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    News — Femme Stories

    Femme Stories | Edition 25 | Sarah Jay


    The Femme Stories is a blog series celebrating the makers who inspire and empower their communities and continue to gift us with their creativity; these are their stories.
     
    Sarah | Sarah Jay
     
    My connection to Sarah runs deep. That kind of connection that comes from being born in the same small town and not seeing fashion as a viable career path, but going for it anyways. Growing up I always knew about Sarah. She is friends with my cousin and obviously I idolized her from a distance because she worked in the fashion industry. Upon graduation we were connected and I started assisting her on photoshoots and like most people raised in a small town, she genuinely brought me into the fold and helped me learn the styling world. Working for Sarah Jay showed me the hustle required to make it in the fashion industry; it set the bar for me as well. She was kind, eager to teach and willing to allow me to jump in. This showed me what I should look for in a mentor. I have enthusiastically followed her career from stylist, to fashion director, to sustainability consultant, to the conceiver of the doc Toxic Beauty and I am so excited to share her work with you in this edition of The Femme Stories.
    sarah jay stylist and fashion sustainability consultant

     

    Let’s start at the beginning, how did your career start? 

    Well, I started as an intern at Fashion Magazine, but originally, I was on a very different trajectory. I was thinking of going to law school or studying clinical psychology, then when I moved to Toronto, I realized that my house was only a block away from the Fashion Magazine offices. So, it really was the proximity, and the access that moving into the big city gave me. It inspired me to literally dress up and go over there and ask for an internship. I was blissfully unaware at the time of the volume of fashion graduates that were coming out of schools, like Ryerson and many others, every semester, and how coveted internship positions were. If I had stopped to allow myself to be deterred by that, I wouldn't have tried. I really believe that the industry, if not, the world, makes a place for you when you're good at what you do, when you know how to hustle, when you're determined, and when you have the inclination to create. 

    Over the years your career has evolved. Your work centres on supporting and showcasing sustainable designers and creating awareness about the damage caused by fast fashion. What started you down this path? 

    Early on in my career I really had an existential crisis, which overlapped with getting sick. I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease and eventually developed multiple chemical sensitivity, which was the beginning of my obsession with reading product labels and knowing what I was putting in and on my body. During that time, I had a personal awakening that extended outwards. Viewing the documentary An Inconvenient Truth really helped to blow my mind open and honestly, I consumed my way to awareness. Really. I was styled full time and largely that consists of commercial work. So the volume that I was personally consuming was exorbitant. Being in the malls every day I just started wondering, where on Earth does all this stuff come from? And where is it going after I buy it or make use of their return policy? Starting to ask these questions helped me to get informed about the social and environmental impacts of fast fashion. The other major moment that I'll cite happened in 2007 when I met Kelly Drennan, of Fashion Takes Action. At the time I was styling for the Fashion Design Council of Canada, which used to run Toronto Fashion Week. It was a major moment for me to meet someone else who was also upset and motivated by the situation in our industry. We became allies over the next 13 years while I supported the creation of Fashion Takes Action, Canada’s first fashion-focused NGO which aims to advance sustainability in the entire fashion system through education, awareness, research and collaboration. 

    Working in this industry, I think about our environmental impact all the time and sometimes I feel like the fast fashion industry is this giant train moving too fast for us as consumers to stop.Do you feel like we're making a difference? 

    During COVID I actually went back to school to get my Master’s in Environmental Science and the overwhelming message that I'm left with is that there remains a reoccupation with measuring and predicting climate change. We are so preoccupied with measurements and predictions, when I believe we ultimately know what needs to be done: move away from fossil fuels as our energy source and adopt a plant-based diet. THESE are the elephants in the room that we are ignoring. Fashion also likes to ignore issues including: living wages, women’s rights and the rate at which they continue to produce clothing. You cannot substitute sustainable fabrics into an excessive and exploitative business model and call it sustainable. And that's what fast fashion brands are doing. As long as companies are calling all the shots and are able to create, create, create and feed this human vulnerability, or appetite for newness and beauty; until we figure out how to feed that and satisfy that desire in a different way, we will consume ourselves right into mass extinction. Now this isn't to say that I believe even more responsibility should fall on to the consumer, because I don't. Consumers (aka human citizens!) have enough to worry about. I really do believe that change must come from the top down. Until governments get involved and acknowledge the harm that mass production is causing, companies will not stop over producing. 

