Tucked into a neat row of storefronts and display windows lining the edges of a bustling 18th Street South in downtown Homewood sits Molly Green, a little shop with a lot of character. This store, the manifestation of one ambitious young woman’s dream, may someday light the fire of a local fashion movement.
Shop proprietor Brittany Hartwell has loved fashion since she was a little girl in Bluff Park.
“I can remember sitting in church and sketching designs for wedding dresses,” she recalls. When she was 11, Hartwell received her first sewing machine — a cherished Christmas present from her aunt and grandmother. She quickly took to sewing and began tailoring hand-me-downs to fit her nicely — an aspect of style that (as she learned early on) holds great value.
With a growing enthusiasm for fashion, Hartwell graduated from Hoover High School in 2003. She went on to study fashion merchandising at Lipscomb University, a liberal arts college in Nashville, Tennessee. Upon her graduation, she wed her fiancé, Brandon, and the pair moved to Port Charlotte in southwest Florida. There, they owned and managed Subway restaurants together. Hartwell says that this was her first hands-on experience with the inner workings of a small business — a valuable lesson, she recalls.
After four years in Florida, the couple sold their stores and moved back to Birmingham in order to be closer to family. Before making the transition into her home state, however, Hartwell had already concocted a plan for her next business venture.
With the help of her younger sister, Hartwell’s brainchild, Molly Green, opened its doors only six short months after her return to Birmingham in 2012. A daunting task to undertake, Hartwell admits, and one which came at no small cost. The stress of planning, in addition to time spent absent from her home life, did not add up to an experience she would heedlessly recommend to fellow entrepreneurs. Still, all that hard work and sacrifice led to her ultimate retail success.
Molly Green achieved that success by surprising the average boutique shopper. Upon entering, shoppers are met with an atmosphere of bold prints, vibrant colors, lusciously textured fabrics and warm welcomes.
However, the most interesting fact about this shop lies just outside the front door. Printed on the window front of the store are the descriptive words “eco chic”— a style choice that encourages awareness of the clothing industry, which Hartwell now prefers to call “conscious fashion.”
One form of eco-friendly design Hartwell supports is called up-cycling. “Say you take a T-shirt that you got from the thrift store or one you’ve had since high school, and you cut the arms off and the neck out, sew the bottom up, and you make it a fruit bag to take to Pepper Place. That’s up-cycling: when you take something that would have been trash, and you make it into something useful,” explains Hartwell. She is a strong advocate for designers’ use of materials that are already available to them, because, as she states, “maybe a third of landfills are textiles, and not just from designers throwing away bolts of fabric but from us; we throw away so much.”
“[Fashion] is an interesting industry to be in, but it comes with its challenges,” says Hartwell. One of these challenges is finding the apparel to match her purpose. Although she has a number of trustworthy and reliable suppliers, Hartwell remains vigilant of (and true to) her personal and vocational code of ethics.
Hartwell says she is very hands-on when selecting items for her store. She does her own research, reaches out to companies and isn’t afraid to ask tough questions. “At the time I was developing the idea for the store I was really aware of my clothes and where they were being made…who was being paid enough or too little,” says Hartwell. For this reason, most of the pieces she carries are organic, recycled, up-cycled, and/or made locally. This heightened awareness has given a certain soul to her little shop.
Amongst the beautiful array of textiles and pretty little things lining the walls of Molly Green, Hartwell made sure there is something for every trendy taste, from the soft and feminine to the bold and unique. Often included in the impressive line-up are one-of-a-kind handmade pieces by local designers and some of Hartwell’s dear friends.
Another charming facet of Molly Green is its seasonal window display. The next theme, which is to be constructed before the upcoming July 4 holiday, will be complete with 6-foot-tall models of a favored frozen summer treat. Hartwell also handed out special tokens of appreciation to all of Molly Green’s fans and passersby during the annual downtown Homewood Fourth of July celebration.
Although Hartwell is open about her eco-conscious ideals, she shrugs off any sense of self-importance. “I guess I just watched too many documentaries at some point,” says Hartwell. “Your eyes are really opened to the world and how the way you live affects the people around you.” She simply wishes to do the “right thing” when it comes to her business and her customers, providing them with fashionable, yet sustainable clothing at an affordable price.
Hartwell and her Molly Green shop pose one simple yet thought provoking idea: if you are willing to apply a certain character and morals to all other aspects of life, why not apply them to your wardrobe as well?