When people think of the words “ethical” or “moral,” we may not always add where we spend our money as part of the equation. Through fashion and promoting ethically made products, one woman wants communities to start thinking about their decisions differently. While she doesn’t think of herself as a “social warrior” in day-to-day life, Jennifer Hinze is the recipient of this year’s Socially Responsible Entrepreneur Award because her actions, thoughtfulness and careful considerations speak for themselves. Located on Turner Street in Lansing, Hinze’s business, Polka Dots Boutique, takes fashion to the next level by promoting ethically sourced products.
“Some people only care about the price tag and whether that price tag is what they want to pay or not — they don’t think of where that shirt was made or how that purse was manufactured. So, part of my work is getting that message out,” said Hinze.
Hinze was previously an administrator for nine years at a small law firm before opening her business. She always wanted to work for herself, however, at least before she turned 40. From that law background, she developed and enshrined a few skills that have extended to her entrepreneurial success: human resources, managing expenses and staff, etc.
“I had no retail background, so it wasn’t a natural thing for me, but I figured it out,” said Hinze. “From my background, I knew I could run a business. It was more, ‘What do I want to put out there as far as retail?’”
When a space opened for purchase, Hinze knew it was time to utilize those essential business talents in her favor. Clothes were always a passion of hers, but it was her research into how some of the nation’s favorite clothes are actually put together and by whom that helped strengthen her sense of doing good through the boutique.
“Realizing a person may make 3 cents on a shirt that sells for say $50 was heartbreaking. The majority doesn’t go to the person putting in the work, doing the same thing repeatedly, which is fine but ethically needs a more balanced pay to making a living,” Hinze said. “Some countries have such laws and regulations that there are even children making these.”
Hinze became passionate about it the more she researched. While she does have strong opinions, she’s never considered herself much of an advocate. Through her initiative as an entrepreneur, however, she was able to create a mechanism to do her part toward the areas that touch her heart most, promoting clothing and other items that are ethically made.
In addition to her goal of transitioning Polka Dots to exclusively vetted and ethically made products, Hinze hopes to continue working with local organizations such as House of Promise. Her business goal is to donate 10 percent of her profits each year to a local nonprofit.
“There are a lot of companies that don’t want to explain their manufacturing, these are critical details and policies that aren’t always at the forefront or inquired about. So, I must still find that every single season. I don’t always like what I use for a season, but it’s going to continue to be my mission to never stop, so that every bit of what the store provides can one day be 100 percent ethically sourced and made.”
Hinze practices what she preaches, and this aspect of her is what she hopes will become a tangible example for her family to follow. Her own children can be quite involved in assisting her store efforts in a way that simply wasn’t feasible when operating in a law firm.
“With owning my own store, I can involve my children in a way I couldn’t when I worked in law, where you don’t really want your kids exposed to all that line of work can entail. But now, they can come to work with me and help try on different things and help in ways that are flexible and warming as a family,” said Hinze.
Hinze encourages fellow entrepreneurs and business owners that it’s never too late to make their own impact in the world. She encourages that they start by looking at the preciousness in their lives and finding a need that should be filled — one they are passionate about.
“I think for a substantial portion of people, we can tend to take a lot of things for granted and be absorbed in our own little world. Not everybody is able to do that, but it’s not some divide between countries; it’s a human condition,” Hinze said. “I think that’s what inspired me to go in this direction, that it could be my child or that a bad situation could be ours with a simple change of circumstance.’”