Twins Allyson and Whitney Smith are identical in appearance, but their distinct personalities contrast in more ways than one. Whitney is a passionate shopper, and Allyson prefers spreadsheets. But what they do share is a passion for environmentalism.

Their different preferences, fueled by a common goal, have molded their success as co-owners of Rom Shop, a sustainable fashion and lifestyle boutique that opened in downtown Albany last year.

“Whitney and I complement each other very well in the business, in all ways from ideas to execution,” Allyson said. “It’s not always easy being in business with family but as twins, we have a natural partnership. We’ve been best friends our whole lives.”

The pair, who both work full-time in the music industry, launched the business when the pandemic halted work opportunities and left them with a surplus of spare time. In the frustration of online shopping hauls and endless returns, the 29-year-olds decided to create their own brand drawing inspiration from years of traveling beyond the Capital Region and identifying successful small clothing stores.

Growing up in Albany, Whitney said she would often travel 90 miles outside the city to find items she was interested in and brands that didn’t contribute to “fast fashion,” referring to the rapid production of high volumes of cheap clothing that yield an exorbitant carbon footprint. The fashion industry contributes 10 percent of annual carbon emissions, more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined, and uses 93 billion cubic metrics of water annually, enough to meet the consumption needs of five million people, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.

Rom Shop was born with the mission of providing customers with high-quality, ‘slow fashion’ clothing that minimizes harm on people and the planet and aligns with shoppers’ values. 

“Slow fashion is a whole lifestyle of being aware of your consumer habits and how they impact not only you but also the people who make your clothing,” Whitney said. “A lot of emerging designers who center slow fashion in their clothing make really unique small batches by hand.”

The twins officially opened doors at 472 Madison Ave. last November, with Allyson handling operational duties and Whitney curating the collection available at the shop, formerly Olive & June Floral Company.

In building the inventory, Whitney began by filling the collection with items she owned and brands she loved before shifting focus to working with more diverse brands, carrying extended sizing and focusing on fostering an environment of inclusivity that caters to all body types and gender expressions.

“We have really been focusing on high-quality and unique pieces but also basics and affordable pieces that you can change in and out in your wardrobe,” Whitney said. “Whenever we travel, we look at what people on the street are wearing, what patterns, and it informs a bit of how we stock the shop.” Some of the brands available at the store include Jungmaven Clothing, Le Bon Shoppe, Rita Row, Donni and Atelier Delphine. 

Allyson’s motivation in launching the business stems from personal frustrations purchasing T-shirts or pants from popular local retailers and having the seams tear after a few wash cycles. “I realized I was wasting money constantly replacing products because I couldn’t get durable, high-quality pieces in Albany,” she said.

The company’s clothing pieces, which are made with sustainably harvested or organic materials and nontoxic dyes, vary in cost but do sport a higher price tag than other “fast fashion” stores. Whitney said they are focused on identifying more realistic price ladders and working with more accessible brands to avoid locking certain demographics out of participating in sustainable fashion. They partake in events like the Albany Business Improvement District’s 1st Friday with storewide discounts and also have a fully stocked markdown rack. 

A community closet is also in the works that will allow people to bring in their old clothing either from the store or similar brands to be sold at lower price points in exchange for a store discount. It’s expected to officially open sometime early next year.

By Amalia