Made in New England: Meet Mary Savoca of Ash & Rose
While other students were busy sending out their resumes, Bostonian college student Mary Savoca was busy with her side hustle—selling vintage clothing on eBay with her mother Nea. By the time she graduated, what started as a hobby soon transformed into Ash & Rose, an online and brick & mortar boutique specializing in sustainable clothing that not only does good but looks good too. We got to chat with co-founder Mary to discuss their material sourcing standards, the importance of knowing your customer and their private label—the Ash & Rose collection—made by hand in Boston.
R.K.: What made you start your brand? How did you first get the idea?
M.S.: It has really evolved over the years, and started out as a hobby. My mom and I were selling vintage clothing on eBay while I was still in school, and that was the beginning of it all. By the time I graduated, we moved from selling vintage clothing to sustainable clothing, which was a natural transition.
I was working on sourcing clothing and my mom got more serious about designing the private label, so we put the two together to start the boutique. I was the one sourcing sustainable items, and she was working on the Ash & Rose collection, our private label made from recycled materials. We launched the website, closed the eBay store shortly after and now we have a brick and mortar boutique as well!
R.K.: We love your core values—ethical, sustainable, beautiful. How did you come up with them?
M.S.: The ethical and sustainable part is something we always valued. The fashion industry is one of the most polluted and exploited industries in the world, so we didn’t want to be part of the problem. It was a non-negotiable that anything we did would make the world better and not worse. As for beautiful, we believe our products should sell themselves regardless of whether or not they’re sustainable, so we only carry things we absolutely love and feel are beautiful.
R.K.: How do you source your materials?
M.S.: We are a multi-brand retailer so we carry a lot of different brands. The baseline for us to consider carrying something is sweatshop-free fair labor. We’re then looking for brands that are doing something a little extra whether that’s 100 percent produced in the United States, or they use organic materials or recycled fabrics—brands doing good in the world. We have a lot of artisan brands that are preserving materials, and also a lot of smaller indie brands that we love and want to support.
Our own label, the Ash & Rose collection, is made from vintage, salvaged fabrics—end bits of fabrics that normally wouldn’t go into a clothing line as they’re really small quantities and would usually go to waste. This collection is made right here in Boston, by a few sewers in our small shop.
R.K.: What did you have to learn the hard way? Any particular challenges along the way?
M.S.: The biggest evolution that’s happened is identifying our aesthetic. We started off with ethical and sustainable, and just carried any brand that did that. But we kind of had this big mishmash of styles, and didn’t have a clear picture of who our customer was! Over the years, we’ve narrowed down who our customer is on a deeper level. We’re now targeting that creative, urban woman looking for polished clothes that take her from career to everyday life.
R.K.: Has there been a benefit to starting your business in the New England area that you don’t think you’d get elsewhere?
M.S.: I identify as a New Englander pretty strongly. I love having the four seasons—sundresses in the summer and chunky sweaters in the winter—and that repetitive cycle every year with changing color pallets. As a fashion designer, that’s really fun and you don’t get that in every climate! Here in New England, we have a lot of really smart, sophisticated customers who know what they want and what they need for each season.
R.K.: What would you love to see in the New England sustainability and wellness scene that you don’t now?
M.S.: I would love to see more apparel manufacturing happening here! There are some new factories starting to emerge in the Boston area, and we’re looking forward to collaborating with more local brands. Most are manufactured in California or New York, but I would love to see more manufactured here in New England.
M.S.: We are huge fans of the whole SoWa Boston community that we’re a part of. The SoWa Art+Design District is home to the highest concentration of art galleries in Massachusetts (maybe even the country), plus tons of small independent businesses like ours. For anyone who hasn’t visited, the best time to come check it out is during the SoWa Open Market, where you can find hundreds of local vendors including artists and artisans, vintage goods, food trucks, live music and even beer and wine.
R.K.: Who has been the greatest influence or role model in starting your business?
M.S.: For me personally, it’s definitely my mom because she raised me to be this creative, entrepreneurial person. Without her, I don’t think I’d ever have the courage or thought to really start a business or go out on a limb like that! Us coming together and doing this made something possible that wouldn’t have been possible individually, so it’s been a really cool experience.
M.S.: Whenever I’m faced with a challenge I always think of Marie Forleo’s “everything is figure-out-able,” because it is! Just saying it helps me get unstuck and keep moving forward.
R.K.: Where do you hope to see your brand in the next two years?
M.S.: In the next two years, we’re definitely looking to grow our online presence to reach more people and spread more awareness of what we’re doing! We’re also planning on shooting our whole collection on a much wider variety of body types, and bringing in women who inspire us.
We started a blog series of women with cool stories to model our clothing and be featured on the blog. So we’re revamping our website to do more of this. We want to show our clothes on a lot more women, be more inclusive and tell more of a story with the clothes. A little beyond two years, we’d love to open more brick and mortars!
R.K.: What advice would you give someone looking to start their own business?
M.S.: Figure out who your customer is; get a really clear picture of who they are. And have a marketing plan—don’t just focus on having a great product or service. You need to have a plan on how to tell people you exist, and start promoting your brand before you launch.
R.K.: At WELL, we like to say, “Your vibe attracts your tribe.” How would you describe your vibe?
M.S.: I’m a very laid-back person, and when it comes to fashion, I like to be able to get dressed very quickly and not think too much about it. We attract people who have that same attitude—they want to look great but don’t want to spend an hour getting dressed in the morning. They just want to live life, do as little harm and possible and feel good!
Want more Made in New England? Check out our full series coverage.