Career

I lied, the blogging continues

October 14, 2015

Mixing floral prints - Malorie Bertrand - EF Magazine - How to match colors and patterns in your clothes - Simple styling tips to help you make the most of your wardrobe

You may or may not know that I’m starting a small business. I stopped blogging here for the past couple of months to give me the head space to finish my business plan (I’m pressing SEND in a day or two for funding, fingers crossed!). I thought that I would stop blogging on EF altogether, but I realized that you would be the best readers to share my experiences with. The business is a natural progression from the blog, so why lose you as readers when you might really dig what I’m working on, you know?

I’m one or two blog posts away from being able to make the official announcement with bells and whistles. Until then, I’m incredibly excited and petrified to announce that I’m launching an online boutique to sell mostly Canadian-made sustainable fashion and accessories for women. Zee name? COMMUN – a sense of wear (shopcommun.com coming August 2016). Props to my mom for the slogan. Catch the play on words? I’ll post about the name and branding in the weeks to come.

Over the next ten months, I’ll post regularly about the ins and outs of starting up a business. I hope it comes in handy for any of you who are thinking of doing the same. The posts will also help me share with you all of the fun behind-the-scenes of shopping trips in the New Year. I’ll share images of the clothing I’m considering, highlight designers I’ve discovered, and share any meltdowns I might have as I near launching this baby. Should be quite the trip.

In the meantime, I wanted to share a blog post I wrote on styling as a guest for Rose & Fig, a wonderful sustainable lifestyle blog written by my friend Jess Hunt. By the way, she just got hitched and I think you’ll love the photographs. Missed Jess’s guest post on DIY beauty?

This post was inspired by a chat we had over Skype about how it may be easy to downsize your closet, but the styling afterwards is often what trips people up. I put together a post about matching because it’s often what challenges my clients most during wardrobe consultations. The outfits I chose were chosen less for style than to provide a clear example of matching do’s and don’t’s.  Now that I see them on the full screen I think: “Gah, I should’ve ironed my shorts!”, but I think you’ll forgive me.

Letting go is easy, when you have no control

July 14, 2015

photo-1429042007245-890c9e2603afMy parents moved around a lot when I was a kid, and it didn’t really bother me. I have always embraced change, so I loved being the new girl every couple of years or so. I secretly reveled in the feeling of walking into a new classroom, knowing everyone’s eyes were fixed on me. “Who’s that?” they would whisper to themselves as I walked by. “I’m the new girl,” I’d think to myself and smile. There was an excitement around being new and starting fresh. Kids would run up to me at recess, wanting to be the first to befriend me. What’s not to like about change!?

I’ve grown up thinking this whole time that I am very good at letting go and saying goodbye. I’ve been saying goodbye to school friends since I was little, I’m a goodbye pro. I even had to part ways with my dad when I was nine years old when my mom moved me and my baby sister to Victoria, while my dad stayed in Ottawa. Surely a parent is the hardest person to say goodbye too, even if it’s only temporary.

Well, it turns out that I’m only good at letting go if I have absolutely no control over the situation. If, on the other hand, I have a choice to make: hold on or let go, I have a harder time coming to a decision. “Mal, we’re moving,” my parents might have said, and I’d be totally fine with it. I can’t do anything to change the situation, might as well embrace it. Great attitude right? It is, but if I have some control, any at all, I start to get anxious. I flip flop between my choices and I tie myself up in knots. I have the cursed blessing of being able to see two sides of any coin, heck, there might even be three sides to this blasted coin.

I had a relationship that lasted five years that was wonderful in so many ways and incredibly frustrating in others. We broke up, but never stopped seeing each other, but were never officially together again. It was a annoying for friends and family who just wanted to know what our status was and who wanted to make sure I didn’t waste my time. I, on the other hand, chose to spend five years in limbo rather than finally let go of a relationship that was most certainly going to eventually run its course at some point. I just didn’t want to bare the sadness of being the one to pull the plug.

I think I enjoyed the romanticism of the uncertainty, like falling in love during a time of war when you don’t know if you’ll ever see your partner again at a certain point. But I digress, the point is, it took me five years to let go of one relationship because I had to choose to let go. Really, I’m terrible at letting go, but very good at accepting the way things are when they’re out of my control.