    H&M has become a household name when it comes to talking about the how destructive fast fashion is to our environment, but online brands like Shein, Pretty Little Thing, Cider and Revolve are constantly targeting us with online ads, especially the younger generation. Do you think people are seeing these brands as fast fashion? 

    I am going to choose to believe in the younger generation and in the education system that will keep them informed about the urgency of the climate crisis and fashion’s causal role. I am often inspired by young people and the degree to which they value sustainability and the environment. I can only hope that the generation for whom these brands are targeting will see through these ads, and the excessive clothing in stores. I think you also raise an important point re: H&M, which is that they take a lot of heat and criticism for the destruction caused by fast fashion. The reality is that among the fast fashion brands, H&M is making huge strides in terms of transparency and supply chain disclosures, sustainability reporting, setting targets and ethical sourcing, notably of organic cotton. The question should be, what are all the other fast fashion brands doing? Do they publish a sustainability report? Do they participate in Fashion Revolution’s annual Transparency Index? Are they supporting grassroots NGO’s with youth ambassador programs focused on sustainability? No. 

     What led you into the beauty world and exploring the toxic nature of the products we all put on our body?

    The toxicity of personal care products became of interest to me due to my worsening chemical sensitivities – particularly to fragrance. As a kid and young adult I was a competitive swimmer, so I have definitely suffered from chlorine overexposure. I was also the kid who had all different colours of hair, loved makeup, and was enthusiastic with products. Then the other variable is that I had really bad cystic acne that I treated with pharmaceutical drugs  - both orally and topically –and these really altered my microbiome and affected my intestinal health. As a result of these factors, I now have multiple chemical sensitivities. Because I was dealing with this in my personal life it led to a professional focus on cosmetic safety. 

    Was it a natural leap into a film for your documentary Toxic Beauty? 

    Around the time that I got sick, I was working a lot on reality TV as a stylist. I had done Project Runway, Canada’s Next Top Model, Eat Yourself Sexy with Gillian McKeith and in the context of these makeover shows, I couldn't help but feel like we weren't improving on the thing that really needs to be improved upon. So ‘Toxic Beauty’ actually began as a green makeover show. I took this familiar format that we love, but the ‘glow up’ with green, and used non-toxic products.  Originally it was written to factor in beauty and fashion. Ultimately, even though there was a lot of interest, the TV business model didn’t work because at the time (2009-2010) major beauty brands didn’t have any clean products, hence no advertising revenue. In those early years I was lucky to meet my producer of development, Jessica Jennings, who has a company called Momentum Media that I really can't say enough about. She played a pivotal role in the creation of Toxic Beauty as we know it now. I was in development with a production company for many years. Everyone knew that the content and message was timely and valuable. The question was what “package” are we going to deliver this message in? Eventually we realized the things that work against us in the context of TV, really work for you in the context of film. You want to be controversial; you want to be opening minds. And that is how Toxic Beauty came to be. It was a 10-year journey for me. It was a real learning curve; a real labor of love and a very difficult process. 

    Do you think that there is another film like this in your future? It seems like after the pandemic people are even more ready to hear what his going into our bodies and on our skin. 

    I do. I am really proud of Toxic Beauty, but there is more to say and a lot more to uncover. My experience in fashion is very much informing what I hope to do in beauty because there are far more places for corruption and toxicity to hide. If you think back to Joe Fresh and that fact that they didn’t know they were outsourcing their production to Rana Plaza, think about how comparatively complex supply chains get in the context of beauty, where every product is comprised of myriad ingredients that come from all over the world. 

    You have also founded an organization called All Earthlings and it is educating people on how we are all wearing shark! Tell me about this and what is the goal of the organization?

