Translated with the help of Lucie Battaglia. Thank you Lucie!

Apprentice seamstress Hideliza has great inner strength and a beautiful authenticity. Born and raised in Cuba, she moved to Quebec, surprisingly in a small rural village! She quickly got accustomed to the French language and Quebec customs and is now fully Canadian, but each day, she has many stories to share from her homeland. I invite you to discover here a curious, funny, and very optimistic person!

– Hideliza, what is your current role in Respecterre? What are your daily tasks?

I am a seamstress, in the broadest sense of the word! I often work with a machine, but I also participate in different stages of the dressmaking process: I can embroider, inspect clothing (final quality control), fold, label, and box.

– You’re new at Respecterre and you’re right in the middle of discovering this business. What motivated you to choose your job?

Despite my total lack of sewing experience before I started out with Respecterre, it has been for me a kind of natural progression: my great-grandmother made a living with this job, and so did her 13 daughters! Later on, my grandmother and my mother took the same path. Since my childhood years, I had always seen my mom sew; she dressed us, my sister and I, when we were young. It’s a little ironic, because I had never sewn before, but my whole family line has dedicated their lives to this art. Today I have the chance to learn on the job with my experienced colleagues.

– You have a very interesting life story, having been born in Cuba and chosen not only to come to Canada, but to settle in a rural area. How did you adapt to this environment? What does it mean to you to live in the country?

I feel blessed to say that my transition was smooth. I think living in the country has been a key element in this process. Since my arrival, I’ve been living in a little bubble, in total French immersion and surrounded by friendly people. From the very start, country life has given me benefits that I value every day: less atmospheric and sound pollution, a privileged contact with nature and animals, and easy commuting. My job is close to home, so I’m quite lucky. Also, I work in the fashion industry in a place full of windows through which, at any time of the day, I can contemplate the beautiful scenery. Who else could claim to be so fortunate?

– A company like Respecterre relies heavily on ecological production and local ethics to stand out. Can these values also be found in Cuba’s fashion industry?

Cubans are always on the forefront of new trends and have an original, flamboyant clothing style. Unfortunately, ecological dressmaking practically doesn’t exist there, and companies like Respecterre are not highly supported, largely due to a lack of information and awareness. Citizens have little environmental awareness. As for local production, we are also lagging behind, because it is often preferred as a last resort. It’s very sad, and I’d really like this to change one day. In this sense, I appreciate the increasing awareness efforts in Canada.

– What do you like most about your work at Respecterre?

There are so many aspects of my work that motivate me to go there every day; it’s a real chance I have! I have exceptional colleagues, who are always willing to help and show great patience (I even get smiles when I mess up!). My tasks are very diverse, so the routine always changes. There is no time to get bored. Finally, it’s a great joy to be making such beautiful clothes in fabrics that respect both our environment and the health of factory workers!

– Respecterre is part of an ecovillage. What does this mean to you? Did you know the world of ecovillages before arriving here?

I had never heard of an ecovillage. It is a new concept for me. I do not live in La Cité Écologique, as is the case for many of the Respecterre employees, but I find the idea brilliant. We would need more communities like La Cité Écologique of Ham-Nord in the world. It is an example to follow. Despite not living there, the fact of working for one of its companies still makes me feel involved in sustainability and committed to a better society instead of just dreaming about it.

– Everything isn’t always easy in life, and your job is full of challenges. What is the greatest difficulty or frustration for you?

In terms of my everyday work, it would be the learning process. I am an inexperienced seamstress and each new learning process is a big challenge, which requires perseverance and infinite patience… both for me and for my production manager (laughs)! I always succeed, but I still have a few years to go before becoming an experienced seamstress. The other aspect of my job which hurts me a lot is that still too many people choose to buy clothes made outside of Canada. It is difficult for small, local clothing companies to break through and make a living. When people are more aware of ecological, ethical, and local clothes, then companies like ours will flourish!

-How do you foresee your future with Respecterre? What would you like to accomplish in the upcoming months and years?

My realistic goals are not too high. I would like to continue to gain experience and be able to operate a wider variety of sewing machines (some are specialized and require a lot of practice). Though, as a long-term ambition, I would be happy to become a versatile seamstress, who can take on any task!

– What is your favourite Respecterre clothing or fibre? Why?

My favourite is the Vanessa dress, because it is dressy and sexy at the same time. I feel beautiful wearing it, and don’t even need to wear jewelry with this dress! In addition, it is made from bamboo, my favourite fibre.

– Work isn’t everything in life. Do you have a passion or interest that motivates you in your personal life?

Now I am Canadian, but my roots are in Cuban. Dance, of course, is in my DNA. It’s my fuel for a perfect day! I like to go out dancing, and in those moments, the Vanessa dress fits perfectly!

– Tell me a word or phrase that represents you well.

Never give up!!!

– I think that to conclude, you would like to address a subject that speaks to you for both ecological and humanitarian reasons. Tell us a little more.

Indeed, we have talked about the work done by Respecterre and its avant-garde values that are promoted and applied here. But I cannot ignore the general working conditions for the majority of sewing employees everywhere on the planet. We are unaware or often forget (perhaps because we do not see it every day), but most of these women are very often exploited, working countless hours in substandard factories and receiving a ridiculously low salary, while big companies rack up the profits. As for the environment, the picture is bleak, as most of the fabrics used are either synthetic (thus made from petroleum) or cotton. Cotton cultivation, as few people know, uses an incredible amount of pesticides and water, and often relies on GMOs. Many of the dyes used are highly toxic and have disastrous consequences on the health of sewing workers.

Thinking about it frustrates and discourages me. Despite not having the capacity to change the world, I tell myself that I contribute in my way to a small-scale revolution by choosing to work with a company that puts forward ecology, ethics and local production. Even here in Canada, how many seamstresses can boast of having the chance to work in such conditions?

About the Author Charles Marceau-Cotton: With just a little more than a year of life in the ecovillage “La Cite Ecologique”, I’m the new room! Setting foot in such a community, and above all decide to settle here has its share of great moments but also challenges of all kinds. I therefore propose, through these texts, my views on various aspects of community life and personal observations of the gap that sometimes exists between the “mainstream”  life and the ecovillage life .