Now, I’m finally ready to let go of this blog of mine too – this online baby that I’ve been nurturing, albeit rather infrequently, for the past eight years. EF has been the one constant interest in my life while I’ve introduced new hobbies and dropped others. This blog has opened me up to communities of people I never would have otherwise met. I learned a lot while blogging too. When the blog was new and I had no confidence in it, when I was sure that most people would just laugh at my sad attempt to be a voice of authority on the topic of sustainable fashion, EF taught me that if you ask, most people say yes. When I wanted to start styling photo shoots to populate the blog with photos of eco-fashion, I asked around for collaborators who would share their time and talent with me for free, and they said yes. I officially re-launched the blog in 2011 here in Ottawa and was overwhelmed with the support I got. More than 100 people came to the party, most of them strangers, and Thyme & Again, a wonderful local catering company donated food for the occasion, which was hosted by Flock Boutique.

I could go on about everything I have done through the blog, but the point of this post is to let you know that I’m putting EF to rest to pursue another venture. I’ve finally accepted the fact that if I want to do anything well, I have to focus on it entirely. I can’t have this side project and that fundraiser going on and expect something else to flourish. I have this business idea that I’m about to execute, but to make it happen I can’t be distracted by writing blog posts I’m afraid. This new venture is, in many ways, an extension of the blog. It came about through my experience over the past eight years and now I’m finally ready to take a leap and let go.

I can’t thank you all enough for reading the blog over the years, for your comments and for your support. I’m keeping it up for the time being, until my new site is launched, so you can still browse the posts and leave comments. I’ll slowly begin to alert my contacts of the change, sigh, administrative tasks!

Thank you to everyone I have ever featured here and to everyone I have collaborated with. It’s been a wonderful ride but it’s time to hop onto the next train. I’m going to keep EF’s Facebook page and Twitter accounts up until I’m ready to move them over to new accounts too. They’re great ways of keeping up to date on the world of sustainable fashion and this new project of mine is still very much in line with this industry. Please keep in touch and stay tuned for more.

Good bye,

Mal

Starting an ethical online shop

April 8, 2015

good cloth main imageI may have mentioned it before that I recently joined the Ethical Writers Coalition (EWC). It’s a dedicated group of writers, journalists, bloggers and the like who share a common interest in writing about the ethical and sustainable fashion industry. Once a month or so, I’m going to feature a guest post from an EWC member. This blog syndication is something the EWC does to help spread the quality content that its members produce. It’s a great idea, not only because it shares each other’s content, but also because you might get tired of hearing from me, you know!? So here we are, my first syndicated post courtesy of Elizabeth Stilwell of The Note Passer. You can read the original post here.

Stephanie Hepburn is a journalist and the founder of Good Cloth, an ethical online store that focuses on items that are produced in a way that is kind to workers and to the planet. While writing her most recent book, Human Trafficking Around the World: Hidden in Plain Sight, she was motivated to combine fashion and human rights into one venture, Good Cloth. This venture is an endeavor to fill a gap in the marketplace by evaluating the entire journey of a product and ensuring transparency from start to finish. Stephanie’s goal is to generate interest in labour exploitation and forced labour and to help create positive change.

As Good Cloth is beginning to grow, I caught up with Stephanie to ask her a few questions about her inspiration and thoughts on the sustainability movement.

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO START GOOD CLOTH?

I started Good Cloth because I want to make change in the garment industry and spread awareness on the topic of labour exploitation in a positive way. As a journalist, I have written about labour exploitation and human trafficking for years and it seemed that only a niche audience was listening. Meaning, I was preaching to the choir. That doesn’t really trigger change or at least not in mainstream society, and that limits the degree of change that can take place. At the same time, I was separately writing about fashion, an industry where exploitation is rampant. This further encouraged me to change my personal way of shopping.

I have always been a fan of second-hand stores because they prevent clothing from ending up in a landfill, but I wanted to discover brands that create innovative pieces made with respect for the planet, workers and consumers. I didn’t exactly love what I found. It seemed like many of the eco and fair trade designers at the time were also targeting a niche audience, just as I had (even though my goal, and likely theirs, had been the opposite). This inspired me to create a space where people can purchase pieces that are made with consideration to people and the world we live in and design.

