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nikki anderson

With Nikki Anderson's store Change, she strives to create stronger community connections, fight poverty, raise consciousness and empower women.

When Nikki Anderson opened Change, a fair trade boutique located at 1252 Williamson St., she didn't want to play up the "fair trade" aspect too much. She wanted people to shop there because they liked the clothes — and as a result, change their attitudes toward fair trade shopping. One year later, she feels like the business is becoming more than a store. It's a community partner, an information hub and a force that lives up to its moniker.

She was inspired to open the shop, in part, after reading three books: "Global Girlfriends," "Overdressed" and "Half the Sky." The books identify problems with the fashion industry and consumer culture, and they play a large part in shaping Anderson's business philosophy. 

With her store, she strives to create stronger community connections, fight poverty, raise consciousness and empower women.

In addition to selling fair trade clothing and jewelry, Anderson donates after-hours shopping experiences to benefit local nonprofits. And on Saturdays, shoppers can sip mimosas while they browse.

For Anderson, serving as a resource and helping her customers become more informed is more important than making money. She encourages shoppers to think carefully about the choices they make, even if it means the difference between buying from one store at the mall instead of another. She just wants people to change the way they think. 

Can you tell me about the philosophy behind naming your store 'Change'?

The name was derived from the Gandhi phrase, 'Be the change you wish to see in the world,' with the thought being that I was personally trying to change my spending habits and was buying into this concept that the same way our vote is our voice and our power, so is our spending capacity. So I thought I could create accessible opportunities for people to make good choices.

It's getting people to change the way they think when it’s time to get a new outfit — to question where your clothes are coming from, the same way you would question where your food is coming from before you put something in your body. And hopefully, if they find out where their clothes come from, and they don't like the answer, they'll change where they're (shopping). 

After a year in business, the store must have gone through some changes itself.

Yes. Most noticeably, I have much more inventory. I wanted to base what I carried on customer feedback, so I intentionally ordered more conservatively on the front end, thinking I wanted to know my customers before I ordered in large quantities. It’s been great. The location couldn't be better. I have the most kind-hearted, good-intentioned community in the country, I think, and they’re so knowledgeable. I've become more educated about so many topics, and also been able to purchase so much more as I've gotten more support and a loyal customer base. I've really diversified and then just expanded the quantity of what I carry, so that was a big change.

And also, I think it was a big goal of mine that I be more than just a store, that I evolve into a resource. So I feel very proud ... I think the store is really a good neighbor and community partner.

The fair trade movement is basically a women’s empowerment movement, so it’s important to me that I target groups that are benefiting women specifically, because I really want it to come full circle. Most of the clothing is being made by women, for women, and any kind of profits that I make, I want to give back and donate to groups that are providing direct service to women in the community. So I’m supporting the DAIS Fashion Show and starting a women’s business network for women-owned businesses in the Willy-Atwood neighborhood.

What other changes are you excited about, for the future?

Last semester I sponsored a design competition at the UW. A professor, Carolyn Kallenborn, is on faculty at the UW Textile and Apparel Program. I partnered with Fair Earth, a vendor whose jewelry I carry, and they had expressed an interest in doing garments. They have the skill in-house in Africa but they didn’t have the design. We did sort of a Project Runway thing, and we did a runway show on Gallery Night last spring. The three winning designs are being custom-made in Uganda and being carried in the store this spring. We’re going to make that an annual thing.

Similarly, I just hired somebody who graduated from fashion design school in Philadelphia and she has worked with high-end New York-based brands like Marchesa and Rachel Roy and Donna Karan. She has a ton of experience but has decided she wants to change how she’s using those talents. Right now she’s working with me in the store, but we’re talking about the possibility of ordering fair trade fabric and having her construct custom clothing, so it’d be one-of-a-kind and then also a more tailored fit. Right now since fair trade fashion is a little newer and not as sophisticated, sizing-wise, there really are no options for petites and plus sizes. That’s something I regret that I can’t offer to people because not everyone is size 2-12. She will also provide alterations.

How do you select vendors and stock the store?

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I began with vendors that have membership in the Fair Trade Federation. That was my prerequisite. But now I’ve expanded beyond that because I was finding that a lot of producer groups are just too small to jump through those hoops. It’s kind of like the organic food thing. I did find a lot just through word of mouth. It is a very supportive community, the fair trade community. I tried to find small, U.S.-based designers that are doing all their own sewing and design, start to finish, so it’s obviously fair trade because that person’s being paid a fair wage.

With a year under your belt, what’s the plan for the next several?

I hope to do this custom clothing. If I do that, I would offer online sales. Right now I don’t do that because I'm just a pass-through.

I’m really looking forward to having more of a presence in the community beyond the storefront.

What drives you, on a daily basis?

I just think it’s fun. The people that I meet are great. Everyone pretty much gets the value of shopping fair trade, so it’s not like I’m preaching. People are excited about having an opportunity to see the stuff. There’s nothing about my job that I don’t like. And it’s great, raising two little girls, that they get to see me succeed as a business owner without making sacrifices. I still am very family-oriented. I feel like I am deriving a ton of pleasure and satisfaction from every aspect of it. It’s a win-win, I think.

There’s no part of my job I don’t like. I like cleaning my floors, I still do that. I’m still muddling through the accounting part myself, too. And it’s a family-run business. My parents will come and help steam the garments. I really want to keep overhead low — I want the prices to stay as low as possible.

It’s very social, too. It’s right by the Co-op, St. Vinny’s, it’s right on people’s regular route. We serve mimosas on Saturdays.

As a store, I wanted to be a resource for information. My goal is not to get rich or anything. I just want the good guys to win over the bad guys.

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Jessie Opoien covers state government and politics for the Capital Times. She joined the Cap Times in 2013 and has also covered Madison life, race relations, culture and music. She has also covered education and politics for the Oshkosh Northwestern.