A New York vegan pop up shows that style and sustainability can mix

Climate Style

A New York vegan pop up shows that style and sustainability can mix

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Figure Eight innovator Tina Bhojwani may be the start of a much-needed eco revolution in luxury clothing 

When you walk into Tina Bhojwani’s Figure Eight store in Manhattan’s Soho, you feel like you’re entering a well-curated gallery, not a pop-up retail store. Blending high fashion with sustainability, Bhojwani and co-founder Nicole Marra have created a retail fashion experience that showcases vegan fashion. 

Bhojwani has hand-selected a collection of 19 vegan designers who create everything from jackets to shoes, jewelry to incense, a veritable mini department store of eco-conscious brands beautifully displayed in an expansive storefront loft in the heart of one of New York’s most fashionable neighborhoods.  

Climate & Capital’s founder, Peter Mckillop, visited the pop-up store and had a chat with Bhojwani, while I dialed in from New Delhi. Bhojwani was warm, bubbly and passionate, generously giving us her time to provide a tour of the store and tell us her story.

A veteran in the fashion industry, Bhojwani has over 20 years of experience as a senior executive at some of the biggest names in the fashion world, from DKNY and Theory to Dolce & Gabbana

“I was always passionate about fashion, even as a little girl,” she told us. 

At the same time, she wasn’t blind to the negative social and environmental impacts of the industry. The $2.5 trillion industry contributes about 10% of global carbon emissions and produces nearly 20% of global wastewater. The fast fashion industry is notorious for inhumane working conditions and abysmal pay for garment workers around the world. 

Once you know those things, there’s no going back,” Bhojwani said.  

“I wanted to create a shoe that marries luxury and sustainability in a way that a consumer feels they’re not compromising on style.”

At the end of the last decade, Bhojwani had a vision. She wanted to be an entrepreneur, but an entrepreneur with a mission. In 2020, she launched her own luxury sustainable shoe brand, Aera.

“I wanted to create a shoe that marries luxury and sustainability in a way that a consumer feels they’re not compromising on style,” she said. 

All of Aera’s designs are vegan. They are made with 50% biomaterials including cotton, field corn that is not viable for human consumption and wood. The other 50% of materials come from recycled synthetic materials such as recycled ABS plastic. Aera’s website provides an in-depth description of the materials and processes used to make their shoes. 

The Aera label makes classic styles that have stood the test of time, such as their Audrey Hepburn-inspired flats. At Aera, they don’t underestimate the importance of slow fashion when it comes to sustainability. Most of the designs are timeless classics that never go out of fashion, Bhojwani said. 

Aera’s shoes have been seen worn by celebrities and style icons including Katie Holmes, Natalie Portman and Meryl Streep giving the brand name real style credibility. 

Launching a luxury shoe brand in the midst of a pandemic wasn’t easy. After months of people lounging at home in sweatpants and running shoes, people weren’t exactly on the hunt for high heels. Additionally, high-end fashion isn’t typically conducive to online shopping. 

When you launch a brand in a pandemic, you realize the importance of physical stores,” she said. 

Her brand became the catalyst for the pop-up Figure Eight. With her sustainability vision in mind, Bhojwani and her fashion colleague Nicole Marra decided to set out to redefine how people shop. 

Bhojwani and her fashion colleague Nicole Marra decided to set out to redefine how people shop. 

True to the founders’ vision, Figure Eight is not your typical retail store. Walking in feels like entering an art gallery. Each designer’s piece or line is displayed with a QR code that customers can scan to read more about the maker, item and sustainability commitments.

The changing room walls are made from recycled paper, clothing racks are made from repurposed pipes, carpets are recycled, wallpaper is printed with nontoxic inks and hung with a potato starch paste. The scent — yes, the space has its own scent — is plant-based.

“We want the Figure Eight experience to touch all of your senses,” Bhojwani said. “From the carpet you step on, to the stool you sit on, even the scent you smell — almost everything in the store is sustainable, and much of it is vintage or repurposed.” 

Each brand has been carefully curated by the founders, so shoppers can be sure that every piece is the real deal when it comes to both sustainability and style. The vetting process is rigorous, with measures like chemical and fresh-water use, supply chain traceability and working conditions and wages verified. 

“We really did our homework,” Bhojwani says.

At the top of the store is Bhojwani own brand, Aera. Her fashion spans the season’s palette of neutrals with an occasional splash of color and sparkle. Her shoes are a diverse and stylish range. She showed us the buttery-soft quilting on the insoles of the shoes, because “the desire for comfort is now here to stay”.

“We really did our homework.”

Other designers include House of Fluff, whose line includes faux fur coats, A Shirt Story, with a range of gender-neutral shirts made from redesigned men’s shirts — some with glitter buttons and detailing — and Qeep up, which has recycled activewear in bright colors and bold prints.

The founders envision the space to be more immersive than just a shopping experience. They want it to be a community, a space that inspires important conversations. Figure Eight hosted three events during Climate Week NYC last month. And in addition to feeling like an art gallery, Bhojwani hosts art in the space, currently Leslie Sardinias’ “Perfect Blue,” which she hopes will start a dialogue about the fragility of the marine ecosystem of the Caribbean. 

The move towards sustainability, even in fashion, feels like it’s finally here to stay. 

Bhojwani’s Figure Eight may be the start of the eco revolution needed in luxury fashion retail.