• Victoria Ploerer

Speaker Spotlight: The Story Behind Jolie Kai

Do you think that one of your classes at Emory will inspire your career path?

For Michelle Jaffe, her environmental studies at Emory sparked her passion for environmental policy. Jaffe started her own boutique focused on sustainable fashion, and it all started right here at Emory! Trying to find cute, comfortable and affordable clothing that reflects our values can be tough. Michelle’s solution was to found Jolie Kai: a fashion boutique with European influence, offering a sustainable alternative to fast fashion. AltKEY was lucky enough to have the chance to talk with Michelle and learn more about her experience in the sustainable fashion industry.

What inspired you to start Jolie Kai and enter the sustainable fashion market?

“if we want to make better choices, if we want other people to make better choices, we really need to provide better options.”

Michelle really highlighted the market gap for sustainable clothing. She was working as a buyer for her family’s clothing company, but struggled to find options that met the sustainable standards she was looking for. She took the matter into her own hands, taking inspiration from Europe’s sustainable fashion movement and her mother’s work in the clothing industry.

According to Michelle, her interest in sustainability started when she took a environmental studies class at Emory to fulfill a general education requirement. It’s funny how our liberal arts experience at Emory can really shape our future!

What is the meaning behind the name Jolie Kai?

I like to think of the subtext meaning behind the name as a beautiful sea, because we wanted it to represent a resource that we valued.”

The inspiration behind the brand is perfectly embodied by its name. Jolie is “a combination of family names, and also means pretty in French”, and Kai means ocean in Hawaiian. While living in Hawaii for her graduate studies, Michelle found herself thinking more about sustainability and the importance of preserving our natural resources.

Are there any people or brands that served as inspiration or that you admire?

“I’ve focused on smaller brands, partly because their focus is on sustainability -- its not just an afterthought for PR.”

Michelle mentioned the street-wear brand Komodo Fashion as an important small brand that inspired her work. Komodo’s founder, Joe Komodo, has consistently pushed the environmental movement forward, while also staying true to his fashion vision. By taking one look at Jolie Kai’s mission statement, it’s clear Michelle has the same aspirations and values as Joe Komodo.

What advice do you have for aspiring designers and sustainable fashion activists?

“Research as much as you can about the fashion industry, and what sustainable fashion means. There is a lot of information out there, sometimes conflicting information, and its important to be informed as a designer or activist”

If you are just getting into sustainable fashion, you have probably felt exactly what Michelle is describing: being bombarded by contradictory information. This is challenging, and sometimes discouraging, but extremely important to make sure what you buy aligns with your values.

According to you, what is sustainable fashion? How do you put it into practice?

“Number one tip is to look at the four principles [resource use, toxicity of input, end of life, and human rights]”

Michelle explained that first, it is important to look at where the resources come from, how they are harvested and how much goes into getting them. This includes things like water use and packaging.

Second, Michelle taught that it is crucial to take into account if the raw material (or the extraction of said raw material) is harmful to the environment or people. This often includes dyes and finishers used in the treatment processes of many fabrics.

Third, Michelle encourages us to ask: what will happen with clothing after they are no longer being used? Are they destined to sit in a landfill for decades, or are they biodegradable?

Last and certainly not least, we must remember the people involved in bringing clothing to our closets. As Michelle puts it, we really have to “look at the people in the industry, to ensure that they are valued and treated with basic human rights”.

As an Emory alum, what do you feel that Emory can do better to support the sustainable fashion movement? What is Emory doing right?

“I love to see collaboration, especially among different departments”

As Michelle pointed out, Emory does a fantastic job at providing an interdisciplinary education. It teaches us to combine our passions and view things from many different lenses -- just as Michelle did to create Jolie Kai. She combined the knowledge she gained from her mother’s work as a clothing store owner with her passion for environmental policy.

Jolie Kai is a brand that truly values the quality and sustainability of clothing. This goal is seen all throughout their company, from the brands they collaborate with to the meaning behind the brand’s name. As consumers, it can be tough to find sustainable brands. We need people like Michelle to step out of their comfort zones and do something about the market gap present. This is why altKEY encourages people to think outside the box to make sustainability fashionable and accessible. This movement can be daunting, but some parting words from Michelle gives me hope for a greener future and highlights the importance of our daily choices:

“I do think the industry is moving in the right direction, and it kind of has to. We are reaching a critical point, and it is being led by the consumer...The more we share these issues around the fashion industry, the more people will demand change and companies will have to follow to meet that demand.”

Editor: Becca Cohen

Link for Jolie Kai:

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