So, you only have one day to do Boston? I gotcha.
I can’t speak to the touristy stuff, but I’m sure you can turn to any number of people to find out about that oyster restaurant and in which mom-and-pop store to get a delicious (albeit not organic) pastry. I’m here to point you in the direction of the ethical and sustainable shopping.
Hey, I know shopping isn’t supposed to be a past time, but when the leaves are crunching underfoot and you want to get a flavor of Boston, there are worse ways to spend a day than walking down a street, ducking in and out of little shops – as long as they are independently owned by cool people. Boston boutique owners are genuine, friendly, and enthusiastic about supporting New England makers. With the city being so small, they also all know and support each other. So a great way to make friends is to strike up a conversation with whoever is behind the counter. They even have excellent taste in Pandora stations! Every time I walked into a store I found myself nodding my head to whatever was playing.
I recommend you start your morning in …
All of Boston is adorable, really, but Beacon Hill is especially so. You get a sense of its history as a city with a European heritage, with shop windows lining winding streets that cascade down a gently sloping hill.
The main shopping drag is Charles Street. It’s full of great vintage stores, and a few boutiques that the ethical aficionado must check out.
First, grab a healthy smoothie from…
120 Charles St.
to fuel you on your journey south down the street. Even as a New Yorker, I was surprised by the variety of smoothie combinations on the menu, and gratified to see composting and recycling receptacles inside the tiny, bright store.
Then head to …
88 Charles St.
Whoa, Boston, didn’t know you had it in you! This edgy little shop features handmade leather masks, Titania Inglis leather jackets, French linens, framed butterflies from butterfly sanctuaries around the world, and other special objects. Why the employee couldn’t say what was sustainable and what wasn’t, every time I picked something up, she immediately listed off its maker, materials, and provenance. This shop clearly cares about where its items come from.
70 Charles Street
OK, so the sales associate in this upper-end store had no earthly clue what I was talking about when I asked her about sustainable brands. But if you know what to look for, it’s there. dress carries many independent brands that are made in the U.S. or have a social element, like Cooper and Elle, Emerson Fry, Mother, NSF, Sundry, Frank and Eileen, and James Perse. I picked up a high-fashion, dreamily soft sweatshirt by NSF made with cotton and modal.
65 Charles Street
(second location 53 Dartmouth Street)
Follain is the Gaelic word for healthy, wholesome, and sound, and this shop embodies that with its selection of skincare and beauty products. Everything is made in the U.S. with non-toxic ingredients, and all the packaging is sustainable – either glass or non-leaching recycled plastic containers. I recognized some favorites of mine: SW Basics, Herbivore Botanicals, Kahina, Jane Iredale, Soapwalla, Meow Meow Tweet, LURK, Jane Iredale, and on and on and on. Only the best from each brand is featured to cut down on confusion, and each shelf runs from dry skin on the left to oily skin on the right for easy perusing.
Still, I was overwhelmed by the options, so owner Tara Foley was nice enough to listen to my skin laments and current routine, and recommend a couple of products for me that I could integrate into a holistic skincare routine. In the back you can find men’s products and bath and body, or just stop in to refill your hand pump with some scented soaps for a third of the price. Consider this your Sephora of ultra-clean beauty. (Bonus! There are other locations in D.C. and Nantucket, and you can shop online, too!)
Head across the street to grab lunch at …
70 Charles Street
What Instagram bait! This beautiful cafe has plenty of seating at rustic wood tables, black and white tiling, pretty French-style desserts like clafoutis and tarts, coffee, tea, salads, sandwiches, and brunch items like muesli and croque monseiur. The special listed the day I went was a warm duck confit salad.
All full? Take a walk, rent a bike, or hail a cab to take you to ..
