Small Business Spotlight: Judith & Joe Is Sustainably Stylish

Brandee Castle and Sara Graf of Judith & Joe.
Brandee Castle and Sara Graf of Judith & Joe. Brandee Castle
At first glance, Judith & Joe appears like a beautifully edited Instagram dreamscape. But behind the curated refinery is a business built with great intention and deep community commitment.

Brandee Castle and business partner Sara Graf met while working in the energy sector. Together they took their fantastic sense of style — and a passion for fashion — and bought a retrofitted mobile shop that would be their vehicle into small-business ownership. For their inventory, they selected beautiful apparel, jewelry, greeting cards and more made by companies that give back or have sustainable practices. But they soon realized the van was more of a struggle bus than the dream ride they had envisioned, and vendor markets charge small businesses hefty fees, especially those with a vehicle as their setup.

Their goal became opening a brick-and-mortar location, which became a reality in 2016. The store provided a permanent and more spacious place to sell their elegant selections for women and men, and to offer a monthly subscription box, which includes “three ethically made pieces of clothing styled personally for customers based on the style profile they fill out online,” Castle says.

The reality of starting a small business today often requires owners to have a side hustle and, more often, multiple hustles. Graf does much of the behind-the-scenes, back-end business operations while maintaining a full-time outside job; last year she added "mom" to her roster of rock-star roles. At one point, Castle had five side jobs, which included years as a DJ on Colorado’s Open Air, where she was a fan favorite with her hip-hop playlists and accessible radio voice. She also worked at a branding firm, did freelance social media, managed an event center and worked in apartment management. The store is now her full-time work.

We caught up with the owners of Judith & Joe to talk about what's in store at their shop.

click to enlarge Judith & Joe staff member Kelly Rosztoczy showing a piece from People Tree. - ERIKA RIGHTER
Judith & Joe staff member Kelly Rosztoczy showing a piece from People Tree.
Erika Righter

Westword: What is the mission behind Judith & Joe?

Brandee Castle: At its heart, Judith & Joe has always strived for ethical sustainability. We focus on low waste and local designers whenever we can. But we’re also about treating people ethically. We want to be fair to our employees and be good stewards of their time. And we do it all with style, of course. This explains the beautiful piece on the wall that says "STYLE. PEOPLE. PLANET."

Who is the typical customer for Judith & Joe?

Our customers do NOT have to know all the things about sustainability to shop here— but if they want to learn a bit more about how we do things, we love to educate them. Our style and vibe is timeless, fresh and current. We have women’s sizes from XS to XL and for men we have from SM to XXL. We have a section on our website that caters to a more genderless fit, and we have many pieces that will work for those who identify as nonbinary.

What is your favorite thing that customers do in the store that makes you still love it?

I love it when I see a customer come in and take a deep breath. Like they’re really “here” for the experience. We work hard to provide a good energy in the shop, and I want them to be delighted, at peace and curious about the products. I like that you all make it clear that you don’t expect perfection when it comes to what it means to be an ethical company.

Do people seek out information about the ethical components?

Most of our customers come to us just walking around in the neighborhood, so they’re not always aware of it at first. But as they look around and check out products, they can see on all of the tags, there is an element of consciousness and intention from the companies. And then there are those who follow our social media and seek us out because of the brands we carry and the journey we are on.
click to enlarge Purpose jewelry made by women escaping human trafficking. - ERIKA RIGHTER
Purpose jewelry made by women escaping human trafficking.
Erika Righter

What is your favorite gift idea for a friend going through a stressful time?

I love our subscription service. I recently had someone purchase a subscription for someone coming out of a domestic-violence situation, and so she got three months of customized, styled clothing. We also have really great ethical self-care items like bath salts [and] candles, and, of course, great greeting cards. The cost is $79, and each box includes a gift, and all clothes are included in the price. Customers can return items they don’t love or that don’t fit for store credit. The subscription box is only available for female-identifying customers at this time.

What is your favorite gift idea for someone who is hard to buy for?

We just ask questions! I’ve even been known to ask to see the Instagram of the person they’re shopping for, and then we can get a sense of their vibe and find something in the shop that matches that. People think they’re hard to shop for, but you just have to do a little research.
click to enlarge Kelly Rosztoczy packs up a purchase. - ERIKA RIGHTER
Kelly Rosztoczy packs up a purchase.
Erika Righter

What are the most underreported challenges of going through COVID with a brick-and-mortar store?

We had no guidance. I seriously only knew about any resources available to us because I have a relationship with my banker. We had no clue where to learn about mask mandate changes, requirements or local efforts. We were expected to seek it out, which was not reasonable. But on the flip side, it was the incredible, loyal, amazing customers who saved us. We owe them the world, and it was the most humbling experience of my life. We also are deeply connected to our community of fellow small-business owners who text and call and share the resources they found out about. I don’t think people know how much we really respect and rely on each other. We’re about community over competition.

What are the awesome things about owning a shop that most people would be surprised to find out?

My staff is my absolute favorite part of owning this business. We’ve built an amazing, close-knit connection. It’s absolutely my favorite part of the whole thing. We currently have four employees.

What has changed in the sustainable, ethical landscape since you started?

Well the biggest change is that now it’s cool! There was a reputation for things being very elitist, very white and very expensive. Thankfully, brands now have to answer way more questions, because these younger generations are just not having it when it comes to the “old ways” of fast fashion and ethical business practices.

I want to be clear that we are still learning every day about best practices. I wouldn’t say we have our Ph.D. in it, but we definitely have our graduate degree, and we’re always modifying our practices in this work. We also learn so much from others out there doing the work, and when we make a misstep, we correct immediately and will share that knowledge with our customers.

Judith & Joe, 3040 Blake Street #100, open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.
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