Your Name: Marcie Muehlke

Business Name: Celia Grace, a maker of fair trade wedding dresses

Type of Business: Clothing & Accessories/ Social Enterprise

Business Location: Amherst, Massachusetts, United States

Twitter @_CeliaGrace
Pinterest celiagracedress

Reason for starting
When I spent a summer in Mexico researching how working in a clothing factory affects women’s lives I was surprised to learn how much it helped women and hurt them. Work can be a powerful force for improving women’s lives, but only if that work is safe, fair, and empowering. Years later as I was planning my wedding I searched for the perfect white wedding dress—one that was gorgeous, flattering, AND made in a way that I could feel really good about. But a dress like that just didn’t exist. I wanted a dress that meant more than just one day and that would add meaning, beauty, and joy not only to my wedding day but to the lives of everyone who touched it. So the idea for Celia Grace was born – I realized that I could pair the market opportunity of women seeking a more meaningful wedding dress with the social need for safe, fair, and empowering work for women…and create something truly beautiful.

How do you define success?
I define success in terms of three things: sustainability, options, and joy. Sustainability means that Celia Grace helps “meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (World Commission on Environment and Development). Options means that Celia Grace adds to the number of choices people have in their lives. That could mean options for where to work and under what conditions or giving mothers the ability to keep daughters in school, or take better care of themselves and their families. Joy means that Celia Grace adds to the joy in people’s lives. I want to add to the joy a bride feels on her wedding day because her wedding dress is helping women around the world. I want to add joy to the lives of seamstresses by giving them work that that brings them dignity, self confidence, respect, and and the happiness of creating something beautiful.

Biggest Success
Celia Grace’s biggest success so far has been setting up the kind of supply chain that most companies dream of—one that is reliable, produces incredibly high quality products, reduces environmental degradation, and brings dignity and joy to the lives of the people who work there. The Celia Grace supply chain starts with our fabric—most of our wedding dresses are made from fair trade, heritage, hand-woven silks that are gorgeous and unique. In addition to being beautiful, buying these silks from rural villages puts money directly in the hands of women so they can invest in themselves, their families, and their communities. By using a natural fiber rather than a petroleum-based fabric we also reduce harm to the environment.

What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?
Our biggest challenge right now is reaching brides and telling them about our gorgeous and meaningful dresses. To overcome this challenge we’re expanding our social media activities, partnering with complementary organizations, and using some really fun and creative guerilla marketing strategies to get the word out.

Who is your most important role model?
There are several organizations that serve as our role models. Mission-driven clothing makers like Global Mammas and Mata Traders provide inspiration and guidance on how to run a business that produces beautiful clothing and makes a real difference in people’s lives. Clothing companies that are working to reduce their environmental footprint like Patagonia and Eileen Fisher are also key role models for Celia Grace.