    At All Earthlings we are aiming to shine a light on hidden impacts to species and environments in cosmetic supply chains. The ingredient we are currently focusing on is squalene, which is a very “it” ingredient and highly coveted. It is predominantly used in the beauty industry but also in the pharmaceutical industry as a vaccine adjuvant. Squalene can come from plants: olive, sugar, corn, amaranth, wheat etc., it can be compounded biosynthetically, but it can also come from the livers of sharks. Regardless of where it sourced, it is called squalene because ingredient origin does not need to be disclosed on a product label. Because shark squalene is the cheapest variety we continue to use it, despite the presence of vegan and cruelty free labels on these products. The cosmetic industry’s use of squalene underscores what we learned in Toxic Beauty: consumers have no reliable way of knowing what they are really applying because of the absence of industry regulation and government oversite. We don’t even have a reliable vegan certification! We have no way to avoid consuming animals, which becomes a human rights issue, and a religious rights issue for many people. I love this ingredient, not just because I love sharks, but because of what it exposes about the beauty industry overall, which is that consumers don’t currently have the information they need to make safe and informed decisions.

    What are you currently reading right now? 

    The Sexual Politics of Meat by Carol J. Adams. Read it.

    To say I loved this conversation is an understatement. Diving into topics I think about daily and knowing there is someone else out there fighting for the same things as I am has me buzzing. Sarah is an advocate for all of us as consumers. In fashion and beauty, big brands have been left unchecked for decades and now is the time for us to demand change. I recommend watching her documentary Toxic Beauty, which, if you’re in Canada, is available for free on CBC Gem. It has me rethinking what I apply to my skin in a whole new way and it has empowered me to seek out brands who are transparent. Don’t forget to also check out her styling work. Being raised in the 80’s and 90’s with the influence of grunge, Sarah’s signature aesthetic is somewhere between goth and grunge. “Heavily filtered and retouched imagery has me craving texture and imperfection - even messiness. No matter where I go, those influences are always my foundation. I’m bothered when things look to squeaky clean. I crave darkness and realness.”

    Femme Stories | Edition 24 | Patricia

    The Femme Stories is a blog series celebrating the makers who inspire, empower their communities and continue to gift us with their creativity; these are their stories.
     
    Patricia | La Pimbêche
     
    I am a huge fan of the La Pimbêche. I first came across Patricia and her brand at the last OOAK we had before Covid. I was cruising through the aisles not really shopping, when I was completely drawn into this booth. They had these stunning one of a kind jean jackets and they were painted with colourful graphics. Ever since that moment I have been obsessed with the La Pimbêche message; empowerment.
    patricia, designer and owner of la pimbeche, your one stop shop for feminist apparel

     

     What is La Pimbêche, for anyone who is new to your brand? 

    La Pimbêche started as my artist name and through the years it became the brand, but diving deeper, it’s really the subject that I am focusing my art around. It is self determination; self love and you are going to feel that in my art through the different mediums I use. No matter what medium, the constant is the subject that I always focus my energy on; it's empowerment and self confidence. Obviously through this, it's all about feminism for sure, but there's so many layers of feminism.Fighting for gender equality and fighting the social construct that is based on the patriarch to name a few. Ultimately La Pimbêche is the art and the message and through this I have been able to see my art travel. To allow the message and the value to transfer to one another and for that message to be spread. That is why La Pimbêche was the perfect word for me as an artist and my brand. 

    What does Pimbêche mean in French and what inspired you to choose this artist name? 

     I love this question and I get it a lot. So, La Pimbêche is an old French word used in Quebec, and I'm pretty sure it comes from France, but it is rooted Quebec culture. So, if you look in the dictionary, it will define a woman that is pretentious and arrogant, but what it actually is, in our language, is an old word used to criticize a woman, not a man. It's a word for a woman that is speaking loudly, standing up for themselves and who is independent. And at this time, it was an insult. It was a word used to oppress women, and to minimize their power, and to shut them down. For me, this word means so much in terms of the position of women and the history of women. How the patriarchy was so strong within the language. I took this name because I want to reclaim it. I want to reclaim this oppression. When I say our power, I am talking about my gender where I define myself as woman, but it can definitely be any person who defines themselves as a woman, non-binary, or any other gender. This word held so much power so it was perfect for me as an artist, and then my brand.  

    What did you do before starting La Pimbêche in 2018?

