Jill Heller, founder, Pure Thread
, in her Upper West Side atelier. Photo, Bianca Alexander
By Bianca Alexander
Under the cacophony of honking taxi cabs and revving engines, four inch stilettos pound the sooty streets between 5th and 8th Avenues on the East Side. It’s an average day in the New York Fashion District. Buyers, designers and fashionistas dressed to the nines hurry to and fro without making eye contact. They’ve come far and wide to shop and peddle the latest runway trends, hoping to set the bar for what the rest of us will be wearing next season.
On the other side of town--the Upper West Side--a different scene unfolds. Perhaps because of its proximity to Central Park West, the vibe is cleaner, quieter, greener. Sidewalk cafés abound. Chic moms in colorful ballet flats chat over lattes while pushing baby strollers. Patches of sage-colored trees create a soft hammock over this residential neighborhood, making it feel more livable than other parts of the city.
Perhaps that’s why eco-stylist Jill Heller, founder of Pure Thread
, calls this neighborhood home. After twenty years of success in retail, she launched Pure Thread four years ago as an alternative to the hustle, bustle and waste of the conventional fashion industry.
The PureThread ambiance: candles, flowers and inspirational literature. Bianca:
How did you get started in the fashion industry?Jill:
I was born loving clothes. My grandfather and father manufactured women’s clothing. As a young girl I was fascinated with the idea of connecting the designers’ sketch to the fabric, the final design, and the people who wear them. I realized early on that I was best suited for a retail environment where I could trust my natural instincts and curate my own looks. In the late ‘80's I launched Chilly, a profitable young contemporary boutique on NYC's Columbus Avenue, noted for great fashion and innovative window and merchandising displays. In 2003, I launched another successful boutique in Westchester, On the One, which captured my vision of sophisticated American and International style.
As a fashion expert, and a person who has always been interested in health, wellness and concern for the environment, I couldn’t help but notice how wasteful and destructive the conventional garment industry is to people and the planet. As such, I decided to become a catalyst for ethical positive change and founded Pure Thread, a company that sources beautifully designed clothing that puts environmental and social responsibility at the forefront.
Jill styling me for my SS/resort wardrobe, including this luxurious georgette silk scarf by Privatsacken
What is your philosophy as a stylist?Jill:
We have a niche: making ethical fashion an easier, more accessible choice for consumers. Our commitment to pushing the needle on sustainable fashion means staying up on the latest trends, materials, innovations and designers. As stylists, we spend a lot of time at first getting to know our clients’ goals and needs. Then, we select looks that fit their lifestyle but are also ethically sourced, well-made and will make them feel gorgeous.
Customer education is key: each product has a story and we love to share it in an intimate, upbeat setting. Because of our personal relationships with designers, we can form a bridge between clients and designers, allowing them to visit their favorite designer studios to create one of a kind items, including jewelry and accessories. As a result, PureThread clients become collectors, and I am grateful to be a catalyst for that. Our clients love the results. Shopping and transforming wardrobes for the good of the world is so much fun, and thankfully our clients do a great job of spreading the word about us to their friends.
Vintage copy of LIFE magazine in Jill’s office.Bianca:
What are some of your favorite sustainable brands?Jill
: At the core of PureThread's merchandising mix is a strategy of curating styles from eco-conscious brands who are redefining the fashion industry in a variety of ways: using alternative materials; more efficient manufacturing, dyeing and supply chain processes; local production; and a commitment to fair trade and human rights. There are dozens of brands on the market revolutionizing the way we dress, but some of my favorites are Stewart + Brown, Kami, Suzanne Rae, Titania Inglis, Indigenous, H Fredriksson, MarYsol, Panchaculi, Loomstate 321, Upstate and Edun. They are all taking very creative approaches to evolving the fashion industry.
On location in Maui at the Fairmont Kea Lani Hotel. Silk vegetable dyed dress and scarf by Upstate
, styled by Jill Heller of Pure Thread. Recycled brass and citrine jewelry, Bittersweet
The fashion world can be very professionally demanding, unconscious and superficial. What keeps you centered and conscious in your work? Jill:
People like you! Love and emotional support from family and friends, proper nutrition, yoga, walking in nature and shedding tears when necessary...all of which have nothing to do with business and fashion. For me personally, it’s about being good to myself and others and having faith that I am on the right path. Faith in something much larger than myself. I also work closely with 3 expert stylists: Tracey Ravdin, Wendi Winshall, and Jocelyn Whipple in London, who work passionately to promote sustainability in fashion and textiles, and whose advice, wisdom and encouragement help keep me going.
On location in Hilo, Hawaii at the Kalani
yoga retreat and eco-resort. Organic cotton sheath dress, Suzanne Rae
, gyspy earrings, Hearts.com
What’s next for Pure Thread and the sustainable fashion industry?Jill:
I am thrilled to announce that in addition to running Pure Thread, I am providing fashion direction for online sustainable fashion retailer Modavanti
, who seeks to establish itself as the premiere site for socially conscious fashionistas looking for clothing that fits their values without compromising style. With Modavanti, I’ll be adding luxury products from leading brands in the industry as it continues on its path to becoming the go-to online destination for sustainable fashion.
The Pure Thread label, which serves to educate consumers about the materials and ethics and design approach of each garment.
Bianca Alexander is the Emmy© award winning host of Conscious Living. A passionate eco-fashionista and yogi, she has covered the latest trends in sustainable design from Paris to L.A since 2006.