When Nina Whitmore was in elementary school, she always wore culottes — flowy cropped pants that are now back in style. They were easiest for her mother to sew, even though Whitmore would have preferred to wear jeans like the other kids, she said.
Her interest in fashion began as a tween, when she paged through Teen Vogue and Cosmopolitan magazines, and she even sketched up her own lingerie line that she called Kiki.
Those sketchbooks and dreams were eventually stashed away once Whitmore started working after high school — first at an insurance company for 10 years and then at a telecommunications company for the past 18. But earlier this year, Whitmore left Corporate America to revisit those early visions of manifesting her very own fashion label.
She launched the inclusive and sustainable activewear brand, Kanvess Clothing, Aug. 10 out of her home in Kansas City.
Turns out, making sustainable and ethical clothing is an incredible undertaking, Whitmore said, and she’s been challenged by every aspect of learning the new space with the new monochromatic brand.
“You have to have a little bit of fear to make your dreams come true,” she said.
The textile industry is one of the greatest producers of waste, according to recent studies from the Environmental Protection Agency. With the environment and climate on her mind, Whitmore wanted to be part of the solution, not the problem. Her Monochrome Edit line — available now for preorder — is all about high quality, simplicity, and longevity.
“You just spend so much money over time on fast fashion,” she said. “Yes, you can get it inexpensively, but how long will it last?”
Inspired by the grace and timelessness of Audrey Hepburn, each Kanvess garment comes in either a black or white colorway. One aspect of the company’s sustainability is that garments can be worn every day and for many seasons. Whitmore prefers minimal lines and simple colors, though customers can expect a surprise color every once in a while.
She’s also committed to sustainability by using mostly natural and recycled materials, such as organic cotton — a fabric derived from wood fibers called Tencel, recycled polyester — and a recycled antimicrobial fabric called ChitoSante. Because activewear needs to have some stretch, Whitmore also is using a touch of Spandex, which isn’t entirely sustainable, she said. Materials are listed on tags and online, so she can stay transparent with her customers about her processes.
All fabrics are sourced from the U.S. and sewn out of a production house in Los Angeles. It’s not easy finding a domestic factory with the availability and technical capability to take on new partners, she said. But by avoiding manufacturing overseas, Whitmore is reducing the company’s carbon footprint and she’s also able to stay better informed of the factory’s ethics and practices.
Kansas Citians can expect to see Whitmore at future pop-up events. She’s working on establishing her in-person presence alongside her online platform. A blog section on her website will spotlight local people who are making a difference, and product shots will feature models of all identities, ethnicities, ages, and sizes to promote inclusivity and representation.
Click here to follow Kanvess Clothing on Instagram.
Her brand isn’t just about comfort and style; she also wants to give back to the community she’s lived in nearly her entire life since moving from Vietnam when she was 2.
Whenever someone makes a purchase, 2 percent goes back to a non-profit organization of their choice, Whitmore said. Four of the six non-profit options are based in Kansas or Missouri: Nourish KC, Melissa’s Second Chances, Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater St. Louis, and Safehome Inc. The other two options are Relief International and One Tree Planted.
Click here to read about Kanvess Clothing’s social impact efforts.
“Having been blessed with great leadership and given opportunities to better myself, I wanted to give that back to other people,” Whitmore said. “Wearing Kanvess will make you want to go out there and make a difference in your life or someone else’s or both.”
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.