     My background is in marketing, advertising, branding and I did social media content strategy. My path was art school, and then grad school. For me, it was important to start my experience in the advertising and branding world, more in the corporate arena, to gain that kind of experience. I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur, and I knew I wanted something related to art, but I didn’t know how that would look, so 11 years ago, I started marketing in the fashion industry. This then shifted to the Telecom Industry which was a very hard moment in my life, because this industry was mainly men. It was my first interaction of working with mostly men and I felt a bit alone, sometimes in terms of the emotional fear, it was definitely very triggering at the time, but I gained a lot of experience in business and marketing. I did this for 8 or 9 years before I realized it was time to jump into being my own boss. I wanted to be able to be create and fulfill that part of me, so I switched careers and become an entrepreneur and an artist.

    Your brand always makes bold statements and focuses on empowering people, was this always a staple in your art or did it become more important because of the political climate that rose up in 2018?

    I think it's a mix of both. At the time I was working in a mostly male environment, so it really hit me how different the dynamic was between the genders. This is where I strongly experienced patriarchal situations in conversations and through actions. 2018 was an eye opening year for everyone, including myself and I definitely had my aw ha moment, where I thought we finally have recognized of a big problem that has been in our society and in the roots of our society for too much time. It's a problem that literally affects everyone and in all spheres of their life; home, work, school, relationships. I think we all started to question and challenge our own BS. I know personally I reflected on my own position and how I tackle feminism. How do I treat consent? I started to ask how can I contribute and do better in this world through my gift, through my calling, which is being an artist. I wanted to see how could I take this gift and be able to inspire this conversation for the highest good of society.

    You also do a collection of upcycled Jean Jackets, what inspired you to start working with vintage and thrifted pieces?

     Yes, the collection of upcycle jean jackets is my baby. I love doing these. I started by collecting jackets while I travelled and I ordered some of them from the UK. I love the history and emotion that is carried with each jacket. Each distressed detail, mark or scuff is a part of its beautiful history and I feel it is also connected to the history of female evolution. I feel an energy in each jean jacket and this energy has been transmitted into the art piece that I put on it. I feel honoured by these pieces.

    This year you started selling at Simons, being a Quebec owned fashion retailer how important was this milestone for you? 

    This was such a massive surprise. Simons is a big retail store in Quebec and it's all across Canada, they also have a huge online store and when they actually emailed me it was a big moment for me. The fact that they found me through Instagram and were interested in my message and brand, that was a huge win. Obviously being carried in 15 stores and online was incredible, but the fact that a major player in the Fashion Industry wanted to be a part of this conversation, that they agreed with the values of my brand and wanted to support my mission, this was very thrilling. It's almost like, you know, when you find your ultimate purpose, the universe gives you the opportunity to strive for it, and to be visible and show up in the world and be found. The higher forces presented this to me and it was a big milestone andI am very grateful.

    You also put your art work into oracle cards, which are empowering, educational and beautiful how did the idea for these products come about?

    The oracle cards are something so magical and so strong. Last year, I wanted to do a product that was a tool for helping people to nourish, understand and tap into their inner fire, confidence and determination. I kept looking at my existing product line and just didn’t see how my idea to would translate to clothing. In my personal life I read tarot cards and it has helped me practice to self love. Then I was like, Hey Patricia, this is right in front of your face every day! You use oracle and tarot cards for your own practice, in order to be the best version of yourself and you're asking which product should you create to help people do the same thing.It was right in front of my face. The deck focuses on confidence, self determination and self love. So, it's not very spiritual, it's called Badass Manifestor and it's all about being a badass in your personal life and when it comes to making decisions. It doesn't matter if it's a good or a bad decision, this is not the point; the decision is the point. It’s about being aligned with yourself in that moment. Each day you pull a card, read aloud the affirmation. Maybe you have an intention, or problem in your life and the card you pull speaks to you. It’s not necessarily the words, it's also the visual, and the colours and the energy from each card. When it came to creating the oracle cards I used a lot of my own affirmations. I do a lot of journaling, it is a daily practice for me, so I started to collect all my affirmations that I was using myself these past few years. This oracle deck is very strong with energy, and it has been received so beautifully. I am really happy they are helping people become the best version and the most badass version of themselves. 

    Lastly what are you currently reading? 

    I am reading two books right now. I am almost finished, The Universe Has Your Back by Gabrielle Bernstein and I just starting Code Red by Lisa Lister.  

