20 Questions With Dechel McKillian of Galerie.LA

Galerie.LA is one of the earliest players in the sustainable fashion game. Since their inception in 2014, they’ve grown from fashion blog to women’s fashion destination via their online shop and at their retail space in the hot new ROW DTLA. Providing beautiful, durable pieces and a space for events to raise awareness on topics ranging from sustainability to personal empowerment, this go-to shopping destination is your platform to build a more conscious life and style.

We sat down with the founder, woman extraordinaire Dechel McKillian, who has grown this badass business from the ground up. Going behind the scenes and looking at the year ahead, here’s what’s up with one of our favorite ethical fashion marketplaces:

you’ve built this incredible business. where were you before?

I was a celebrity stylist. I was working with artists like the Black Eyed Peas, Fergie, Nicki Minaj, Drake, Lionel Richie. I traveled the world with so many artists, that’s what started me on my journey to sustainability.

Photo: Dechel on Create Don’t Hate

At what moment did you decide to launch your business?

Before founding Galerie.LA while styling, I became more conscious about the impact that I had on consumers–you put something on a celebrity and it has a ripple effect to consumers. I was seeing who was making the clothes and the negative impact they had. I was also looking for a change in lifestyle, to not be traveling as much.

So I wanted to go to one company that represented my values and still as a stylist. I was going through a really long interview process, and around that time I met a woman who was going through a similar rigorous interview process.

Neither of us got hired, so we came together and said OK what can be build. What is missing out in the world. So we started dreaming up something that we didn’t see out there. She ended up moving back home to Switzerland with her husband, but I saw that we had created a great business plan with images, the whole 9. I asked myself, do I continue and build this from the ground up? And that’s what I did.

Being a woman business owner, what are unique challenges you’ve faced?

The main challenge, one being a woman and two being into sustainability is funding. Also being a black woman. You’re entering the space and talking about sustainable fashion as an emerging marketplace in a very white male driven finance world. It’s definitely tougher.

So many people will say no to black, to woman, and to sustainability.

You have to be creative and figure out different business solutions to get the business off the ground. Whereas I’ve seen with other white males it’s been easier to access capital to grow a sustainable fashion company.

Photo: Nature + Intent

What do you love most about your business?

I’m living what was written down on paper and bringing it to life. I love seeing my vision being fulfilled every day. I really love the collaboration that exists among people who are in sustainable fashion. Pursuing different ways of production. In general the fashion industry is very closed. You know, “my ideas, mine mine mine.” Whereas everyone in sustainability is working to a common goal of making fashion in a responsible way. There’s a sharing resources and collaborating on events. We’re moving in the same way that benefits people and the planet and I don’t think that exists in anything in the conventional fashion industry.

What’s something most people don’t know about Galerie.LA?

There’s quite a few things! We’ve been around since 2015. We launched as a sustainable fashion blog and developed a sustainable value badge system from the go. That badge system has been adopted by so many other retailers in the space over the years. I like to think we’re one of the pioneers to this new language of using badges to explain production methods.

Do you feel like marketing yourself as sustainable has helped or hurt?

The big picture and the only one that exists for Galerie.LA is sustainability. That’s our core, that’s why we exist. It’s only helped us because there are a million other retailers in the world. Very few are promoting sustainable fashion. It only helps consumers to know the story about their garments before purchasing.

How can sustainable brands compete in the crowded marketplace?

First and foremost, understand and set the goal for what kind of company you want to be. Do you want to be a million dollar company or a 10 million dollar company?

Once you establish those goals it allows you to not have a competitive mindset and grow your business and decide where you want to be and how you position yourself.

Candidly, what do you think about the fashion cycle?

The traditional fashion calendar has 5 seasons. And that’s A LOT in production. Constantly. So if you’re a fashion brand and we’re in August you’re already planning for Spring and getting that in motion. So I think the fashion cycle just moves so fast. It’s one that relies on people to constantly be buying something. But the conscious consumer is not as concerned with trends and buying over and over. They’re focusing on, “what do I need? What do I love and what is going to last the longest?” It’s a different kind of process.

Photo: Dechel pairs a well-fitted, bright colored dress with a highly textured purse for contrast.

