Documentary films, while entertaining, are created with the goal of making viewers question their understanding of a certain topic, whether it’s climate change, cyber security or anything in between. Such was the case for Virginia-born Emma Kingsley after she watched The True Cost, a 2015 documentary surrounding the complex world of fast fashion, defined as the mass production of inexpensive clothing in response to the latest trends.
“It just really struck a chord,” says Emma, who now lives in Northeast DC. “It made me feel like this is a massive problem, and it’s clothes, something we engage with every day. There was just so clearly something I could do about it.”
From that point forward, Emma—alongside her mother and now business partner, Mary Kingsley, who she recruited to the cause—has dedicated her time developing Lady Farmer, a concept that started as a sustainable apparel company born in Poolesville, Maryland (right across the river from Leesburg), and has since become an all-encompassing lifestyle brand. In addition to sustainably sourced clothing (think flowy dresses and pants that combine comfort with style) and lifestyle products (all of which are available locally at Waterford-based The Corner Store and Leesburg’s WldWst), Lady Farmer produces a podcast, blog, workshops and retreats focused on slow living: The idea of paying attention to how we spend our time, money and resources in pursuit of our daily needs, and observing consumer habits and how they intersect with quality of life within a sustainable paradigm.
“Our biggest challenge is the consumer mindset,” explains Mary, who wrote The Lady Farmer Guide to Slow Living, out earlier this year, and embodies the Lady Farmer lifestyle on her farm in Poolesville. “It’s the way the system has trained us—consumers today are trained to get as much as they possibly can for the least amount of money. We’re trying to flip that on its head and say, ‘What can I get that represents a fair price for every step along the way?’ So a good price takes on a new meaning.”
A large part of Lady Farmer’s mission is ingrained in educating the local community, which Emma and Mary will continue to bolster next month (Nov. 14 and 15) with their Slow Living Retreat, taking place virtually this year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The third annual event will focus on learning new skills, practicing self-care and having community conversations with thought leaders about sustainable fashion, food and lifestyle. To kick off the weekend, each participant will receive a curated gift box in the mail containing sustainably sourced items.
“We want to teach people how to provide for themselves to a certain extent,” says Mary. “Not everyone is going to become homesteaders overnight, but you can learn basic skills to get there.” Emma adds: “We want to be your resource for how to at least start dabbling in those things, and really empower that … I live in the city and I still can be low-waste, grow herbs on my back railing, etc. That’s what the whole weekend is designed around.”
In Emma’s words, the brand is “alive,” continuing to grow both internally (the team has had to expand in the past year beyond just the Kingsley women), and through its following, which is predominantly in the DMV, but also extends nationally and internationally. Come December, Lady Farmer will expand its reach again with the launch of The Almanac, a membership platform focused on sustainable living, featuring essays, photos, how-to videos, recipes, planting calendars and more, all continuing to emphasize the importance of being mindful about what you use on a daily basis.
“We have worked so hard to keep it authentic and genuine to who we are; there’s a real mission behind it,” says Emma of the four-year-old company. “It feels like it’s its own thing that we are simply the caretakers of, and coming back to it every day is kind of the same way you would feel about watering a plant: It needs your help to take care of it. I feel responsible for it in a wonderful way.”
This story originally appeared in our October issue. For more stories like this, subscribe to Northern Virginia Magazine.