To the financial firms rushing to evaluate blockchain technology, the idea of bitcoin as a distributed global currency often appears threatening, or at least in opposition to the needs of consumers and a long-established set of rules for governing the financial system.
But where they see an idea and culture opposed to government, proponents often argue that bitcoin should be best considered as a means of individual empowerment.
Steps from Wall Street, it’s this message that is resonating in surprising places, from small business owners to independent fashion designers who see bitcoin as a force of social good.
Although their aesthetics differ greatly, both Alisha Trimble of I Love You Bedford and Sylvia Heisel of HEISEL now accept bitcoin from their customers due to their alignment with the digital currency and its larger ethos.
While visitors to Trimble’s Williamsburg boutique are treated to a colorful display of femininity, the design lab of HEISEL in lower Manhattan is incredibly minimalistic. Yet beneath the surface of their designs lies a common interest in embracing both social good and digital currency.
The name of Trimble’s boutique loudly proclaims her feelings for its location on Bedford Avenue, the main street of the Williamsburg neighborhood in Brooklyn. “I like that Williamsburg is still unpredictable,” she said.
Trimble told CoinDesk:
"In my creative process, there's often an element of spontaneity that sparks the creativity."
It was also that element of unpredictability that initially drew Trimble to bitcoin. She first learned about it from one of the jewelry designers whose work she stocks in the store and was drawn to the stories of its price fluctuation.
I Love You Bedford opened its doors in July of 2015, and by November of the same year, Trimble had set up a bitcoin wallet to allow customers to pay with the currency for any of the products in her store. She advertised her decision to accept bitcoin by hanging up posters along the streets of Williamsburg.
"One thing I like about accepting bitcoin is that it’s safer than cash. I’m a women-owned business, and I’m here alone all the time, so I almost never accept cash because it’s a security risk," Trimble commented.
If I Love You Bedford stands out for its intricate femininity, the HEISEL line’s distinction lies in its focus on emerging technology. Heisel keeps up with new technologies by reading newsletters and attending conferences, acknowledging that technology has huge potential to have a serious impact on the fashion industry.
Although Heisel was uncertain of exactly where she first heard about bitcoin, her discovery of the digital currency came from her immersion within the technology world.
"I do a lot of research with how technology can affect consumers. One of the things that’s so cool with bitcoin is that it’s a way to change how corrupt getting things made in a lot of countries is. It opens up the conversation: Why should governments control our money?" she said.
Focus on sustainability
Williamsburg, the Brooklyn neighborhood in which I Love You Bedford resides, is one known for its spotlight on artisanal, local and eco-friendly products, and Trimble draws inspiration with respect to sustainability from her spot on Bedford Avenue.
The boutique’s website highlights that the products are locally crafted and "created from the best quality conflict-free materials". Most of the designers that Trimble highlights in the store's rotating inventory use textiles, beads and other materials sourced directly from the area.
The HEISEL line is made with new sustainable fabrics such as Polartec, Tyvek, and Cuben Fiber. The materials are often discovered at industrial trade shows and chosen for their low impact on the environment and their transparent supply chain.
"Sustainability has to be a given in anything we do now. It’s really important to know your supply chain. I have to know where the fabric is coming from – and the consumer has a right to know, too. There aren’t any perfect solutions right now, but technology can make it better. I’m really interested in how technologies can be used to make our lives more sustainable."
The idea of authenticity is increasingly resonating with millennials, as studies have shown the generation responds well to sustainable companies. In a recent survey conducted by the Natural Marketing Institute, 51% of millennials surveyed stated that they would pay more money for a sustainable product.
It is the same idea of authenticity that draws so many to the bitcoin community. As traditional banking institutions lose the trust of the millennial generation, bitcoin emphasizes the transparency of all transactions available through its blockchain.
A focus on constructing positive change in today’s world drives both the bitcoin movement and the sustainability movement, creating a significant degree of overlap in the populations supporting each.
In support of this overlap, Heisel’s interest in social good meshes well with the elements of bitcoin that most appeal to her.
"If you’re working in Third World countries, in places where the person doing the work for something doesn’t always get paid, bitcoin provides an alternative. And I think that’s amazing," she said.
Bitcoin for merchants
The HEISEL line has seen a few bitcoin purchases since the initial decision to accept the currency. The brand has taken advantage of opportunities to display the products at bitcoin-centric events, most recently at a bitcoin art show at Rabbithole in Brooklyn.
Heisel sees more merchants beginning to accept bitcoin in the future: "It’s pretty easy for most websites to accept bitcoin at this point."
I Love You Bedford is still awaiting their first bitcoin purchase from a customer, but Trimble is excited about the prospect.
"I think [the price of bitcoin] is going to go up," she predicted. "People have more trust in it now, whereas before, they thought it was questionable. More and more people are coming to understand what it is, and you’re going to see more people buying into it."
Trimble encourages other merchants to begin accepting bitcoin in their retail locations. She believes that by accepting bitcoin, a merchant is also playing an important part in raising the general population’s awareness of digital currency and increasing customers’ desires to learn more about it.
“If a merchant asked me if they should accept bitcoin, I’d say there’s no reason not to,” she said.
Images courtesy of Emily Faber