     

    Whether you feel empowered in your life and want to see that reflected in your clothing or if you need that support of empowerment, La Pimbêche is a brand you must follow. Patricia is so conscious about the words she uses, it only makes sense that her graphics and art are the same way. Each piece has a clear intention and she wants that message of love to spread from herself to her clientele. She spreads this message of self determination, self love, empowerment through each piece of art, each product and she is creating a better world by pushing us to think outside the box that the patriarchy wants us to be in.

    Check out all the La Pimbêche brand has to offer here & make sure to follow on Instagram.

    Femme Stories | Edition 22 | Mary

    The Femme Stories is a blog series celebrating the makers who inspire, empower their communities and continue to gift us with their creativity; these are their stories.
     
    Mary | Canadian Stitchery
     
    Last year I gifted each of my nieces and nephews a Canadian Stitchery ornament. I stitched them myself and I love that they had my personal touch. These beautiful wooden ornaments come ready for you to cross-stitch your love into each one. Whether you want them for your décor or to give to a loved one, they are such a special and personal gift.
    Mary, owner of Canadian Stitchery.

     

     How did you learn how to cross-stitch?

     

    I grew up in Alberta, on the Prairies where stitching is a really big thing. My mom would sit in front of the TV at night with these massive projects and I was lucky enough to learn by looking over her shoulder, and as I got older, she taught me how to stitch. Then I got started with teaching and my stitching went into a drawer for, you know, 20 years. Eventually, I came back to it as a young professional, for the same reason as my mom stitche —, to have something to do at night to help me unwind. It is very meditative.

     

    Do you work another job or is Canadian Stitchery your full-time gig?

     

    Well, I have a couple of gigs. I'm a hyperdrive person, so I am a full-time college professor and I also work at CBC as a journalist, doing writing and editing for them. Canadian Stitchery is my creative outlet from all that stress.

     

    From the start of your company did you always picture being the supplier; having the customer enjoy the experience of cross-stitching or did you stitch and sell to start?

     

    At the start, I would stitch and sell, but quickly I learned there was a compelling piece that was missing, and that was sharing my love of stitching with others. That is when I added DIY kits to the line and now they’ve become a very large part of my business.

     

    It's easy to teach stitching, especially virtually, so I've done a lot of online classes for private groups and other organizations. I love this aspect when they have the skill, it's empowering them and that is important to me.

     

    The base of your ornaments is wooden, and the pattern is laser cut at the The Maker Bean, another local company. How did you come to work with them?

     

    Well, they have a cafe in the Ontario Science Centre, not far from my house, and I take my kids there all the time. I was already experimenting with laser cutting when I decided to take a workshop at The Maker Bean to learn how to digitize my designs. What I also found was a really good partnership with them. They are such wonderful people and they have the same spirit of empowering others to make their designs, so it's been a very good fit.

    We have built a nice creative partnership and I love coming to them with an idea and they can provide input to help take it to that next level that I wouldn't be able to reach on my own.

     

    How do you come up with new designs?

     

    Well, graph paper is a great friend for any cross-stitch designer. I kind of come up with designs in my head, and then sketch them out on graph paper. I also use a program called Stitch Fiddle, which is like a glorified Excel spreadsheet where you can dump colors into different boxes, and it's all sized for cross-stitching. It’s a free application, it does have a paid component if you want to get fancy, but the free one is pretty good.

     

    Which is your favourite design?

     

    I’m in love with a new one called Monty Moose. My Instagram followers named him. He's on an ugly sweater in a little dress shirt with a red bow tie and red and green suspenders, but he has this adorable hunch to him. I see him as the tired manager at your favorite restaurant or as a butler who's overworked during the Christmas holidays. He's so happy, but also so tired. I can relate to that, you know?

     

    This year you launched a Spring Line with adorable Easter inspired animals and eggs + a yarn wrapped rainbow, were these already in the works or did this come about because of COVID?

     

    Exactly, right I had more free time. I thought let's expand the line outside of Christmas, so I did some Valentine’s inspired DIY kits and some Easter kits. I've got some stuff in the works for summer 2022, which is exciting. Moving forward I want Canadian Stitchery to be an all-year pursuit.

