We debut our April #LadyBossInterview Series with Malorie Bertrand. She's the founder & owner of Either/Or, an ethical fashion online store, editor-in-chief at EF Magazine and a media relations & communications professional at the Canada Foundation for Innovation. I had the privilege to interview Malorie on her undeniable passion for sustainable and environmentally conscious matters and her leadership role as a women entrepreneur.
Do you remember when you first became aware of fashion?
My earliest and strongest memory related to fashion was being mocked by a girl in my kindergarten class for wearing white overalls with pastel-colored animals on them. I think it was the first time I realized anyone else was paying attention to my outfits. It made me despise the overalls, sadly enough!
Other than that incident, my relationship with fashion has always been positive. Since I was very young, my mom took me garage sales on Saturdays and we’d spend hours browsing through racks and racks of clothing at Value Village or the Salvation Army.
How would you describe your personal style?
Funny you should ask because I’m currently going through The Curated Closet’s worksheet, written by blogger Anuschka Rees, formerly of Into Mind, and working on defining my personal style better than I ever have before. As it stands, I’d call it classic minimalism.
Photo: Malorie Bertrand, founder of Either/Or
Either/Or was launched in September 2016, what inspired you to start your own online fashion store?
I had toyed with the idea in the past, but it was my boyfriend who gave me the needed push to action it. I’ve been blogging about sustainable fashion for more than nine years now, and I parlayed this into styling. Launching an online shop to promote the Canadian, sustainable labels that I’ve been writing about for so long seemed like a natural step for me.
I’d eventually like to work on the shop full-time from home, and establish a sustainable fashion incubator of sorts for Canadian designers.
Why the name Either/Or and what's the meaning behind it?
I had thought of a name for the shop, and I even went so far as to register my business under that name, only to discover a new fashion boutique opening up in my city with the same name. I scrambled for ideas, and serendipitously landed on an entry in the dictionary for Either/Or, the title of philosopher Soren Kierkegaard’s essay on living life for ethics or aesthetics. I argue that you can live with both, a value for beauty and ethics, and that sustainable fashion is one way to go about it.
Each piece of the collection featured on www.shopeitheror.com is carefully sourced from sustainable Canadian designers, was that a conscious decision?
Absolutely. The shop’s raison-d’etre is to give Canadian, sustainable fashion designers another platform to promote their labels and to help people shop from them. I believe strongly in the importance of changing our fashion industry and making it more ethical and environmentally sustainable.
Photo Credit: www.shopeitheror.com (Label: Jennifer Torosian)
How do you stay up to date with current fashion trends for each seasons?
I don’t let trends define which pieces I buy for the shop. Trends are designed to expire and customers are trained to like a trend for only so long. Although I believe in adopting a trend into your wardrobe and sporting it for as long as you want, I prefer to buy pieces that are more minimalist in design and therefore more versatile and long-lasting.
What are the standards you go by when it's time to select fashion pieces for a new collection?
First and foremost, I look for labels that manufacture everything in Canada. I also look for quality construction and fabrics. I favor independent labels. Many of the labels I carry are one-person operations or made up of a small team. I like to be able to talk directly with the designer, meet them in person if I can, and make a personal connection with them. I favor labels that use eco-textiles or recycled fabric, but I’ll accept labels that use mainstream fabrics so long as they’re of high quality and the construction of the clothing is strong. Lastly, I buy pieces that are minimalist in style and versatile enough for people to combine them with their current wardrobes as easily as possible.
What sets you apart from other ethical online fashion stores?
Either/Or is proud to be part of an expanding online, global community of wonderful ethical fashion shops, but what sets it apart is the focus on carrying only Canadian labels. This is also a one-person operation, made up of yours truly, so the brand messaging is very personal. I hope people can relate to me as a small business owner, as a sustainable fashion advocate, and see the benefit of supporting this shop.
Photo Credit: www.shopeitheror.com (Label: Mary Lee Jewellery)
You're also a media relations and communications professional, a stylist and the editor-in-chief at EF Magazine, a socially conscious blog, how do you maintain a work/life balance?
When you balance on a tightrope, your body is never still. All of your muscles are working hard to keep you upright, and your weight is constantly shifting. This is the same for balance in life. You’ll never have everything in perfect balance, your focus will fluctuate between three major priorities. For me, they’re family/friends, my health and the shop.
When I launched the shop, I knew I’d have to focus entirely on it, so I’ve retired EF Magazine and I rarely style anymore. I certainly haven’t mastered focus, but I’m improving with age. I’ve learned the value of saying no, and this has made it a heck of alot easier for me to make time for what’s important. I’m also lucky that I rarely take my day job home with me. It’s not as demanding as a private-sector position might be.
