Is it possible to be fashionable, ethical and sustainable? Yes! I sat down with Michelle Germain, owner of ShopGirls, to chat with her about launching a boutique store for Canadian brands, creating made-to-last clothing in an era of fast fashion and the story behind ShopGirl’s recent “Recycle, Reuse, Rejean” event.
Michelle, who has worked for huge fashion retailers such as Holt Renfrew, was always bothered by the fact that Canadian brands were so hard to find in Toronto. Over ten years ago, she noticed the growing volume of creative and talented clothing designers at one-of-a-kind shows and markets. They had beautiful, unique styles and she wanted to give these local brands and artists a permanent place to sell. Thus with guts, experience and a lot of hustle, ShopGirls was born.
“People want to feel proud of what their wearing!”
Michelle says clothing is art for the body and it adds value to the product and the experience when you know that the clothes you wear are ethically made or designed in Canada.
Shortly after opening ShopGirls, Michelle started to understand that Canadian designers were challenged to convey this message to consumers who were not really used to thinking about where nor how their stuff was made.
Michelle has noticed an important mindset shift in consumers that walk through the doors of her shop over the past few years. People are starting to ask more questions and inquire about the whole impact of their purchases.
What is Reduse, Reuse, Rejean?
Michelle had her own mountain of clothing piling up and she didn’t want to drop it all off at a secondhand store where she worried what might happen if it didn’t get sold. As she educated herself on textile waste and recycling, she realized that there are many ways to reuse clothing without it necessarily being re-worn. She decided to tackle this issue at ShopGirls. She chose to focus on re-purposing jeans because denim is meant to last and the denim industry is particularly notorious for high water consumption.
It takes at least 7000 litres of water to make one pair of jeans!
ShopGirls partnered with Yoga Jeans and Textile Waste Diversion in a four day event where people could drop off their used jeans and receive a %10 discount on a pair of Yoga Jeans. They also had a seamstress present to make alterations and quick fixes to get those old reliable pairs of jeans back in the rotation.
Michelle’s tips for a conscious consumer:
1. Remember that it’s not just how you look, it’s how you feel:
There has been a big movement around food and knowing what exactly you are eating. Knowing what you are wearing is just as important ethically. You may have to spend more money, but you will enjoy the piece more and wear it more! How many times have you bought a cheap shirt that you wear a couple of times before it starts to fade and fall apart?
2. Buy Less
Buy better and buy less. Look at your closet, think about the cost to wear of your clothing. Make a few key small changes: start with your first made-in-Canada or ethically sourced purchase. How did that feel? How does it feel when you wear it?
3. Research the sustainability of fabrics:
Explore what is available at home to reduce the carbon footprint of your items. Some fabrics might say “organic” but that doesn’t always mean that it is good for the environment.
Michelle’s advice for entrepreneurs:
1. Learn from others
It can be lonely at first, so reach out to entrepreneurial groups and other entrepreneurs. Not only can you get lots of ideas but you can share mistakes and talk to people for support.
2. Work for somebody else before you start your own business
Work for somebody who gives you a voice, who trusts you to try to new things and gives you space to grow.
3. You have to put in blood, sweat and tears
Michelle is a reminder to always keep an eye on the big picture. This may seem risky or not immediately beneficial to your bottom line but the pay off over time can be significant. She is a reminder that it is important to wear our values on our sleeves. Thank you to Michelle for taking the time to share her wisdom!
I will keep you all posted on the next ‘Recycle, Reuse, Rejean’ event.
GreeninTO’s Simple Slow Fashion Principles:
Reduce, Reuse, Responsible
Most of us in Toronto have more clothes than we need. Try to buy less! Side effects include more money in your wallet and more space in your apartment.
Friends are great. Friends have nice clothes. Friends also get bored of their nice clothes just like you do. Consider having a Clothing Swap with your friends every once in awhile.
When you’re done raiding your friends’ closets, there is no shortage of thrift stores in Toronto.
Think globally. Act locally.
Made in Canada. Ethically sourced. Organic. Eco-friendly. Bamboo. If any of these words are on your clothing tag, you are shopping responsibly.