The New Queen of Vegan Fashion - Interview with Sica Schmitz from Bead and Reel

The New Queen of Vegan Fashion - Interview with Sica Schmitz from Bead and Reel

The fashion industry has traditionally been dominated by high-profile designers with seemingly unlimited resources and little to no concern for animal rights or the environment. With these issues becoming more and more prevalent, a new generation of fashionistas is making an impact. While their designs and ethics may vary, the new breed of fashion experts has something in common: Strong values that aren’t compromised by their profits.

Meet the Founder of Bead and Reel - Sica Schmitz

Passionate about fashion and clothing designs from a young age, Sica Schmitz was a natural for getting involved in the fashion industry. But after seeing how destructive it was to animals, people, and the environment, she realized it wasn’t something she was willing to be a part of - at least not in the traditional sense. Sica explains her motivation for starting the fashion boutique, Bead and Reel.

My background is in fashion design and costume design, and I’ve always loved fashion, but over time I became aware of what a destructive industry it is for people, animals, and our planet. In my own personal closet, I was trying to shop more mindfully, focusing on fair trade and vegan fashion, and it was so hard to find styles that were both. I could definitely find fair trade, and I could definitely find vegan, but finding fashion that respected both humans and animals was surprisingly difficult. I really believe that veganism by definition must include the respect for human lives as well – since, humans are animals too – and so buying a faux leather bag that was made by a child or an exploited garment worker is not vegan as far as I am concerned.

The Book that Helped Sica Become Vegan

Like many who attempt it, Sica’s path to veganism wasn’t without its challenges. Although raised as a vegetarian, it took more than one attempt to cement her conviction to the vegan cause. But she explains how approaching the vegan lifestyle from a place of love and respect made the commitment possible.

I was raised vegetarian and always considered myself an ally for animals, but it wasn’t until my mid-20s when I read ‘Eating Animals’ by Jonathan Safran Foer that I truly understood the horrors of the egg and dairy industries, factory farming, and animal agriculture.

I immediately went vegan, however, I really struggled with it. I didn’t know any vegans to help guide me, I didn’t know what to cook or where to eat out, and I ended up failing – and feeling really awful about it. A few years later my father passed away and I woke up one morning and just knew that I couldn’t be a part of separating other families.

I went vegan again, but this time it wasn’t from a place of guilt or shock, but from a place of respect and love, and this new approach made it extremely easy and enjoyable. I’ve been vegan for several years now and will be for the rest of my life, but I also have empathy for those who aren’t ready yet, since it definitely took me a while to get there, too.

The Challenges of Competing against Fast Fashion Brands

Companies who don’t apply stringent ethical standards to their products are able to produce clothing quickly and at a low price. Since Bead and Reel observes 15 ethical standards that protect people and animals, it can’t compete with the speed of fast fashion brands. Sica explains how the success of Bead and Reel comes from it’s unique, ethically-sound clothing lines.

American consumers have been so trained to want things cheap and immediately, and so educating our customers on the importance of investing in high-quality vegan and fair trade styles can take some time. I will never be able to compete with fast fashion brands, but my customers come to me because they want something different – something unique, something ethical, and so I view my work as not about competing but instead about educating.

What Benefits Does Vegan Clothing Offer?

Vegan fabrics have major advantages over their animal-based counterparts. Animal fabrics, including leather, are subject to decay, and Sica notes that they actually do more damage to the environment than vegan fabrics.   
There is a huge misconception that vegan leather is bad and that animal leather is “eco-friendly” – however, these simply aren’t true! Recent research has proven that cow leather, wool, and silk are some of the most environmentally impactful fibers, and it is actually recommended that consumers can reduce their footprint by switching to alternative fibers including vegan leather. You can dive a bit deeper into the research here.

3 Ways Sica Ensures Her Fabrics Meet High Vegan Standards

There are three main ways that I verify that our over 300 styles are plant-based. The first is that we have a contract with our designers. We do not require that our designers be entirely vegan companies, but we do require that only vegan styles are part of Bead & Reel.

The second is that US laws require disclosure of fiber content, and I can and do inspect everything in our store. A few months ago I noticed that while I had been told that a jacket was vegan, it was actually lined with silk, and we didn’t move forward with that designer.

And lastly, we are a very relationship-driven business. I have relationships with all of our designers and have been working with many of them for many years, and there is a lot of trust. They value my business, and I value their products, and so honest communication leads to very few issues.