     

    During the holiday season you offer finished ornaments + your DIY kits, do you stitch them yourself or recruit helpers?

     

    They are all 100% stitched by me, usually on my holidays, sitting on a dock. I still have those meditative moments after long days and that's the result is that people can buy them ready to gift.

     

    What are you currently reading?

     

    I’m currently reading a book called The Vanishing Half by Britt Bennett. It’s about twins who are separated and there is a big racial component to the storyline. It has been good at diving into important issues that we are all talking about.

     

    I enjoy escaping into a good book.

     

     

    I loved talking with Mary more, she and I chatted virtually last Fall for my Maker Chat OOAK series and I love hearing about that spark that drives makers to put their goods out into the world. I can personally attest to the joy that my nieces and nephews got when they opened their ornaments, and because they know I make things myself that was the first thing they asked, “Did you make these?” What is more beautiful gift to give than one your hands made? Check out Canadian Stitchery’s website to see all her DIY kits and grab one to gift as a kit or make it up yourself to gift something you made!

    Femme Stories | Edition 21 | Melissa

    The Femme Stories is a blog series celebrating the makers who inspire and empower their community, and continue to gift us with their creativity; these are their stories.
     
    Melissa | Mel’s Hangry Table
     
    Melissa’s Instagram was my guilty pleasure during the start of the pandemic, she legit entertained me and took away the stress of the uncertainty of the times. She shared what she was doing at home, along with what she was cooking, plus when restaurants started opening up she quickly worked to set up a Restaurant Directory to highlight as many local restaurants as possible. I never go out before checking her directory or Instagram for inspiration on where to eat out!
    Mel's Hangry Table Blog

     

    I started following a year ago and instantly fell in love with your vibe on social media, when did you start food blogging/influencing? 

    I’ve been doing this for about three years, consistently. My family owns Sabai Thai, a restaurant in Kanata, so I was trying to figure out if there was a support system for local restaurants and I didn’t really find anything. I was like, okay, well, since I post about food, and I talk about food, and local businesses, why not go all in. I started to help my family restaurant, but also restaurants nearby and it grew from there.

    How long have you had your family restaurant and from your stories I know you are involved in the front of house, but are you ever in the back of house at the restaurant?

    It’s been four to five years that we have had the restaurant and definitely cannot do back of house. I have much love for chefs and sous chefs, the work that they do is absolutely wild. Like, I can’t do it personally, so kudos to them.

    When I started following you it was the very start of the pandemic and you were sharing a lot of your own family’s recipes, did you always do that or how did the blog start out initially?

    So, the beginning was mostly restaurants just because when you're in the restaurant industry your hours are so crazy. Mine were 11am to 9pm, with a break from 2-5. That didn’t always leave me time to go home and cook, so I was always eating out, that's why I started doing reviews on restaurants. I pretty much ate out all the time.

    At the start of the pandemic, when the stay at home order was in place, I needed to fill my time and that's when I started incorporating the recipes. I would prepare a dish, test it out and post a picture, people were really engaged because we were all home and it grew from there. 

    When COVID-19 hit, influencers throughout Ottawa made it their mission to put focus on small businesses and you were a champion for local restaurants. Was your restaurant directory always a goal, or inspired by this past year? 

    It came about because of the lockdown. It was just so confusing, because we weren't sure what restaurants were open and what the rules were for each restaurant. I thought because I have this platform I should use it to have a directory for everyone to be able to see the information on one page. Then you can see what restaurants are open near me, how can I order, what are their rules. There is still a lot more I want to add but I did really want to highlight as many restaurants as possible. 

    Your social media focuses on your family, from your restaurant, to mama Mel living below you, was this a conscious decision or did it come about organically?

    Well, it was because I live with my mom, so it is definitely a conscious decision. Anytime my mom is featured on my Instagram it is because we have talked about it and she has given her permission. She understands what I do and gets what it is about.

    Do you ever feel pressure when promoting a certain restaurant or brand? 

    No, I’m very transparent. They know I have to try their food before posting about it and most of the time I've already eaten at that restaurant and then they reach out asking if I will promote. I am just really honest and only promote restaurants or brands I have tried and really enjoy myself.

