Along the Oregon coast in the small beach community of Manzanita sits a modest-sized store with a big eco conscience.
Unfurl has been in business for four years driven by a boutique philosophy that emphasizes environmentally friendly and eco-conscious apparel, footwear and various lifestyle accessories. Founders call it “a planet-forward ethic” — one that since its remodel last year now has gone beyond mainstream “green” brands to include a selection of those from the outdoor industry such as Nau, Patagonia and Indigenous Designs.
Owned by husband-and-wife team Judson Moore and Suzy Freeman, their codes of eco conduct emphasize a broad array of sustainable fibers, including bamboo, hemp, soy, organic cotton, Tencel and Modal. In addition to materials and manufacturing processes, the couple also considers a company’s contribution to its community and economy.
“With a lot of our product selection, we can’t follow a strict code, because there are all these different angles that exist,” Moore told SNEWS®. “We might bring in something that’s made with non-organic cotton, but it’s made by a small designer that’s contributing to a local economy. We’ll make an exception on certain aspects to bring something in.
“There isn’t just one standard that everyone has to stick to. Just doing something, being a part of the solution is just as an important place to be at,” he added.
The path to the couple’s interest in opening Unfurl started with their move about seven years ago to Manzanita, Ore., to run a natural foods store. In selling organic food, they also became interested in organic fibers like cotton and hemp. When a space became available, they launched Unfurl as a separate storefront devoted to natural, eco-fiber clothing. The name came partly from their transition from food to apparel, Moore explained, since they felt it evoked a feeling of transformation and growth.
“We just like the sound of the word,” he said. “Some people really like the metaphor of it. That’s what they’re doing in their life. They’re transforming.”
Despite the beauty of the metaphor, they quickly found carrying only traditional natural fiber clothing wasn’t going to hold the interest of all their various customers for long.
“We discovered pretty quickly because of the broad range of customers we were attracting because of our location — a mix of tourists, second-home owners and locals — they’re going to wander into each and every shop. And they would come into our shop and you would have a hard time selling someone something that was really crunchy granola who wasn’t already into that kind of look,” Moore said.
They set out to find things that were more mainstream-looking — that is, more easily approachable for the average person.
“Four years ago that was not very easy to do,” Moore said. “There was not very much available to us. Over even the just last couple of years, there’s just been an explosion and interest in green products, especially in the apparel industry. So it’s a lot easier now for us to find just basic good-fitting clothes that people will wear in their everyday life.”
Through a combination of seeing lines at trade shows, customer referrals, reading and Internet research, Unfurl has amassed a variety of lines. Some familiar to outdoor industry types, like Horny Toad, Aventura, Kavu and Blue Canoe, and others maybe less so. It carries various sustainable clothing lines — many from small design houses — such as Stewart & Brown (www.stewartbrown.com), Texture (www.textureclothing.com), SweetGrass (www.sweetgrassfibers.com) and HTnaturals (www.htnaturals.com), as well as shoe lines from Patagonia, Simple and La Canadienne (www.lacanadienne.ca), a handmade, waterproof leather boot line out of Canada.
Moore said with each brand they bring in, they try to carry a solid selection from each category offered by that company. For example, with its newest line, Unfurl has a variety of pieces from Nau’s hard shell, soft shell, base layer and merino collections.
“We have the whole gamut of what we consider to be eco-related products. We’ve evolved along with the industry and along with our customers’ needs into what we are now, which is this pretty eclectic mix of products for a lot of different kinds of people,” Moore said.
Unfurl has also established itself as gateway for customers unfamiliar with sustainable products and fibers.
“Our store attracts people that have no exposure at all to eco products — although, it’s changing a lot. Since we started, it’s become more mainstream. But when we started it was a lot more questions, like, ‘What is organic cotton?’, ‘Isn’t it all organic?’ and that kind of thing,” he said.
While customers are getting more eco savvy, Moore admitted it’s not the No. 1 consideration on customers’ lists for what they want when looking for clothing and shoes.
“The eco-friendly aspect might be two or three or four down on their list of their priorities for buying it. They want it to look good, to fit good and to be competitively priced. And then, if it also happens to be eco friendly, that’s great; they’re on board. For some people, it’s sort of an entry level into even thinking about their clothing being something that can be made sustainable or have any kind of eco story.”
Additionally, the couple is exploring ways for Unfurl to expand on to the Internet (www.unfurlclothing.com) and how they can make it fit within their business model. For now, though, they are content with their store along the Oregon coast.
“We can provide something of quality that has a little more soul to it than what the big-box stores are putting out,” Moore said. “I couldn’t imagine selling something that doesn’t have some kind of redeeming value to it. It would be impossible to do business any other way. We really feel like we’re being true to ourselves and just part of this evolution of what it means to be green.”