Founding and Hosting the Fair-Trade Fashion Show

To make your name in the vegan fashion industry, having your own vegan boutique and strong values is an excellent start. See one way that Sica took her passion a step further by founding and hosting the Fair-Trade Fashion Show, one of the first fashion shows that abides by ethical standards.
I don’t just participate in it, I founded it and host it as well! It’s a very special event, being a rare fashion show that is entirely fair trade and vegan. We will be entering our 4th-year next summer, and it’s always an incredibly fun way to educate about more mindful fashion choices. This year, we raised over $31,000 to fight against human trafficking, and it’s been so wonderful to watch my Fair Trade Fashion Show become a space for important conversations and real impact, all through beautiful clothing.


The Future of Fair Trade Fashion

There’s no doubt that value-based companies like Bead and Reel are seeing increased popularity as trends like veganism grow. But what does an insider like Sica Schmitz see for the future of vegan and ethical fashion?

I definitely think fair trade fashion has the potential to spread throughout the country, and we see it happening already. People are becoming more aware of the impacts and origins of all of their purchases from food to fashion to electronics. It’s an exciting time to be in sustainable fashion because this is the future of fashion, and I definitely want to be on the right side of fashion history.  

How Ethical is the Mainstream Fashion Industry?

The mainstream fashion industry has a long way to go in terms of prioritizing animal welfare, however, things are slowly starting to shift, and I think they will continue to do so. Many brands are starting to offer more vegan options, as it’s getting more widely discussed across designers, shoppers, and the media. And while we have a ways to go before animals are removed from fashion, vegan fashion is already hugely popular: cotton, polyester, bamboo, hemp, linen, nylon – these are all vegan fibers that people are already wearing every day!

What is the Best Way to Introduce Non-Vegans to the Vegan Lifestyle?

Sica is deeply ingrained into the vegan fashion industry and maintains numerous relationships with both vegan and non-vegan vendors. Naturally, many non-vegans have questions, comments, and curiosities about the vegan lifestyle. When given the opportunity to share her ethical values with non-vegans, Sica relies on two approaches: Recipes and ethical reasons.  

The two things that have been most successful for me are sharing vegan food (photos, meals, recipes) to show how tasty and easy it is, and appealing to a broad range of reasons to go vegan. Documentaries like ‘Cowspiracy’ and ‘What the Health’ have helped a lot of people I know switch to veganism for environmental and health reasons, and while I am first and foremost vegan for the animals, I am happy to see people making the shift to a kinder lifestyle, whatever their reasons may be.

I definitely recommend avoiding militant veganism and shocking videos and photos – those didn’t work on me, and I have found a softer approach to be more effective.


Sica’s Advice for New Vegan Entrepreneurs

While being an entrepreneur in any competitive industry is a difficult endeavor with numerous factors, running a value-based business throws in some added challenges. For her advice to new entrepreneurs, Sica doesn’t hold back about the difficulties of keeping a business afloat.

It’s the same advice I would give the new owner of any store, vegan or otherwise: be passionate about what you’re offering, invest in marketing, and be patient! Growing a business takes a long time, a lot of money, and a lot of mistakes!

Which are Sica’s Favorite Vegan Recipes?

This is the hardest question ever because there are so many good ones and it’s constantly changing! But right now I can’t get enough of Oh She Glow’s Chickpea Salad (to eat with crackers, on a sandwich… or alone….) and Avocado Pasta. Both are really simple to make (I don’t have a lot of time or energy for extravagant cooking, unfortunately!), super delicious, and even non-vegans love them!

I’ve also have been whipping up a quick soup lately: just sauté mushrooms, tofu, kale, and garlic (preferably organic!), then add them into one of those ramen packets that you probably haven’t eaten since college, and voila, you have a delicious meal in about 10 minutes!

Typical Vegan Dinner for Sica Schmitz?

It really changes – I feel very lucky to live in Los Angeles where there is SO much good vegan food everywhere, and I also have a partner who really likes to cook. If we’re not eating out, on an average night he’ll maybe make enchiladas, homemade pizza, or a pasta feast (complete with roasted veggies, salad, and garlic bread, of course). Basically, anything you’re used to eating with meat, dairy, or eggs, there’s a way to veganize it, which is delicious but also bad because it means I definitely end up choosing carbs over kale most nights.

Bead and Reel & Bhu Foods - Making Ethics the New Standard

As more consumers prioritize values over a quick purchase, companies that enforce ethical standards will continue to rise in popularity. Whether it’s redefining the way the world looks at fashion like Bead and Reel or creating sugar-free vegan protein bars that use monk fruit and pea protein like Bhu Foods, value-based companies are leading the charge towards a better Earth for everyone. Join us in pursuing your passion for a world that protects people, animals, and our planet.