Shifra Whiteman, 28, grew up in an activist family in Queens, New York, where she was taught to make a difference in the world. As she grew older, she went into design, but couldn’t figure out how to incorporate her passion for giving back into her career.
When she moved to Chicago in 2011 started freelancing for fair trade fashion and accessories companies, she found her true calling. After doing this for a few years, she wanted to build her own business.
“I decided to take a deep breath, take my designs, and partner up with my sister Leah and a friend and create some sort of collaborative fashion line that reflects our style,” said Whiteman in a telephone interview.
The result of their efforts is Pintl + Keyt, an ethical fashion line for women. The clothes feature original designs by the Whiteman sisters along with their partner, printmaker Katie Chappuis. They sell clothes that are made in New Delhi at WORK+SHELTER, a nonprofit factory that employs 15 women full-time. “They provide a safe work environment,” said Whiteman, adding, “We asked Indresh Saluja of Life Skills Consultants Pvt. to give us his opinion and findings regarding safety of the space and state of the women. In addition to that, we toured the facility and met the ladies through Skype and ultimately trust their standards.”
To ensure that their manufacturing processes are green, Whiteman said they use organic fabric and the digital printing method. This means that they only print the amount of fabric they need to make their clothes, and don’t end up wasting a lot of materials.
Recently, Pintl + Keyt was accepted as the newest member of Chicago Fair Trade, “a coalition that provides awareness about and building support for fair trade and its principles of environmental sustainability, ethical production methods, fair wages, and safe working conditions,” said Whiteman. Chicago, coincidentally, is the number one fair trade city in the United States.
The Yiddish name Pintl + Keyt embodies the brand’s mission statement as well. According to Whiteman, whose first language was Yiddish and whose family was a big part of the nonprofit social justice and Jewish cultural group The Workmen’s Circle, pintl means “dot” and keyt loosely translates to “a link or connection.” She said, “You can’t start a design without a point or a dot. The keyt represents the link and connection between all our communities — the women who are making the product, us, and the consumers purchasing and wearing it.”
While both Whitemans live in Chicago, Chappuis is based out of Berlin. They all have jobs to support themselves, and each one has a hand in the design and marketing aspects of their company. “We design together in our own style and pass it on to another person in the group to play around with,” said Whiteman. “We talk through marketing and photo-shoots together. We’re all working collaboratively on it.”
Currently, Pintl + Keyt sells nine different items of clothing, ranging from $80 to $120 per piece. They have three designs available on their skirts, dresses, and tops, and are looking to expand their collection in the spring and summer of next year.
Whiteman said she believes that people will want to wear Pintl + Keyt’s clothing because they are drawn to their designs, and they want to make both fashion and social justice statements with their clothing. “We hope that people will be inspired by the fact that their purchase can really make a difference in not just changing the course of the industry itself, but by sharing the message with someone else.”
Whiteman imagines big things for her brand beyond the clothing line. She said she aims to start producing accessories and home goods, and to make running the business her full-time job. “Fashion is just the start. We would hope to expand with other awesome products that are fun, cool, comfortable and ethical.”
The designer knows, however, that because of her dedication to ethical fashion, her journey may take a little longer than usual. “We want to grow organically and make sure it’s right for the women we’re employing and our customers,” she said. “We’d rather be safe and grow slowly than push to go big real fast and then who knows what.”
Wherever Pintl + Keyt goes in the future, Whiteman wants to make a difference in the fashion industry, and communicate to customers how important it is to buy ethical clothing.
“I am a firm believer that everyone should be treated with respect and earn the wages that are fair,” she said. “It’s very difficult for me to read about factories that come crashing down because there is more emphasis on making sure the job gets on time than a human life. Humans should be aware of that and think about their actions when they are purchasing something.”
Kylie Ora Lobell is a super Jewess and freelance writer living in Los Angeles. She’s been published in The Washington Post, The Jewish Journal of LA, Tablet Magazine, Aish, and Chabad.