It’s thought to be Anne Frank who wrote, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world”, and it’s Talita Estelle who is putting that into practice. However cynical you may pride yourself on being, there are rare occasions when you meet someone who singularly restores your faith in vanishing human qualities such as kindness and generosity. Being introduced to this businesswoman, founder of online fashion retail store Esther Boutique, happened to be one of those occasions.
Perhaps introduced is not quite accurate; we never formally shook hands or exchanged appraising glances over ice-breaking banter about the weather. In fact, when we first made contact, Talita – who opened her first retail store at age 18 and seven years later expanded to Esther Boutique – was in the Caribbean navigating Aruba’s vexingly unreliable Internet coverage. A small island 29km north of Venezuela’s coastline, home to a jagged fringe of spectacular coral reef, playful aquatic fauna and cacti, Aruba is almost a signal dead zone, which makes it a paradisiac haven for disconnecting.
Naturally, Talita was there to slow down and exhale; to scissor out sand angels and kick about in briny, dappled ocean. Last year it was France and Italy, the year before that, Bali. Travel and new cultures, she confides, unfurl her inspiration, and inspiration fuels the intensely creative process of choosing and cultivating a pioneering, classy and affordable sartorial range. “The buying process for Esther is the most exciting part of the [job],” says Talita. “I’m very creative and feel inspired by so many things around me. I travel a lot so am always in a different part of the world where I see fashion that daily inspires me. I feel most creative when I’m travelling and cooking.” In one respect, Talita is exactly as you would expect a contender in the fashion industry to be: athletically sinuous, immaculately presented with aspects of her looks that are intensely disarming.
But then she opens her mouth and shares her ideology, and the whole shameful expectation that she might also be inwardly focused is dashed. She talks of selflessness and kindness before explaining how she strives to make her life and business outwork them at all times. “Kindness is the most important quality you can possess!” she declares.
“Do unto others as you want done to you. I believe this for my company ethics, the way my staff behave, the way we portray ourselves through social media, the look and feel of the website, our customer care and even down to the way we package our parcels. We put encouraging quote stickers on our parcels and all through our media, and include information on [charities we support] in the boxes to raise awareness.”
But Esther’s mushrooming popularity (40 per cent of sales are now from overseas shoppers) has little to do with karma or a pat on the back from the universe for her benevolence. It comes from hard work, self-belief and a solid framework of integrity. “Each year I travel to developing countries,” explains Talita. “Next year I’m venturing into Cambodia to assist financially in building shelters for rescued victims [of human trafficking] and to visit our affiliated organisations to offer support.” Project Futures, A21, Child Wise and the Mae Tao Clinic are causes Talita cares deeply about and financially supports by donating a small portion of every Esther sale. While the Mae Tao Clinic on the Thai-Burmese border works to prevent maternal and infant mortality, the rest collectively focus on ending human trafficking, the sex slave industry and child abuse.
“Customers have the opportunity to choose which charity we give to and also have the opportunity to donate more. Supporting women and children who have less opportunity than we do is so important. “I feel it’s my duty to take responsibility to help them either get out of a situation or to encourage them and give them some kind of hope. If, for now, this is only through financial enablement then that’s perfect! I believe in life we are all here to plant seeds of hope; every little thing we do can make a difference.”
In Esther’s case, the difference is an admirably big one. With thousands of dollars already donated to worthy recipients, every purchaser has inadvertently helped someone in some way. An impressive effort, considering altruism was not Talita’s principle motivation for launching Esther. “I first started Esther because of my passion to have my own business and be my own boss,” she says. “I could see a gap in the market for women’s dresses. I knew in my heart Esther would be successful.
“Not out of an arrogant mindset; I just knew there was some kind of blessing over the path I was taking by starting this company, and over the passion I had for the future, leading by example, investing in women and also in the product we are selling. As much as we can, we ensure our garments are sourced from Fairtrade suppliers. “Fashion plays an important part in my life as I feel you can express yourself by the way you dress and the way you present yourself. I feel it is important to look after yourself both physically and in overall appearance. It shows you have self-respect and take pride in who you are. Esther is all about the modest, caring woman and I feel this sets us apart.”
“The boutique is named after an ancient queen in the Bible,” concludes Talita. “She was crowned because of her beauty. In her story she actually risked her life to save a nation of people. She was passionate, caring, brave, humble and had true beauty from within. “I felt the name Esther encapsulated everything I wanted my company to represent. Those who sacrifice their own needs and desires every day for others are my biggest inspiration.”