All this to say that I don’t balance it all, I’ve had to make cuts, and it feels great to simplify my life. I don’t glorify being busy anymore. I want to keep working on being more available for friends and family, because at the end of the day, they’re most important. I spent my twenties doing this and that, and my boyfriend would say I still work more than anyone he knows, but everyone has different levels of energy and I get energy from being involved and doing things. No matter how simple I make my life, I’ll always be juggling something!
Some will say ethical fashion is too expensive and their budget doesn't allow them to buy ethical fashion, as a stylist, what recommendations would you give them to make the transition to a more sustainable life?
As a stylist focused on promoting a life of quality over one of quantity, I try to show people how to value clothing more. There’s a great quote from the documentary called Minimalism, in which a professor states that we’re not actually a materialist society at all. True materialism means valuing material things, and when it comes to clothing, we’ve learned not to value it at all. We can buy three T-shirts for $20 bucks, wear them a few times and discard them without a care in the world.
So when people say they can’t afford ethical fashion, I ask them to total up how much they spend on fast fashion in a month or in a year. Then I ask them how long those items lasted. Nine times out of ten, you’ll actually spend more buying fast fashion over and over again, then if you invested in only a handful of key items a year. If you divide the cost of an expensive, ethical fashion item by the number of times you’ll wear it, you end up spending less than a $1/wear.
If someone really can’t get themselves to spend $400 on a quality sweater that they’ll wear forever, then I say to go second-hand or consignment shopping. I’m a huge fan of this, and it’s a great way to stay within your budget. But beware the temptation to buy too much just because it’s cheap. I always try to promote mindful shopping.
Do you think Canadians are doing enough to promote and bring awareness when it comes to slow fashion ?
I think Canadian designers are doing the best they can, but they often have limited time and resources to do so. I think the Canadian fashion industry can definitely do more to promote them. I’d like to see a sustainable fashion incubator taking shape here in the next few years. Sustainable designers need more funding to get started, and more resources to find eco-friendly textile suppliers. Canadian bloggers are also doing a great job. More and more of them are switching their focus to sustainable fashion and I think that’s wonderful.
Who are some of your favorite sustainable designers?
I love of course the labels I’m currently carrying, and I’m excited to launch the spring/summer pieces from Duffield Design, Devlyn Van Loon, Sunja Link and new to the shop: Amanda Moss and Hutchison. In Canada I admire Eliza Faulkner, Nicole Bridger, Horses Atelier and Tony Chestnut Design. Outside of Canada, I love Elizabeth Suzann, Hackwith Design, Voices of Industry, Jesse Kamm, Mirador, Kowtow and Base Range, to name just a few.
How has your life experience helped you become the leader you are today?
Great question. I’m incredibly blessed to have two loving parents who always supported my projects and got excited about my ideas. They never put up roadblocks for me. If I had an idea, they said go for it. This is why I so greatly admire anyone who grew up in adversity and overcame it to become wonderful, accomplished people.
My dad taught me that you can do anything if you just get up and do it, and if you do it with class. Call up that very important person and ask them politely and confidently to join your event, they just might come! My mom showed me the value of creativity in life, and how to not take life too seriously. I inherited my calmness from her. It’s good to be laid-back in stressful times!
As a woman entrepreneur, what do you think are some of the challenges to women’s leadership in 2017?
Stereotypes. They’re just as easy to hold within ourselves as they are to project onto others. Even in a positive workplace in a generally very respectable country such as Canada, subtle misogyny and discrimination can exist. It’s quiet, and hard to point out, but you can feel it under the surface and it’s just as damaging to how women are perceived and how they perceive themselves in the workplace.
What advice would you give to up-and-coming women entrepreneurs?
Know exactly why you want to be an entrepreneur. You’ll sacrifice a lot. Definitely time with family and friends, time to yourself, probably money, possibly relationships and a bit of your health if you’re not careful. If you don’t have a strong “why” that’s based on positive values, you’ll quickly crash and burn. Also, you can’t have it all, not all the time. Be patient with yourself. Be kind to yourself. I don’t believe that we all have to be hustlers who work 24-7 to make their dream come true. I’m building Either/Or slowly, over the course of a few years. It’s the only way I can be successful with the shop and still have the family and friend life that’s most important to me.
Where can we purchase your products?
I currently carry eight labels from my f/w 2016 collection, on sale up to 40% off on www.shopeitheror.com and sometimes in-person in Ottawa at the odd pop-up shop. I will carry seven labels for s/s 2017, available online in May as well as regular pop-up shops.
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