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Shop Kaight and Save the World in Style

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Real fashion is never disposable, but sometime it’s recyclable. In the space where the fashion world and the sustainability movement overlap, a boutique called Kaight burns bright as NYC’s most fashionably sustainable star.

The last time I visited Kaight on the Lower East Side (83 Orchard Street, between Broome & Grand) owner Kate McGregor (above) was chatting up an out-of-town couple. Kate’s customers mean the world to her. “I remember you,” she says, “you were in here a long time ago. You bought a cashmere dress. The weather was miserable that day…” The couple, surprised at being remembered, calculated that their other visit had been four years ago.

If I were restricted to two city blocks for the rest of my life, I’d choose this one and the adjoining section of Broome toward Essex Street; the cluster of shops, restaurants and cafes here are all not-so-hidden gems that share a friendly neighborhood vibe. And if I had to dress from one store’s worth of clothes forever, I’d choose Kaight.

But one of my favorite reasons to shop Kaight isn’t fashion or social consciousness. Kate’s the image of the happy entrepreneur, an exemplary woman living her dream. As always, I want to know exactly how women like this get where they’re going.

Kate grew up in Ohio with a dream of moving to New York and opening a store. In fact, she can recall telling her dad about her plans to do so when she was as young as nine. Her drive to make a positive impact is also innate; it manifested itself in undergrad studies in Sociology at the University of Colorado, where a professor encouraged her to nurture her creativity through writing.

She kept writing, earned a master’s degree in journalism from Boston University, and began an editing job for a business information publishing company. When the stars aligned just right, Kate seized an opportune career moment to fulfill her childhood plan. Combining fashion and sustainable design, Kaight was born of Kate’s deep passion for both–and the loving support of her personal network. Opening her doors as a twenty-something shop owner in August of 2006, she was so thrilled to welcome new customers that she thinks she remembers each one from the first six months.

Kate still knows most of her customers (and we all know some of her fans, like Emily Deschanel, Blake Lively, Alicia Silverstone, Hillary Swank, and America Ferrera), and she’s getting that just-opened rush all over again: as of September 2010, Kaight has a Brooklyn outpost as well (382 Atlantic Ave., between Bond & Hoyt). The second iteration, like the first, is “outfitted with salvaged and vintage furniture and fixtures, as well as energy efficient heating and cooling systems.”

But, let’s get to the clothes already. The Orchard Street store is on the manageably small side but brims with well organized and exquisite must-haves. Right now, Kaight is showcasing fabulous winter accessories and the Spring 2011 lines are trickling in. Kate’s very into the store’s cozy ponchos, like the Doba from Loomstate (left), an NYC design studio of organic, sustainable, and fashionable pieces. Also try the elegantly drapey blue EDUN Ahmet dress that’s made of organic cotton through sustainable employment in Peru. Thaw chilly ears with hats and scarves that aren’t just handmade, they’re hand-loomed from raw wool (no electricity!) in the SoHo studio apartment of designer Mischa Lampert (above left). Fashions vary between the LES and Brooklyn outfits; Eviana Hartman’s all-natural Bodkin collection is all layers, gunmetal, and earthy tones with an edge, and it’s available at Kaight Atlantic Ave.

A huge name in sustainable fashion, Melissa shoes (left) are made from plastic in a closed manufacturing system (meaning negligible energy lost) in a socially responsible Brazilian factory. Melissa calls Kaight one of their top reselling partners, and lest you scoff at the idea at plastic shoes, check out the ever evolving line of styling flats, booties, heels, wedges, and pumps. The shoes come in adorable, reusable canisters and are recyclable. Discarding them, however, is hard to imagine; I wore my Melissa Compana jelly flats just about every day this summer, and they’re nowhere near retirement.

Kate knows how to keep her customers engaged and herself entertained. One section of Kaight on Orchard is devoted to a revolving “Shop Within a Shop”; Kate uses the area to showcase a single designer at a time. The current pop-up shop features Matt & Nat’s design-forward, vegan, and eco-friendly handbags and accessories. Kate recommends the Niko (all of the designs are named after musicians) and loves that each bag contains a number representing the recycled plastic bottles that make up its lining.

Each showcase starts with a party open to customers, featuring discounts or goodies, so keep your eye out for the next one. Aptly, Kate’s journalistic background lends itself well to the store’s blog–follow it for news in the sustainable fashion world, new styles and designers, and in-store events.

Customers outside of New York may miss the parties, but they have full access to Kaight’s goods through her online store!

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