     Do you ever feel like you are running out of restaurants to city?

    No, there's so many, especially those hole in the wall restaurants or mom and pop shops where they make something so unique and it's not in mainstream media, which is super cool.

     If you had to only eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would you choose?

    Sushi, I could literally eat it all the time! I have been to Japan a couple times and it is my absolute fav.

     What are you currently reading?

    I actually read a lot of other people’s reviews on restaurants. I follow Facebook groups and that is a great spot to find those hole in the wall places that are out of my neighbourhood.

     

    Mel's Hangry Table is the website I check before heading out to eat. She has lots of different options for whatever mood you are in and the reels she creates totally inspires where I will eat next. Make sure to head to Mel’s Hangry Table website to check out her directory + her reels are drool worthy. If you are feeling in a restaurant slump Mel can 100% bring you out with her all her amazing content and get you inspired to enjoy some Ottawa Restaurants.

     

    Femme Stories | Edition 20 | Mel + Trish

    The Femme Stories is a blog series celebrating the makers who inspire and empower their community, and continue to gift us with their creativity; these are their stories.
     
    Mel & Trish | Mini Tipi
     
    I first met the owners of Mini Tipi in December 2017. I had just moved back to the Ottawa area and was participating in my first Freewheeling Craft Show, Mel and Trish were my booth neighbours. They came over to introduce themselves and were kind, lovely and instantly made me feel welcome. Throughout the day I got to see their products up close; the quality of fabric, the beautiful prints, the gorgeous cut, each piece was lovelier than the last. Fast forward to today and a lot has changed under the Mini Tipi brand, but the quality of product hasn’t. We dive into all those changes, a lot which happened this year, in this Femme Stories edition.
    Mel and Trish, owners and designers of Mini Tipi

    How did the two of you meet?

     Trish: I moved to the Gatineau area and my youngest child was six months old at the time. I didn't have any friends in this new place so, I started joining all kinds of mommy and me classes. Melanie was also there with her baby who was the same age as mine and we kind of just became friends. She was the only one that would speak English to me and had this big warm smile, we just clicked.  

    Mel: You could also say it was our love of aqua fitness that brought us together!  

    What prompted you to start your company?  

    Mel: It came together very organically. When we first met Trish was sewing for fun, it was her hobby, and I would ask can you make this? Or what about this? We had young babies so we were looking at what products other moms needed. 

    Trish: I was mostly sewing two products, washcloths and baby blankets and I had done a couple Christmas Markets by myself and I was selling in a shop. Nothing major, but it was Mel who suggested making a Facebook page, she started taking pictures and at shows she was always there for support, so I said why don't we do something together. Then started building this [Mini Tipi], well I didn’t think it would be this, but we just started working together and it eventually grew into this. We are so lucky because our strengths are opposite each other, we know a lot of makers who are envious of our partnership. 

    Mel: I used to think just find a person to work with, like it was easy. As the years have gone by, I realize it isn’t that easy. We are very lucky, because it is almost like a marriage. We know how lucky we are too have found each other. You know, the road is not always easy, but what is always our rock is us, and our love for our baby; our business. As we grow I find it more and more special what we have. 

    When you first started working together, the creation of Mini Tipi, was it very much the company that we see today or did it look different? 

    Trish: Very different. It used to be called TP Creations and it was very much me sewing in my basement. The name was a fusion of culture and my initials and our logo was a picture from Vista Print, it wasn’t great, we knew we had to switch directions. 

    Mel: The name ‘Mini Tipi’ came about because Trish is an Anglophone and I am a Francophone so we wanted a name that was bilingual and reflected the Indigenous culture. 

    Trish: Past the name changed, our products have changed as well. We started out with a lot of baby products. I think just based on our lifestyle, we started to move away from that because as our kids grew, so did our company. We added products like our blankets, bags, mittens and started focusing more on women’s fashion, accessories and more home décor. 

    Mel: Definitely and as we moved away from baby products, we started looking at other company and realized there was no one selling authentic Indigenous prints. It bothered both of us, Trish was reconnecting with her culture and for me I am a nerd, I love details and I love to know facts. We decided Mini Tipi needed to make a difference and we would offer authentic Indigenous designs in collaboration with artists. 

