Woman Crush Wednesday: Meet Charmain from Integrity Designs
April 24, 20196 min read
In celebration of women, we've created a series honouring inspiring women who we have serious crushes on. From artists to entrepreneurs, all are passionate about what they do - we hope that sharing their stories will inspire you to turn your dreams into a reality.
A lot of people have the ‘what do I do with my life’ dilemma, I never had that. I was sewing by the time I was 9. I think I was around 10 or 11 when I cut up two shirts and made them into a little outfit. I don’t think my mom was very happy about that, but she was very encouraging and supportive regardless. I think I was just an ambitious fashion diva child.
When I was 18 I started doing volunteer fashion shows with Gay Pride in London Ontario. At 19 I came to Toronto for design school. I had two designer assistant jobs after college. I was working for a bridal designer who had decided to shut down her business, she was the one who pushed me towards Fresh Collective. At that point, Fresh Collective was a collective where you rented a section, stocked your own product and worked in the store. That's where I started my company. Contracting evolved out of that because my label wasn’t making me enough money, so when other designers would ask if I could produce 20 pieces for them that was guaranteed money!
From that my passion for local manufacturing started to grow, realizing the amount of shipping and packaging that came from outsourcing manufacturing. The niche in my business is that I don't have a minimum. Smaller businesses that can’t afford a 100 piece minimum from a larger factory, I’ll make them 5, next time I’ll make them 13, and then I’ll make them 20.
How long have you been working with Encircled? What designs do you sew?
Oh, we’re the worst. I love what I do and I love creating, but this industry as a whole is one of the top polluters on the planet. It's become kind of horrific. From textile manufacturing, shipping and packaging, and of course the cut-off waste especially with fast fashion having such a high turnover rate. I think we all need to take that responsibility and just try and do a little bit better.
I think that's where my mission in business and life comes in. Its companies like encircled and like mine, we do the best we can to set an example that you can make better choices. You can love fashion and make beautiful things without sacrificing everything and maintaining environmental integrity. I cut and sew for my clients but I use the scrap fabric for machine testing or for rags. Just being a little more responsible with our use of things, I think that would be lovely to see at a larger level. I think there is a shift happening, this is the digital age, everything goes viral. We know what H&M does with their stock and we just can’t ignore it anymore. But unfortunately, these shifts take time, especially with big business. It takes more people buying the more expensive eco-friendly products so that the price can come down.
What is important to you when developing your personal fashion line?
It's important to me to use up and find all scrapped things. If I work in new materials it's from clients, or Bunz trades for textiles that is someone else’s waste.
Trying to create e-commerce within my business, the packaging is apart of it. I’ve been putting off launching my online business because the packaging has to be perfect. I can’t be apart of making more garbage. I’m willing to pay the difference if it means having sustainable packaging. Making the eco choice is sometimes about not comparing direct pricing. It's not just about the financial decision it's about the impact I am making. Packaging is one-time use. And if that’s the case I want it to be as small and biodegradable as possible, so in 90 days it doesn’t exist. If the package has to be bigger then I want it to be big and sturdy so that it can be reused or re-gifted or reshipped. For me, It’s about having as little negative impact as possible.
What does being environmentally conscious mean to you?
People think these habits are difficult and a lot of work but really it's like any habit, you work small and do it until its natural. I can’t go to a waste bin and not separate my coffee lid and coffee cup. Just start small and get in the habit of separating or carrying a travel mug. I think people start to feel guilty when people like myself start talking environment. But it's not about overhauling your whole life or lifestyle, it's about making realistic small changes that just become natural in your day.
Big companies have a big responsibility to their waste and that's a big scope thing. But the reality is, if you think of every little thing you do - there are 7 billion people in the world. I throw out a straw or take that extra napkin, times that by 7 billion. We are all in different regions and different circumstances but in my mind, everyone has the ability to do the same things and consume the same things. I think it starts with the little changes that we as consumers can make. A big company like Kimberley Clarke won’t change to hemp overnight, that will take time to shift. But individually if we the consumer make that change, the companies will start to make that change. When shopping sustainably I think it's important not to compare the price. Yes, my organic natural deodorant made by a Canadian Company costs $7 and you can look at something on the market that costs $2. I’ve just stopped comparing the price. To me, it's just not a financial decision. I think it's about going back to the source and what you are choosing to support. It's all about better habits and better choices because there are 7 billion of us.
Do you have any Environmentally friendly practices you implement at work and/or in your personal life?
I really hate garbage. I think that was one of the first things when France got in touch and started working on samples for Encircled, I was like “these are your scraps? That’s amazing!”. It's not garbage to me unless it's absolutely useless. I do a lot of patchwork with cut off pieces. When it's not useable for patchwork I’ll shred it and use for pillow stuffing, which I was heartbreakingly made aware you can't sell since its hypoallergenic. So I use the pillows in my own space.
What advice would you give another woman looking to pursue a similar career path?
I work with a lot of interns it's great having young fresh blood. Seeing their excitement for it. I don’t think there's one path to take. I think being open to opportunities and putting in the time. I started my company and at the time it wasn’t financially working out for me. Instead of giving up the company and finding a job. I chose to move back to my mom's place and got a job in alterations for a few years. Some people who aspire to be a ‘fashion designer’ working in alterations seems a little beneath but that was one of the best educations I ever got. Taking apart garments and learning different machines and how different companies make different things. It's important to look at things as an opportunity to grow and not being set on what you think you should be doing right out of school. Always make a plan, but always be ready to roll with the punches. If you’ve started your own line but this amazing job opportunity presents itself there's no harm in putting your line on hold to take the job and use it as an opportunity to learn and refine your skills and knowledge. Be open and be willing to do the work. There’s nothing glamorous about this work.
Describe what you wear to feel most confident and comfortable
On the day to day, as much as I’m running my company I’m also on the machine a lot. Being comfortable is important. I love wearing my jeans that are totally worn and stretched out, or yoga pants. I find that my day is half manufacturing and half meetings. I have a uniform that’s a basic top, jeans or yoga pants and then a drapey sweater piece and then jewellery. I’m all about jewellery!
Thanks so much, Charmain, for welcoming us into your space. For more information on Charmain, you can visit her website, or find her on instagram at @integrityd_char198four