I enjoy doing, and what isn’t my favorite. I suppose nothing “surprises” me, but everything is still new to experience as a first time entrepreneur.