The South End
“Really, your best bet for finding makers and indie designers is to walk around the South End and pop into some of the stores,” Shannon Whitehead of the ethical fashion accelerator Factory45 told me via email when I asked for tips. “It’s also a beautiful neighborhood.” She was right. It is packed with cute little stores that kept me busy for a solid four hours. And I’m an efficient shopper! I started down south on Tremont and worked my way north, beginning my journey at …
764 Tremont Street
About 2 years old, this shop revolves around vintage furniture and art that has been reworked by the dreamy owner Justin (he’s taken, unfortunately). But don’t think you have to be decorating your home to be interested in stopping by, he also sells some little items that you can put in your pocket, like candles from Syracuse, letterpress cards and posters, coffee table books, Maak soaps from Portland, Oregon, Pendleton blankets, and bottle openers. It leans to the manly side. Just make sure to ask whether it’s made in the U.S., since not everything is.
623 Tremont St.
I was so pleased to meet Sophie, the owner of this gift shop that gracefully balances between chic and twee. She is a enthusiastic purveyor of gifts by independent makers: toys, craft and fair trade foods like chocolate and coffee, wall hangings, jewelry, soap, art, tarot cards – everything for the modern woman and her baby and her friends. You honestly cannot go wrong in here.
619 Tremont St.
Find lush, green house plants, air plants, palms, succulents, cacti, and containers of all sorts, from simple white planters, to glass terrariums, gold pots, and handmade hanging wooden and ceramic pots. If you’re just visiting, pick up a tiny brass and glass pyramid air plant container or a concrete bud vase to pack in your bag.
577 Tremont St.
This lumberjack/fisherman style shop is most definitely for men, with flannel shirts, wool jackets, selvage jeans, leather accessories, men’s grooming items, and tobacco + patchouli scented candles. Almost all of the items are made in the U.S. and many are made right nearby in New England.
At this point you’re going to veer off of Tremont. Feeling peckish? Stop in…
This shop overflows with artisan food, cheeses, wine, a whole shelf of olive oils, coffee, and baked goods. It’s like the Bedford Cheese Shop in NYC, except even more stuff is crammed inside. While I suspect this shop is best visited if you are planning a grand dinner or going on a picnic, you can definitely find something yummy and unique to put in your stomach before you head across the street to …
274 Shawmut Ave
This cozy shopped carries cute clothing and accessories with a boho flair, with brands like Cleobella, Erica Werner, Raven + Lily, Artemis Designs, and Alchemy. Not all the items sold are conscious, so check tags and ask questions – the sales associate when I was there was knowledgeable and happy to oblige.
1409 Washington St.
“It’s best women’s clothing store in the city,” Sophie from Olives and Grace told me. “It’s so dope.” Viola Lovely is a large store with sophisticated, high-end fashion featuring clean and sharp lines. Owner Lisa is very conscious of the issues in fashion, and has dropped certain brands before when she can’t get answers about production. So feel free to ask questions – they should be able to direct you to some amazing ethical labels like Citizens of Humanity, Marisa Webb, Colleen Cordero, Frank and Eileen, Raquel Allegra, and Rachel Comey. Go ready to splurge on an investment piece.
Clearly, you’re not going to just shop during your visit to Boston. So go get your culture on. There are several museums, but the one I was most enthusiastically recommended was:
This sumptuous mansion-villa features a mish-mash of famous works of art by John Singer Sargent, James McNeill Whistler, and Henry James, plus obscure drawings, pieces from Asian antiquity, and Renaissance statues. The centerpiece is a gorgeous courtyard filled with lush, flowering plants and female statuary collected from Europe. The whole thing is the work of Mrs. Gardner, who designed her home to be eventually turned into a museum. It reflects her personal taste and eclecticism, plus speaks to a strong, proto-feminist who flouted convention and sought out art featuring strong females. Take a whole day to visit, see the art, venture through the new gallery that has contemporary exhibitions, relax in the outdoor garden, have a nice lunch in the restaurant and look through gift shop for an inspirational tome on flowers or art.
Places I Didn’t Have Time to Visit
Bee’s Knees Supply Company – I was told by a sustainable foodie that this gourmet market will blow your mind.
Coppa – the little sister restaurant to the famous (and famously busy) Toro. One person said was even better than the original. I ended up visiting a friend in Cambridge for dinner, but it’s at the top of my list when I go back!
Farm and Fable – carries vintage cookbooks and high-end kitchenware.