Can fast fashion industry ever fix itself?

I don’t think so. The reason I don’t think so is because of the way these companies have existed and run for so long. So for instance you take an H&M who is probably in the billion dollar range. So in order to get there you have to be constantly selling so much stuff. The production needs to be constant. They have so many factories all over the world and are losing track of their materials. They are just so disconnected from sustainability.

They’re always having a sustainable summit, or whatever, but at the end of the day the amount of clothing brands like H&M are producing is counter productive.

They can’t fix the fast fashion cycle. And so I don’t think that’s their goal. It will always be focused on earning more revenue. We need an outside legislation in place that manages factories around the world. There’s no way to fix it unless there are laws.

How is the industry moving forward?

My view is very optimistic. I think the conversation is happening a lot more. Because people are more aware. Seeing films like The True Cost, RiverBlue and Made in Sri Lanka out there. There’s a light bulb that’s starting to happen.

A consumer might not change right away, but the awareness is there and that creates the desire to change. Human behavior is based on change.

Once people start to change their buying habits and shopping more sustainably then the companies will change.

Photo: Can’t go wrong with a black, elegant romper and white kitten heel slip-ons.

For the new sustainable shopper, top styling tips?

Especially for women, if you are more trend based, focus on buying things that you see and like on influencers. That’s a good place. Start to get things that you actually need and not just want. Start to look at where your items were made. Their messages on practices.

The ones that are transparent are the ones I look most to.

Also starting to buy things that are pre-loved, you can get luxury brand bags, for example, at a lower price at vintage and thrift shops. There are so many ways to adopt a sustainable practice. I recommend picking one new thing and letting that expand. It’s like going from someone who eats meat to being vegan. You have to figure out the recipes that are good for your body and that gets you into this new world.

For the seasoned ethical clothing shopper, top styling tips?

Keeping going, and how do you take it to another level? How can you utilize what’s already in your closet and create new styles just from that? If you’re already seasoned you’re still shopping but the idea is to slow that shopping cycle. Reinvent the pieces you have instead of buying buying buying.

Where do you shop?

Mainly at Galerie.LA because I’m here and I’m hand selecting all of the garments that are here. I love going to vintage stores. Again just finding very unique pieces that are pre-loved and integrating those into my closet. But honestly I don’t shop that much anymore. I shop based off of need. I have so many clothes from over the years. Now, I’m less focused on consuming and more on being healthy.

Photo: Shopper rocking their new purchase at Galerie.LA

Who is your favorite designer right now?

Very much into menswear. A designer I love to follow is Raf Simons. I’ve always appreciated the construction and the color use and the fabrics. What really got me excited about fashion were designers like Alexander McQueen (RIP) that were producing collections that were out of this world.

What’s your go-to outfit?

Probably a button up with some type of skirt or pant. And a kitten heel.

Who would you love to see rocking your brands?

I think on top of my list is SZA, she’s an artist and recently launched her own sustainability collaboration with Champion, and I always felt the need to get a multi-cultured artist to get the word out.

Who’s on the Galerie.LA playlist?

We’re always playing music and it’s upbeat. Right now The Carters is on. Solange. A mix of so many great R&B artists.

Fun moment in the shop?

It’s all new so everything is so amazing. I would say our first panel in the store was so great because we had amazing brands talking about sustainability and starting their own companies. We had Kestrel from Conscious Chatter there. We had a factory auditor. It was such a diverse crowd, of 15 – 70 year olds having a conversation about sustainability and that was one of the first times it tipped me as to what this space really is and the dialogue that was happening had great impact on people’s lives.

Photo: Galerie.LA hosts events so you can grow your conscious lifestyle.

What should we stay tuned for?

We’ll be bringing on a new curation brands in September. Speaking and doing some cool things with Remode, partnering with Shopify, continuing to grow. Sometimes I don’t even know. Everything is so new, we opened in January so the opportunities that are coming are some that I couldn’t have dreamed of. They’re just appearing because we’re at the right place at the right time.

Join us in loving Galerie.LA. Follow them on Insta, and try out their online shop for your conscious closet!


Images: c/o HFS Collective; c/o Galerie.LA

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