“I hope you get me when I say this,”Olivia Wilde speaks from Italy, “In so many ways, this person is my person.” Not in a romantic sense, but arguably as important, a partner in business—the acclaimed director/actress/secret retail genius is referring to Babs Burchfield, the 40-year-old co-founder of the sustainable lifestyle company Conscious Commerce. The women met while on a humanitarian mission to Haiti in the indie-sleaze era. Both have the same color of blonde (beach not bleach) and both use their flaxen hairs like swishy underscores in conversation. So far, they’ve helped big brands like Audi, H&M, and Anthropologie make better choices for the planet. “But our end goal is Bali,”Burchfield. Adds Olivia with a smile: “We’re gonna be the Golden Girls there, right?”
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The duo also found Bali, where they were able to find their latest project, which was a collection with the sustainably-certified label. Cleobella. Created by another pair of star-crossed style gurus, Ange and Jim O’Brien, the line of dresses has the general vibes of “Laurel Canyon flower therapist, but make it fashion,”All are made with organic cotton in Bali and India and fair-trade labor. Among the eight pieces are a breezy nap dress, a sexy crochet cover-up, and an oversized button-down that—spoiler alert—you may recognize in Don’t Worry Darling.
Here’s what Wilde and Burchfield had to say about sex appeal that lasts, clothes that are kind, and how to find friends who will never tell lies.
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You’ve been best friends and business partners for 10 years. How did you know it’d be a match?
Olivia Wilde We were all on our way to Haiti together. Babs was the head of an organization called Artists for Peace and Justice… She was such a baller, in terms of running this organization, being an authentic human, having a full creative vision, and raising money and doing outreach without being smarmy at all. I was in awe.
Babs Burchfield That’s such a good word, “smarmy!” Ugh, yeah. There’s a lot of that in philanthropy, and Hollywood in general. I hate it.
OW: At that time, people weren’t necessary thinking of me being business-minded, but I Really am. And she really is, in exactly the same way… It shouldn’t be hard to know where your clothes come from.
BB: Now you can’t go for coffee without them telling you, “The beans are from here. They’re responsibly harvested. They benefit this community.” But when we started, it wasn’t that way! We were like: “We’d be so much more inclined to invest in fashion if they showed us where our dollars were going.” I’ve been on factory tours [of some fast fashion facilities], and it’s horrific. The conditions, the wastewater; you can’t unsee it. Healthy people and a healthy planet must go hand in hand. That’s not optional. Everyone says they’re “sustainable,”But no. The future is regenerative. It must put resources back into the Earth and into communities.
Are you finding social media easier or more difficult to accomplish your mission?
OW: We’re trying to encourage people to be more thoughtful about what they wear And how they buy it. We love this Cleobella collection because it’s both timeless and it’s on trend. It’s meant to last you multiple seasons, multiple adventures… But now, on Instagram, there’s a culture of taking pictures of in a different outfit all the time, and trying to prove that you’re constantly a new version of yourself. This can still be done with lighting, camera angle, and styling.
BB: [Laughs] Listen to her; she’s a director!
OW: It’s so cool to stand for something. That person getting paid to tag Forever 21 because they have an endorsement deal, and they don’t really care? They’re not standing for something. That’s the conversation we’re fighting to have.
How can you embrace the idea of having new style but not necessarily new clothes all the time?
BB:I will only buy something if it is worth my time. It isn’t like, “Oh, that’s a dress I want to buy to go to Italy,”Full stop. It’s like, “Oh, pack that for Italy, then throw a sweater over it at a beach party, then do a major heel for cocktails,” right? That’s style. And there’s something very sexy about that versatility, and the intelligence you put behind it.
You started Conscious Commerce in your 20s, and you’re now in your 30s. How has your style changed over the past decade?
BB: When you’re in your 30s, I think you also have a little bit more confidence. I hope so! And it’s a very specific kind of confidence that lets you have fun because you’re finally embracing what you have… You’re the only person who knows how to be you. You should choose clothes that you like.
OW: Oh my god, my 20s! Ha! It’s interesting because Babs and I just went on a little shopping spree in London. We only visited vintage stores. And I noticed… in my late 30s, I now gravitate towards higher-end brands at vintage stores. I think this is spectacular—to be able to invest in a brand I believe in, whether it’s Alaïa or it’s Gucci, and to continue the lifecycle of a piece that has been worn, but is still incredibly intact. And even though I am not a brand whore—I Don’t give a shit about what brand I’m wearing—I do I admire the work and passion of some designers so I invest in their products. Who knows what the fourth, third, and fourth generations will look like. This is a far cry from my early 20s when I was like. “I will work any ripped tee and any shitty band T-shirt because I like the feel of it.”It’s not anymore.
How does your friendship impact your senses of style?
BB: You buy things more thoughtfully when you’ve learned that you need to trust your friends to say, “Do not buy that ugly thing; you do not need it and it will not work.”
OW:I Have It’s different shopping now, I noticed! Because I have someone I implicitly believe in telling me that I can shop now. “Olivia, do not get that. You do not need that; you do not want that.” The exact same trust that goes into running Conscious Commerce, it’s exactly that amount of trust that makes me feel really, really good in my clothes. This trust is built over many decades and can only be achieved through compassion, honesty, and understanding.
The trailer for Don’t Worry Darling It is everywhere and everyone is talking about. Is there a connection between this collection and the vintage vibes in the movie?
OW:First, Arianne Phillips is the costume designer. She has an incredible knowledge of vintage and fashion. Madonna was her first tour. She’s designed Broadway shows and films. I learned so much from her about vintage fashion after we started working together. When creating this film, we explored so many different decades in fashion. We always came back to the staple pieces, and what style has lasted. I am attracted to silhouettes that can withstand cultural change or social change. That’s what a classicIs—it’s what survives, and the idea of “what survives” is Really Interesting [in the film]. So our lead character, played by Florence Pugh, wears a white button-down men’s shirt.
OW:Thank you! When Arianne and I were creating the film, I recall thinking, We must incorporate a white button down into the filmIt is timeless and we all know it to be classic and sexy. And in 1958, when a woman putting on her husband’s shirt was equally gorgeous and flirtatious, and Somehow masculine and playful. It’s a woman taking power from a man’s work clothes. That’s important! Then, when you look at the knit dress, it’s so sexy in a retro Palm Beach kind of way… Don’t Worry Darling exists in the world of Palm Springs in the ’50s, which is all about the pool and the desert. So, absolutely, there’s a connection between the film and this capsule, and how we’re using fashion to tell the story of these people.
This interview has been edited to make it more concise.
“Her beauty and her brain go not together.” —William Shakespeare