My hope is that the shop casts a wide net when it comes to aesthetic appeal. This means that those who fit the niche will shop at Good Cloth but so will people who just really dig the designs and then (bonus!) they can walk away knowing they did something positive for workers and the planet (and themselves, because the items are made for longevity and without harmful chemicals).

WHERE ARE YOU LOCATED?

Everywhere (the shop is online)! Our headquarters is in New Orleans, Louisiana.

WHO’S THERE WITH YOU BEHIND-THE-SCENES AT GOOD CLOTH?

Initially, I was a one-woman show. That is slowly changing. I still run the majority of the day-to-day aspects of the business but now I have an amazing publicist working with me. She is great at keeping me on track so that I don’t go off on too many tangents. As a reporter, entrepreneur and mother of two small children, I have a limited amount of time so this is incredibly important. I also reel in my friends as much as possible and created a Facebook secret page where they can give me feedback on designs; they share what they love and what they don’t. I have my own strong aesthetic but it’s great to hear what other people think and why they are attracted to certain pieces.

WHAT DOES “SUSTAINABLE” MEAN TO YOU?

Sustainable is an on-trend term. The media frequently talk about sustainability in terms of the slow food and slow fashion movements. I love that sustainability as a concept is gaining momentum; what I find problematic is that sustainability seems to be viewed as synonymous with eco-friendly, which isn’t accurate. Sustainability certainly means conservation of the planet, but it also means preserving people and communities. It is this latter and broader view of sustainability that Good Cloth applies when determining which designers are a good fit.

WHAT IS THE PROCESS FOR HANDPICKING THE ITEMS ON GOOD CLOTH? WHAT DOES THAT CHECKLIST LOOK LIKE?

We first research designs that we love and then we do as much digging as possible about the designer’s product transparency. Do they share a similar mission to Good Cloth? If it seems like the aesthetic and mission fit, then we reach out to them and start a conversation on how they make their goods and how they source their materials. Some designers don’t know and/or don’t care to answer these questions. Other designers care foremost about aesthetic and are inconsistent in their application of eco-materials. I respect their application of sustainable materials but the inconsistency and lack of transparency doesn’t work for Good Cloth. We find that designers who care equally about aesthetic and transparency are the best fit. They are generally able to answer all of our questions because they share the same ethos and put transparency and ethical sourcing on equal footing with design. Our questions dig into treatment of workers and the planet at each step of the process.

DO YOU EVER MEET THE BRANDS OR MAKERS BEFORE DECIDING TO CARRY AN ITEM?

Yes! Often designers are elsewhere — in other nations or across the country — but I do try to meet as many designers as possible. Fortunately, though it is not the same, the world of technology allows me to meet designers in other ways than in-person. We can’t yet teleport, but as soon as we can, I will be all about it!

HOW DOES GOOD CLOTH FIT INTO THE LARGER GLOBAL CONVERSATION ABOUT ETHICALLY PRODUCED GOODS?

Years of researching labour exploitation give me a unique background and vantage point that translates to the shop. Not in a bang-it-over-your-head kind of way, but in transparency. Each item not only includes a description but also a product journey, so people know where their clothing came from. The focus isn’t just on the final manufacturing process but also where the materials come from and how the materials are sourced. We search for designers that have amazing designs and ensure that their products are sourced and created with respect for the environment in safe facilities by workers who are treated well and paid fair wages to work legal hours and who select suppliers that are doing the same.

WHY IS THIS AN IMPORTANT CONVERSATION TO HAVE? WHAT ARE SOME OF THE ISSUES GOOD CLOTH IS TRYING TO ADDRESS?

Good Cloth is trying to push past trend into true positive momentum that will change the garment industry. It is on-trend to shop eco-friendly but what does that really mean? What makes a particular design eco-friendly? We don’t know without transparency. Labeling something green or eco-friendly is a powerful marketing tool but not always genuine. This is concerning because it gives shoppers a false sense of responsible purchasing and it fails to take us any further in fixing problems in the garment industry. What’s important to me is that people step away from labels and focus on the transparency of goods, that is the checks and balances that ensure companies are doing what they say they are.

good cloth main imageWHAT’S SOMETHING CONSUMERS CAN DO TO HELP MOVE THE CONVERSATION FORWARD?

