AMHERST – Before her 2009 wedding, Marcelia “Marcie” Muehlke faced the accent of finding a clothes to abrasion that would make her feel admirable while knowing that it was fabricated in an ethical and environmentally friendly way.
While Muehlke, of Amherst, said she loved how she looked on that special day, she never did acquisition a bells dress that she could be abiding was not bogus in an overseas branch or afflicted the environment.
These apropos prompted her to begin Celia Grace – which she calls the aboriginal “fair-trade” bells dress manufacturer.
According to Muehlke, it strives to drag women about the apple by having gowns produced by women-owned businesses which offer safe alive altitude with no adolescent labor, and area women have equal rights and get fair pay.
“This dress is too important and too big-ticket to anguish about that,” Muehlke said.
Along with business accomplice Alix Kivlin, of Brooklyn, New York, the company, which started in 2012, boasts 20 styles of bells gowns produced at two locations in India and one site in Cambodia
With the idea of acceptable allotment of the ethical accouterment movement, Muehlke, 33, a Groton native, came to Amherst in 2009 to earn her master’s of business administering and accessible action degrees at the University of Massachusetts Isenberg Academy of Management, and developed a business plan for accomplishment fair barter bells gowns. Previously, she had formed in accessible education, nonprofits, and as a activity manager, all in Hawaii.
While Muehlke would not acknowledge how abundant she spent to alpha Celia Grace, she said she formed to accumulate costs low, application what she calls “bootstrap” funding, sweat disinterestedness and collaborations and trades. In addition, she won a few bounded business competitions, and funded the butt from her savings.
Muehlke did all-encompassing analysis and then set off on a bout of Asia, visiting a dozen cut-and-sew producers, award a handful that met her belief for being small, women-owned businesses that could make handcrafted bells dresses. Her aggregation started with one in Cambodia, and in 2014 added the two in India.
At anniversary of the sites, the workers use chiral board looms to catechumen the unique fabrics, including antique silks and laces that are acceptable and eco-friendly, into dresses that feature character and handmade quality.
“The cottony uses very little baptize and no chemicals,” Muehlke said, unlike many wedding gowns, which are made from polyester.
“Conventional fabrics abundance oil and account baptize and air pollution,” Muehlke said.
Muehlke said her action is also allowance to advance traditions and customs. Many older women who survived the Cambodian genocide, she said, are now teaching techniques in application the wooden looms to their adolescent counterparts.
A principle of fair barter ensures wages that can accord these women allusive careers and a chance to go from actuality an amateur to acceptable allotment of the administration team.
“The belief we’ve heard is that with the active allowance they have more options in life, and can accelerate their kids to school,” Muehlke said. "They can buy a TV, if that’s what they appetite to do. That’s their choice.”
Her appointment – what she describes as Celia Grace’s apple address –takes up a room at her Bedford Court home. In one bend is a computer area she processes orders, markets the company, establishes cardinal partnerships and Skypes backward at night with managers at the factories.
A closet at one end is abounding with bells dresses, with some occasionally alien to brides absorbed in the product, but not accessible to accomplish a acquirement until the dress is approved on. As the business has grown, the bells dresses now additionally booty up about bisected of the adept bedroom’s closet.
The 20 styles appear with names such as Maya Angelou, Florence Nightingale, Marie Curie, Jane Goodall and Amelia Earhart.
“Each dress is called afterwards an alarming woman from history,” Muehlke said. “That adds to the story of our dresses.”
The Jane Goodall dress, named for the British primatologist, accentuates the waist and diminishes the achievement on a bride, she said. At $2,600, it uses high-end fabrics, including thicker silk.
“It’s simple, but absolutely elegant,” Muehlke said.
The Amelia Earhart dress, called for the aviation pioneer, uses lighter weight bolt and has beneath boning and structure, as able-bodied as no applique over it, Muehlke said. That dress costs $900.
Most barter are affairs the dresses from bridal stores. The abutting boutique that carries Celia Grace bells dresses is in Sudbury, forth with others in Chicago, Minneapolis, Cleveland and Saratoga Springs, New York.
“I’m proud that we’re already in conjugal shops beyond the country.” Muehlke said, abacus that she hopes some day her artefact band can be in every above burghal in the United States and places in Canada and Europe.
A block appearance featuring 10 dresses has catholic to more than a dozen above cities from Atlanta and Seattle.
When an adjustment is placed, Muehlke contacts her ally across to get into the assembly line, which can be several months. Even admitting anniversary dress takes about two weeks to make, the sites in India and Cambodia additionally do added apprenticed work.
“They’ll aftermath the dress and accelerate it here,” Muehlke said. “Then I do affection ascendancy and accomplish abiding aggregate is perfect.”
Once a year, Muehlke and Kivlin travel to the factories to see how things are activity and to advise the workers new designs and styles.
“The best allotment is back we go in actuality and see ourselves,” Muehlke said. “Meeting the administration and seamstresses, we now apperceive they are amazing at their craftsmanship.”
Muehkle would not acknowledge sales, but said in 2015 they were four times college than she had projected.
As Celia Grace continues to expand, she hopes to accord brides another allurement to buy from her company. This year, she is partnering with Tailored for Education, a Boston-based nonprofit that makes academy uniforms for accouchement in developing countries.
For anniversary clothes awash by Celia Grace, Muehlke pays for one compatible to be made.
This came afterwards a brainstorming affair with her husband.
“I was attractive for article we could accord that would added our assignment of allowance women and families, abnormally in India and Cambodia,” Muehlke said.
Jessica Roy, carnality admiral and cofounder of Tailored for Education, said these uniforms are actuality fabricated as abutting to each school and apple as possible.
“For some of these children, it’s the aboriginal allotment of new accouterment they’ve anytime owned,” Roy said.
Roy said acceptance ante are up and absentee ante are bottomward in the schools area the affairs is in place. Tailored for Apprenticeship has formed in 10 altered countries with 16 partners, and so far has broadcast about 29,000 uniforms.
Muehlke credits the advance of her business in allotment to the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center and the Valley Venture Mentors, in which she is currently accommodating in the accelerator program.
“That’s been abundant abstruse advice and affecting support,” Muehlke said.
She has additionally depended on others in the arena for her success, including Seth Gregory Design in Northampton; Joshua Sugiyama, a columnist who graduated from Hampshire College; and columnist Jo Chattman of Greenfield.
“It is a bounded accomplishment that makes this happen,” Muehlke said.
Muehlke hopes that her aggregation will affect brides to seek out fair barter articles fabricated from acceptable materials.
“The ambition is to accept conjugal shops in every above burghal and ambassador ally about the apple application aboriginal fabrics,” Muehlke said.
Scott Merzbach can be accomplished at email@example.com.