    Last Winter I got to see your new headquarters, with your in-house sewing team, how has the transition been to having control of your own production been? 

    Trish: It's a huge relief and honestly, I have found we still have some trauma from dealing with production outside our control. For us to grow as a company and feel confident, having that knowledge of what we're capable of doing and not doing, based on what fabric we have in stock or what is being produced has been game changing. Before we were limited, and now we're kind of like, what is our full potential? This is a brand-new year for us to be able to meet demand for our harvest season. 

    Mel: What we needed just didn’t exist. There wasn’t a cut and sew shop that could keep up with our demand for product, so we decided to jump and make it happen for ourselves. 

    What was the inspiration behind your blankets? 

    Trish: Going back to what Mel was touching on, in terms of realizing that there was no authentic Indigenous design. We wanted a product that could tell a story and that customers could have an experience with. For me as we have built Mini Tipi I have gone on this journey to reconnect with my culture, so it really is about promoting the culture, the artist and at the same time giving back to our community. 

    What prompted you {Trish} to reconnect with your culture?

     Trish: Major disconnect and lack of confidence. There were a few times at shows that people would come up to me and ask a question and I would just breath and want to cry, not wanting to say the wrong thing. Mini Tipi really opened the door for me to learn more, have more of an acceptance for who I am and gain that confidence in myself.

    Mel: In the last few years, we have definitely noticed on the business side through social media that people were looking at us more for a connection to the Indigenous culture. You know for a lot of people Trish might be the only Indigenous person they know, so for them it is a connection to this culture and a way to learn. We often receive such an overwhelming response to information we provide and we definitely found our voice. I feel as confident to talk about one of our designs as Trish would and that is because we have both taken the time to learn. 

    The patterns for your fabrics are designed by local Indigenous artists how do you start working with them? 

    Trish: A lot of times the artists are new to the process when it comes to textile design. They are often established in their own right, but we help guide them on how to design for textiles. 

    Mel: That is Trish’s superpower, she is amazing at finding talented artists. 

    Trish you designed The Four Directions blanket, what significance is that design to you? 

    Trish: I was inspired by the sacred circle. Indigenous people are guided by the “medicine wheel” and how all things are connected. 4 directions, 4 seasons, 4 beings of life, Spiritual, Emotional, Physical and Mental. For me personally, I was definitely seeking direction and reconnecting to my culture has helped me find that. Stay connected to your true self and all things surrounding you. – Follow your direction. 

    You are both such pillars in the locally made community, you are always uplifting at shows and interested in other designers process, what is the thing you miss most about in person markets? 

    Mel: Everything! Except load in and load out. I miss in person contact, I miss hanging out with makers and sharing our problems, hearing theirs and helping to solve them. I really miss hearing other people’s wins, that always makes us happy. I miss seeing customers in person and letting them see our passion. In person that is easy to get across, through online sales that is always a little different. 

    Do you have any new designs or fabrics dropping this Fall? 

    Trish: Well we can give you first dibs on some news. This year’s Fall Collection we have a big change, we have switched our manufacturer and we will be introducing an eco-friendlier fabric that is Made in Italy. This was a huge win for us to secure this new fabric and make our products even more special. This was a big goal, as our company grows and has more of an impact, we wanted to ensure we are doing our part for the environment. 

    What are you currently reading? 

    Mel & Trish: We are reading Traction by Gino Wickman & Pursuit 365 an amazing book showcasing a lot of Ottawa business women. 

     

    As you all know now, Mel and Trish are pillars in our maker community, as well as champions for being as eco-friendly as possible. As fashion designers we all see our waste first hand and I adore both of these women for standing up and working to make that waste useful. They have turned a lot of scraps into their bags and mittens, but when they reached a point of some pieces being to small they contacted me to see if I would be interested in putting their scraps to good use for my Conscious Heart Sweaters. This is the definition of COMMUNITY OVER COMPETITION. Make sure to follow Mini Tipi on social media to stay up to date with their new Fall Collection Drop and you can head to their website to see their gorgeous products.

     Check back tomorrow to spot their scrap fabric featured on my Conscious Heart Sweaters.

     I am so honoured to collaborate with ladies of Mini Tipi.