When customers become more focused on transparency they will shop accordingly. It is much like how, as consumers, we generally examine where our food comes from. It wasn’t always that way. Our hope at Good Cloth is that people will be as conscientious about what they put on their bodies as what they put in them. The more that consumers understand where their apparel and accessories come from, the more discerning they will be. As consumers, we would not knowingly purchase a shirt that was made using toxic chemicals where the laborer who made it worked 14-hour days on the verge of passing out because her wages were insufficient to pay for food, rent and, ironically, clothing. Unfortunately, neither is a rarity in the fast-fashion garment industry. The lack of transparency in the industry means that we, the consumers, remain in the dark.

DO ETHICALLY PRODUCED GOODS HAVE TO BE MORE EXPENSIVE? WHY OR WHY NOT?

Ethically made clothing that pays proper wages for workers can’t compete with the costs of fast-fashion apparel. There are reasons these pieces are so inexpensive. Yes, fast fashion offers consumers affordable on-trend clothing, but it also comes with hidden costs like toxic chemicals, poor garment construction and exploitative worker conditions. There’s a mental disconnect we consumers have between how our clothing is made and the garments we try on and purchase. When we imagine workers exposed to chemicals while making our garments, we somehow think the garments are cleansed by the time they get to us. They aren’t. If they were made with lead, they will still have lead when we wear them.

The pieces in fast fashion are made rapidly and are not designed for quality or longevity. I mean, the plan is that you buy more items next season! So, that means (whether you want to or not) you will need to replace those items when they quickly fall apart. This makes them less economically appealing. Cheap yes, but less so when you factor in how often you will need to purchase new items. In a time of recycling and eco-friendly savviness, this is a disposable approach to fashion that wastes millions of tons of water and CO2, and where tons of textiles end up in landfills. In fact, textiles made up nearly six percent of the total municipal solid waste in 2012. That’s 14.3 million tons of waste!

What determines cost acceptability has a great deal to do with consumer expectations. Many fast-fashion shirts cost $9.95 and that is what we expect they should cost. To put it in perspective, we expect our shirt to cost just over twice that of our favourite decadent coffee beverage. The average American adult worker spent $1,112 on coffee in 2013, while the average consumer spent $1,604 for apparel and services in 2013.

As a responsible consumer, a shirt for $9.95 should be a red flag. In order to create prices that low, a company has to find incredibly low-cost labour. The result is that garment workers that produce the majority of big name fast-fashion apparel are paid a mere fraction of a living wage. The Center for American Progress reported in 2013 that garment workers in China, Indonesia, Vietnam and Bangladesh — the four primary apparel exporters to the U.S. — earned 36 percent, 29 percent, 22 percent and 14 percent of a living wage, respectively. In Bangladesh garment workers’ monthly wages are $68, making it the lowest in the world.

WHO OR WHAT INSPIRES YOU THE MOST?

Ingenuity. I am inspired by creative people.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE ITEM ON THE SITE RIGHT NOW?

We just added the Box Handbag by Elvis & Kresse. It is truly stunning. It is handmade by artisans in the U.K. out of reclaimed military grade parachute silk and de-commissioned British fire brigade hoses, which, after a distinguished career fighting fires and saving lives, were otherwise destined for the landfill. The hardware is ethically sourced in Europe through members of the Ethical Trading Initiative. Fifty percent of the profits from this item are donated to the Fire Fighters Charity. We love that these retired hoses that spent their years fighting fires and saving lives and are incredibly durable (after all, they are designed to survive the harshest of environments) are given a new start and transformed into this incredible piece.

WHAT DO YOU DO IN YOUR DOWNTIME?

Hmm. I so wish I could answer this question with colourful and wondrous experiences of what I do in my spare time. New Orleans is an interesting place. You aren’t locked into adulthood in the same way as elsewhere. You can be silly and wear tutus and dance, which is pretty much what I do whenever I can. That said, most evenings I fall asleep reading to my daughter. If I manage to stay awake (I don’t know what happens when you put a kid to sleep, but apparently it is exhausting) then I will read a book, watch a movie or go out with friends.

