Everyday Icon: The Indie Retail Advocate

Meet Rita Mehta founder of The American Edit, a website that researches and shares American made brands worthy of your support.

Image Credit: Wing Ta

If you’re anything like us, you understand the value of being intentional with your spending habits. It’s an important topic, don’t you think? Well, Rita Mehta has made a career out of it. As Founder and Editor of The American Edit—a website and consultancy dedicated to highlighting and assisting American-made brands—Rita is one part curator, one part strategist and all parts advocate. Not only does she have a background in retail strategy, but she is also incredibly passionate about supporting local businesses from the ground up.

Rita kindly took the time to share her story with us—along with some insight into the retail industry, tips for appreciating the everyday and much more.

Rita! We’re so glad to have you join our “Everyday Icon” series. As you know, this is a space where we celebrate women who live for big successes, simple pleasures and everything in between. Tell us: who are the everyday icons in your life?

I am so honored to be a part of this series! Thank you! Honestly, I think any woman who can go to sleep most nights of the week and think that she did everything she could is an icon... the older I get the more impressed I am with women in general - we're pretty amazing human beings.

That said, my older sister is amazing and will always be exactly who I want to be when I grow up, even though that technically already happened. I become more obsessed with Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sheryl Sandberg every day, but I also love and learn from Mindy Kaling and Amy Poehler. Heidi Merrick is an LA-based designer who works so hard and is so consistently good but also has such an amazing perspective on work and life - she's such an inspiration to me. And I have so much respect for the women creating smart and thoughtful resources for all of us - like your team at Clementine Daily, or Amy Woodside with OK Real! or Ann Friedman's weekly newsletter.

One of our favorite simple pleasures is finding something amazing—whether it be a silk scarf or a side table—that has a story behind it. We know you work closely with American-made brands for similar reasons. Can you tell us a bit about The American Edit and how it came about?

The story is everything, isn't it?! It's really a huge part of why I started.

Essentially, I started The American Edit because I was frustrated that it was so easy for my husband to buy high quality, responsibly made clothing and so difficult for me. If you look at most higher end men's brands, the products are almost always made in the USA or a high wage country and the products are designed to last. In women's brands, this was not always the case. At my core, I'm a researcher and collector of information, so I started looking for brands and businesses I felt good about supporting. I found myself falling in love with all of the different people I came across and wanted to share their story. I also knew that most people have little time or interest to research everything they buy, so I figured that if I wanted a resource, I'd have to make it myself. I've admittedly been inconsistent with the blog but I could never give it up because of the incredible people I've met - it's an honor and a privilege to be able to tell their stories.

What are a few challenges you’ve faced—personally and professionally—as you’ve built your brand?

Building a brand and a business is incredibly difficult and can often be terribly lonely. We celebrate the people who take big risks and quit their jobs, but I'm most impressed by the people who consistently put out good work - it doesn't really matter if it's for a big company or their own. I've struggled with this quite a bit myself and it's something I'm always going to be working on. I'm far more attracted to ideas than to actual execution, but success doesn't come from a clever idea—it comes from working really, really hard.

Also, when you take a big career risk, the people in your life are usually either excited and proud of you, disapprove entirely or are envious (or some combination!). This can make it hard to be honest about how you are feeling or how things are going. For the first year or so of this business I felt like I was letting people down if I told them I was second guessing myself, or that I hadn't booked any consulting clients that month, or that I had no idea what I was doing half of the time. I put this enormous amount of pressure on myself to make everyone else comfortable with my decision, and eventually I basically cracked. Over time I've learned to just be honest—it's much easier!

I've also struggled quite a bit with balance and routine—outside of the typical workday constraints I found I had no idea how to schedule my day. I ended up working all of the time (but didn't get anything done half of the time) and was always overwhelmed. It seems so obvious now, but adhering to a strict morning workout schedule, only checking work email when I'm at a computer and able to respond, and turning off my computer by 9 p.m. and my phone by 10 p.m. have done wonders for my productivity, health and sanity.

A lot of times, the retail industry and understanding how our goods are made can feel a bit like a mystery. What are three things we should know about the retail and manufacturing industries that can help us become better shoppers.

Becoming a responsible, mindful shopper seems difficult (on top of all of the other things we are responsible for and supposed to be thoughtful about!) but it really doesn't have to be.

My number one rule is that if something seems to good to be true, it most likely is. Recently I overheard a woman talking about the cute dress she had just bought for $13... while she was waiting to pay for her $6 latte. Doesn't it seem incredible that a dress that covers your entire body (I hope!) would be the same price as two drinks? It should! Companies are always going to make money, so when something is that cheap, it's likely because the quality is low or the product was made irresponsibly - or both!

Next, look for brands and retailers that value transparency and clearly state where a product comes from. I do my best to support American made whenever possible, but I'm also happy to buy from brands that produce in any of the higher wage countries (France, Australia, Canada, and Japan are the most common) (source: http://www.bloomberg.com/visual-data/best-and-worst//highest-minimum-wage-countries). And just because a product is made somewhere else does not always mean it was made poorly or irresponsibly. I've found that if a brand mentions the country of production (COP) or of origin (COO) or discusses manufacturing processes on their website or within their social channels, you can typically trust them to manufacture responsibly across the board.

Last, a quote from Dame Vivienne Westwood: "Buy less, choose well, make it last." Really, she says it so well. We don't need anything else!

We love the way you dig in and tell the stories behind the American made brands you admire. What are some of the things you’re most excited about right now in the world of locally produced products?

I'm so excited about the collaboration that's happening between various makers and even some independent shops—people are partnering and creating incredible new products and also helping each other grow in a really natural manner. Synergy is such a lame, corporate America word but it truly defines what is happening within these partnerships and it's so fun to watch.

I'm also really thrilled that it's becoming easier than ever to find locally made products and so many more people are talking about it... my goal has always been for The American Edit to become redundant, because it was so easy to shop responsibly, and while we aren't there yet, I'm happy that it gets a bit easier every year.

We’re big fans of having a few cherished words and phrases to get us through our days. Do you have a mantra you live by?

"Believe in yourself and your friends."

I came across this Jimmy Marble sign at a store in LA right after leaving my corporate job to start The American Edit. I'd been overcome with anxiety and self doubt and sometimes couldn't get out of bed because I was so scared and overwhelmed by all of the work I had to do but I saw this and it was one of those things that I kept coming back to in the following weeks. I'm proud to call some pretty amazing people my friends—and they believed in me. And so even though I was scared and didn't believe in myself, I realized that if these smart people believed in me, I could too.

Lastly, what’s next for The American Edit?

Such a good question! I've taken some time off from blogging over the last year due to client work and personal obligations but I'm re-focusing my efforts because there are just too many good makers, products and stories to share. Also, I'm in the midst of launching a podcast, because truthfully, the best way to hear the story behind a product is from the maker herself!

p.s. Want to learn more about Rita’s journey? You can listen to her recent interview on the Creating Your Own Path podcast!