On South Salina Street in downtown Syracuse, in a small shop with warm lights and brick walls, women buy beautiful floral dresses and glamorous handbags. These dresses, handbags, and other items of beauty purchased here are no ordinary retail but contribute to environmental sustainability and ethical human production across the world. Caeresa Richardson ’07 had dreamed of owning her own fashion boutique. Through her rigorous engineering studies, fast-paced college life, and early career working as a mechanical engineer, Richardson turned to personal style as an outlet for confidence and creative expression. Today, she harnesses that creative expression and entrepreneurial energy in her own fashion boutique Ecodessa.
Richardson, who studied mechanical engineering in the College of Engineering and Computer Science from 2003-2007, always wanted to explore the fashion world beyond personal style, and decided to take several classes in fashion design from the College of Visual and Performing Artshttps://vpa.syr.edu/. She discovered there that fashion was not merely a way to dress or a form of self-expression, but an industry in the marketplace. Like all other industries in business, it requires hard and technical skills to work in, and an entrepreneurial mindset to break into.
She also discovered in her studies of fashion that again, identical to other consumer goods industries, the cost of mass production translates to damaging environmental impacts. For example, the fashion industry in just one year produces 1.2 billion tons of carbon emissions. Her dream to start a fashion boutique grew into a dream to start a sustainable fashion boutique, with clothing items sourced from ethical producers. “I wanted to align purchasing power with my values and test out the hypothesis that other women were interested in that as well,” said Richardson on her dream of creating a space for women to shop and buy ethically.
After Richardson graduated with her degree in mechanical engineering, she moved into working for various firms in an engineering position. She continued working toward a point where she could open her sustainable boutique, but then focusing on gaining professional experience, financial stability, and better knowledge of the market and business creation before taking a bold leap into starting her own business.
In 2019, after several years building her professional career, she decided to take that bold leap. This was no small risk for Richardson. To successfully start her boutique, she had to personally finance her business. Bank loans and grants aren’t given to nonexistent or starting businesses, so her commitment to starting Ecodessa meant betting her own and her community’s savings and income upon her own success. “The hardest part was mindset,” recalled Richardson. “How much of this idea do I believe in to finance on my own?”
In just two years she made her way from popups and obtaining LLC status to a brick-and-mortar business in downtown Syracuse, and her belief in her own ability to succeed validated itself. For Richardson, the building of her business was not merely success, but it was a commitment to her values and freedom to make choices in response to those values. “I stepped away from my career to re-align myself with my values and what I saw as financial freedom.” Her creation of an environment where individuals had the purchasing power to choose sustainably, ethically sourced items instead of items with negative production consequences was the fulfillment of her own values to choose sustainability and follow her lifelong dream.
Today, a quick trip to 312 South Salina Street in downtown Syracuse is a step into a world of beauty. The carefully curated collection of jewelry, accessories, clothing, shoes, and much more is more than just stylish or aesthetic, but actively contributes to the creation of an ethical, sustainable fashion industry. The power of Ecodessa lies in their culture of fashion as industry not simply commercial, but a celebration of art and human creativity.
“Garment makers make beautiful works of art- someone actually poured their heart and energy into a piece.” Said Richardson. At Ecodessa, clothing purchases contribute to art, creators, and care of the earth.
Story by Claire Howard ’23, LaunchPad Global Fellow.