FIND GOOD CLOTH: WEBSITE | FACEBOOK | TWITTER | INSTAGRAM |PINTEREST

Do you need to like your job to be truly happy?

March 27, 2015

photo-1422568374078-27d3842ba676

I’ve been tackling this question for what seems like ages. Some people work to live, others live to work. I’d like a bit of both, really. I know that even a dream job has its bad days, but 8.5 hours a day seems like an awful lot of time to spend doing something that no longer motivates you. Really though, it’s been on my mind for the past three-four years, this question of work to live or live to work.

When I finished university, my first true love pulled me to Ottawa because, you know, long-distance sucks. I got a permanent job within two months (what seemed like ages) and have been here ever since. I look back on my swift, confident decision making then. I don’t think I had any idea of how much that decision to move to Ottawa versus Toronto or Montreal would affect the rest of my career in my twenties. Had I known that the first few steps you take into the working world can really define a big part of your career path for years to come, I may have considered the move more carefully. Bahh, you can’t go back right? And I certainly don’t regret making a decision for love, but now I find myself in a great, secure, comfortable job in a supportive work environment and I am really torn about whether  I am happy working to live or if I want to work what I live, big difference.

What do I mean by that? I mean spending every day doing something that you love, something that has always interested you. Lots of people do this, and lots of people don’t. My dad left his desk job at the age of 39 to pursue his childhood dream of becoming an air force pilot. Others choose to stay in a comfortable job that may not inspire them all that much but that pays the bills, offers security, benefits and allows them the time on weekends and on holidays to unplug and enjoy their lives outside of work. There are, of course, other people who don’t have as many options, those less fortunate than us. I am not addressing their reality, that wouldn’t be fair of me to do so, but I can address the common feeling that quite a few people around me have, a desire to work what you live, to enjoy going to work, and to really own their careers.

Working for another company may not be what I want for my next career move. More and more now, as I discover the lives of entrepreneurs, I see myself leaning towards that mysterious and oftentimes scary path. I’d like to work from home, work for myself, eventually hire a small team and every day wake up ready to tackle a new, creative project. I want to align my love for supporting eco-fashion with writing and communications. I have all of these skills, all of this experience, why not put it to good use?

Then there’s the whole aspect of being a young woman and wanting a family vs. owning a business and having it on your mind 24/7. I sure hope I can clear my mind as often as I need to throughout the day to be present for my loved ones. This is my main concern, mental space for everything. If, once in it, I realize that I can’t be as present as I wanted to me, I will leave it. Honestly, nothing is more important to me than time with family and friends.

My boyfriend and I are both at career crossroads and we also want to buy a home together in the next year. Changing careers and buying a home around the same time isn’t ideal, but I have to remind myself to cross that bridge when I get to it. My astrologer, a dear family friend, told me recently that I have to let go of that fear of not making enough money to live off of. She said that that fear is unnecessary for me and that if I can learn to set it aside and focus on my vision, it will blossom into a profitable and rewarding career. Can I just fast-forward to there please!?

When I think back to how confident I felt about the move to Ottawa, I wish I could infuse my veins with that same calm venom. I want to have the sense of freedom that I had then too. Can I really make the best decision for me when I have a family to consider now? Am I too old (at only 28) to have to sacrifice my ideal career path for the family life that I want more than anything? My future has more pieces in it to consider, more people and dreams to take care of. I know that others at my age, with even more “baggage” have made their dreams come true, and so must I.

My first step, I think, is to change my perspective. A future home, future children, these are not burdens, these are goals to strive for, these are motivators to succeed. That fear I feel inside, that is another sign that my vision is worth bringing to life. The worry of being overwhelmed with work? If I’m doing what I love, it won’t be a burden. The torment that’s going on in my mind, that’s the thrill and energy of life that propels us all to make the most of our days here on this tiny blue dot. Got it Mal? Got it!?

I wish I could pour a whole bucket of calm, monk-like wisdom and serenity into my head. I’ll have to do with these few positive thoughts and take it day by day. So, tell me, what are your career fears?

 

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