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E.A. Lepine is on a mission to bridge the sartorial gap between yoga pants and the classic little black dress. “In another era, women dressed well every day, and we’ve lost some of that,” says the 26-year-old. “I love the idea that you can wear something that’s both effortless and beautiful.” Arrowroot, her year-and-a-half-old women’s label, embodies this take-it-easy ethos with its fall collection—out this month—in pieces such as flannel dresses and to-the-floor dusters made of cozy sweater knits.
But Lepine’s mission goes beyond banishing yoga pants from our catalogue of go-to attire: All of her pieces are sewn by a group of women in Tegucigalpa, Honduras’ capital city, who earn fair wages and health-care benefits. (The pay, about $10 to $12 per hour for an easy piece, is enough to support a family in that country.) Lepine met her seamstresses when, as a student at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, she traveled to Honduras on a mission trip. “I was drawn to the local women, to their stories,” she says. During her visit, she met the founders of Mi Esperanza, a nonprofit that offers free sewing classes to local women, who then can either start their own businesses or work for Mi Esperanza’s production house. Lepine returned the following summer to intern with the organization. Today, the same seven women she met that summer are the seamstresses who create Arrowroot’s pieces.
Before she moved forward with a fair-trade label, Lepine asked the women—“who are like aunts” to her—to sew her wedding gown and her bridesmaids’ dresses. “They did an amazing job,” says Lepine, who has also started working with Mile High WorkShop, an Englewood-based nonprofit that does much the same thing as Mi Esperanza. “It just confirmed for me what I had felt all along: We could make beautiful clothes and change people’s lives”—a mission that looks good on everyone.