Growing up in the San Francisco Bay area, communication studies senior Anna Lise Ericson always wanted a career in fashion, but the American Environmental History class she took during her first year at Northwestern showed her that the apparel industry is far from green.
“I learned that the industry contributes almost 10% of global emissions annually,” Ericson says. “I didn’t understand how I could work in fashion knowing that.”
That summer, Ericson wrote up a business plan for Cerer, an e-commerce platform that offers women’s clothing and accessories from brands committed to ethical and eco-minded practices. She reached out to 150 brands, including some, like Girlfriend Collective and Whimsy + Row, that are now part of Cerer’s offerings.
The platform launched in January 2020, bringing in $10,000 in sales in its first year. The team now includes Ericson, sophomore Ilise Angel and Katie Karmin ’21.
Cerer is committed to its own sustainable practices, shipping orders in boxes made from recyclable and biodegradable mailing materials. Much of Cerer’s shipments are carbon neutral too. But Ericson doesn’t want to stop there.
“We’re trying to analyze everything we do in terms of how many shipments go out a day, what products are not getting sold and what we are going to do with those products afterward — recycle them or donate them,” Ericson says. “How do we incorporate sustainability into everything we do?”
The Garage, Northwestern’s hub for entrepreneurship and innovation, has been invaluable to Cerer’s development. “They foster this community where people push each other — but also prop each other up — and support each other to think of things in a more innovative way,” says Ericson.
She knows that sustainable fashion has work to do in terms of accessibility and inclusivity, and she hopes that brands — and the apparel industry overall — continue to make progress on those fronts.
“It’s important to recognize that shopping sustainably is a great idea in theory,” Ericson says, “but it’s limited to people with the financial means or people with the physical body to fit into those clothes, because it’s not a very size-inclusive space either.”
After graduation, Ericson plans to earn her MBA with a focus on sustainable business practices while continuing to grow Cerer. “My goal is that people can come to [Cerer] and buy items that are going to last for years because they’re good quality and they transcend the ever-changing trends.”