When we think sustainable fashion we immediately think of #GIRLBOSS, Malorie Bertrand, owner of Either/Or.
We were introduced to Malorie through a local online blogger forum and we instantly saw how passionate and hard-working she was about sustainable fashion and preserving the environment.
1. Tell us a little bit about your business?
Either/Or is an online shop, based in Ottawa, Ontario, that sells Canadian, ethical and sustainable fashion and accessories. I launched the shop this past September because I saw, through eight years of blogging about sustainable fashion and styling clients that most Canadians don’t know about Canadian, ethical and sustainable designers or where to buy from them. Not only this, but a lot of people want to buy fewer but higher quality items. They’re tired of buying clothes all the time that wear out quickly, and they don’t want to contribute to an industry that exploits people and planet.
2. How did your interest in sustainable fashion start?
I’ve always been an environmentalist, someone who enjoys being in nature. And I grew up browsing Value Village and Salvation Army racks with my mom on weekends. This grew my interest in fashion and styling. But I didn’t combine the two, environmentalism and fashion, until university. I put together an eco-fashion magazine called EF for a class project with a few peers and we enjoyed it so much that we turned it into an online magazine. This was back in 2007, before blogs took off and before eco-fashion was the buzzword that it is today.
3. How do you curate the pieces for your store? And is there a process for designers?
I spent a few months compiling designers that I had come across over the years as a blogger, and discovered new labels through online research, reading fashion blogs and industry websites. When it came down to choosing which designers to feature, I considered my list of criteria, such as made in Canada, ethical manufacturing, use of recycled, natural, sustainable or quality textiles, timeless design and quality construction. I met with the designers I had in mind and they’re all so lovely and easy to work with.
I chose pieces that were wardrobe staples and made sure they were cohesive enough in colour and minimalist style to be worn together. Most importantly, I chose pieces that would easily be incorporated into someone’s existing wardrobe, hence why I chose a lot of grey and black for my first collection.
4. What is it like running your own business? What’s your day-to-day like?
It’s like being in school and always having an assignment to finish, except that this assignment is never complete. You’re often thinking about it, making to-do lists, checking sales figures and website traffic, strategizing new ways to market the shop and to reach customers.
I often think about how to inform my clients about sustainable fashion, to figure out what they need to know to make more responsible shopping choices. A large part of the shop’s brand is information. Knowledge is power and I enjoy writing blog posts about how to wear more with less and how to buy quality items, all helpful tips that I hope will convince people to make the switch to sustainable fashion.
A regular day, Monday to Friday, is taken up by my full-time job as a media relations and social media officer for a funding organization. I try to go to the gym at lunch three times a week. Exercise helps keep my head space clear, it keeps me calm and feeling positive. Without it, I’d be a big ball of nerves and worries!
I try to keep my weekends free from work, aside from photography for the site or for the blog, so two to three evenings a week I work for maybe two hours on the shop. I’m certainly not your regular entrepreneurial hustler. I have a family and a circle of friends that are the most important things to me so I built the business model to be slow and deliberate so that I had the time I needed to be with my loves ones, to take care of myself, to experience life fully. I wouldn’t last very long mentally or physically if I locked myself up in my home office every night.
In the evenings that I work on the business, I usually have a blog post I’m working on, as well as a newsletter to prep for the month. I schedule as many tweets, Facebook and Instagram posts as I can. I get Google alerts on sustainable fashion to stay up-to-date on the industry, to discover new designers and to share this information with my followers.
I try to spend some time thinking long-term, thinking about new ways I can interact with my customers, about new ways of connecting with them to build loyalty and a genuine relationship with them. This takes a lot of time but I’m enjoying the process. Twice a year I’ll spend time shopping for the next season and about a month before the new season of items goes live on the site, I shoot the pieces on friends and family in my home “studio”, aka my dining room.
The shop is very small, very personal, definitely a one-person business, but I’m happy working on it and I hope one day to make it my full-time job so that I can work from home.
5. Who has provided the most inspiration for you along the way, as you’ve built your business?
Elizabeth Suzann is a Nashville-based designer who I came across maybe two years ago now. She is a self-taught seamstress who slowly built up her successful fashion label (now with a staff of 19 or so people) by selling her clothing in shows, item by item.
Her line is made to order, so customers expect to wait at least a week for an item. She’s managed to successfully market the slow fashion aspect of her brand as its strength. Her designs are deliberate, her customers support her because they know they’re getting a quality item, and in the last year she’s done a wonderful job of connecting personally with her clients.
She’s built an online community of people simply by blogging about the ins and outs of the business, sharing her thoughts, her doubts and asking for feedback. Seeing her success in building a slow fashion business was reassuring. It showed me that there were people out there who wanted to buy clothing that was made thoughtfully, ethically and that would last beyond trends.
6. What do you think were the most important mistakes you’ve learned from?
I learned quickly after the shop launched that I should have bought fewer pieces for this first collection and saved more of my funds for the second collection. I underestimated how hard it would be to reach a large enough audience to make regular sales.
So I had to scale back on the size of my spring/summer collection, which I don’t mind at all. There isn’t a lot of information out there for boutiques on how much to buy. A lot of it depends on your budget, on your marketing budget and on the size of your market but in the end, it’s still a bit of a shot in the dark.
I had guidance from one boutique, which helped me narrow down my collection size, but it was still just a tad too large. Now I know how much to buy from now on, and how to scale up slowly.
7. What are your thoughts on eco-fashion becoming more popular?
It’s encouraging for ethical and sustainable designers to see a growing demand for their labels, but both designers and consumers have to keep in mind that truly sustainable fashion can’t grow exponentially like fast-fashion.
Consumers can’t expect a new collection every week, like we’re seeing in mainstream fashion these days. They can’t expect the cost of items to decrease all that much either, despite an increase in demand, and they can’t expect to consume as quickly.
As more consumers make the choice to buy from ethical and sustainable fashion labels, they have to accept a new business model too, one that is slower, more mindful and more sustainable. And designers have to stick to their guns and resist the temptation to grow exponentially.
If they want to keep their values of ethical manufacturing, quality construction and sustainability, they have to accept that they’ll never be able to grow as quickly as fast-fashion brands. The only reason fast-fashion labels are so incredibly successful is because they keep their manufacturing costs ridiculously low, and they do this by exploiting human labour and natural resources.
8. What advice can you share with other #GIRLBOSSES in training?
If you have a business idea, start talking about it to your close friends and family, people you can trust not to share your idea. By talking about your idea, you talk it to life. And by sharing it, you hold yourself accountable to executing it.
Second, think long and hard about the “why” of your business. Why are you doing it? Why is it important to you, to your future consumers? Without the “why”, you’ll quickly lose steam if things get tough. Whenever I feel discouraged, I remember why I started the shop in the first place: to contribute to building a fashion industry that serves people and planet, for the betterment of us all. It’s a lofty goal, but it keeps me focused when I find myself distracted by negative thoughts. Businesses that are fuelled by a genuine desire to help people have a higher chance of success than those that exist just because someone wants to make money.
Find Either/Or on:
Instagram – @either_or_store
Twitter – @shop_either_or
Facebook – shopeitheror
Pinterest – shopeitheror
Website – www.shopeitheror.com
Either/Or is also having a Winter Clearance Sale (on until Friday Feb. 3, 2017). Use the code: ‘CLEAR45‘ when checking out to get some major savings on some seriously awesome clothing!
-Country meet City