Founded by Sanni Baumgärtner nearly 12 years ago, one local boutique has spearheaded the sustainable fashion movement in Athens while also supporting local artists. This mission is a testament to their name — Community.
Since it was founded, Community has grown to support all things sustainable from creating their clothing from upcycled fabrics to teaching sewing classes. For Baumgärtner, the preservation of the planet through small steps in fashion is a lifelong career.
“It’s part of my core value, sustainability,” she said. “I think we do need that feeling that we are here for a purpose and that we are making an impact on the world that is important to us.”
Baumgärtner, who was born in Germany and studied abroad at the University of Georgia in her college years, was initially inspired to support all things local from her involvement in the supportive music scene Athens is known for.
“Another important aspect of my business model that I really wanted to support is the local economy because, as a struggling musician in Athens, I know how hard it is to make a living,” Baumgärtner, who played guitar, accordion and musical saw said.
Merging this idea into her business model, Baumgärtner is now looking to support not only Athens artists but also UGA students with a passion for fashion. One such student is Lillian Maple, a senior fashion merchandising major.
Maple found her passion for creating fashion pieces inspired by her own unique taste and now has her own studio where she can design what she loves.
“[Sustainable fashion] has become a trend, but I think it’s really great that people, especially young people, have been taking interest in it,” Maple said. “It is a plus that it’s sustainable, of course, but the stuff is really beautiful and it doesn’t have to be, you know, mom clothes or a flannel to be thrifty and sustainable.”
It was The Red & Black that brought the dynamic relationship between Maple and Community to fruition. After a feature story on Maple was published in March 2022, Baumgärtner read the article and reached out to Maple in the hopes of obtaining her as a vendor, which Maple accepted.
Maple’s professional relationship with Community has helped her “be more intentional about where I get my fabrics from, how I make my things, using up all my scraps, not being wasteful because I really want to stay true to their store’s mission.”
So far, Maple has released two batches of clothes with Community.
“I’m so excited when I see someone wearing my clothes because it just means a lot to everyone…it makes the whole shopping and fashion experience more meaningful and personal in addition to environmental benefits,” Maple said.
Like businesses all across the country, the COVID-19 pandemic presented many challenges for the store. However, it was during this time that the ladies of Community took on one of their biggest projects to date — making cloth masks. Though demand was high, Community was able to make thousands of carefully sewn sustainable cloth face masks for the Athens community and local hospitals.
Baumgärtner has many hopes for the future of Community including supporting more UGA students as well as growing the boutique’s online store, shipping vintage pieces nationwide and shipping green.
“Focus is on growth right now so we can support the local economy more, we can create more jobs, we can have a bigger impact in terms of sustainability as we are redesigning and recycling more material,” Baumgärtner said.
As for future projects, on-campus UGA students will be able to find Community’s work in the dining halls, which they have partnered with the shop to make utensil pouches from jeans legs.
“Sustainable fashion is accessible for everyone,” Baumgärtner said. “It’s not just about slow fashion, handmade in the U.S. clothing, although that is something that we should always try to support, but it also means vintage clothing, it means pre-worn, it means clothes swaps, it means shopping your own closet, redesigning, learning how to sew. There’s so many ways of doing sustainable fashion in an affordable way.”