This week, I interviewed Karen, production manager at Respecterre. This job requires a great dedication, courage and strong convictions, and these are values that represent well this young woman. Engaged for years in the development of the company and also advocates a daily healthy living through sport, yoga, cooking, and volunteering for the ecovillage!

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

Currently I have two main roles: management of production and management of garment manufacturing contracts for other companies. We have our own clothing line (Respecterre) that we create, cut, sew and distribute. We also make corporate t-shirt or golf shirts for some companies (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Radio-Canada, Many other, etc.) Finally, our third category of production is what we do for other fashion companies that have similar values (Oöm, Message Factory, Flip Design and Eco-Eco). So I take care to manage and look for contact, and then to manage the preparation of all the production chain. This implies, among other, management of the production staff and synchronization of deadlines. I do not have time to get bored!

– How did you arrive at his current position?

In 2007, when Respecterre was created, so I took care of accounting and also doing some promotional fairs during the year. Then, in 2009, I added several strings to my bow: Customer service (retail and wholesale), the purchase of raw materials (fabrics in natural fibers), monitoring the sale of software and the renewal of organic and fair trade certifications.

Over the years and positions held, I came to realize how the leadership position in production was precious and few people my age had the ambition or the experience to occupy. As a teenager, I had the chance to learn to sew with my mother, who always taught me to work manually and that values enormously what is done by hand (gardens, meals, sewing, knitting, etc.) Then, finishing high school, I participated in the school-business program of our ecovillage including an internship with HIGHTEX (our sewing business at the time), where I learned to make and efficiently produce with 5 different industrial  sewing machines.

With this background in various positions and Respecterre who needed a production manager, I wanted to meet take this challenge. I am now the production manager since 2015.

– You work in a very challenging and competitive industry. You have to have great strength, good motivations and core values to work with. What are yours?

I always thought that having a job in the countryside was a unique opportunity. It requires working very hard to acquire and hold it, the fashion industry is mostly concentrated in the city. To have a business in this environment, however, allows us to enjoy a range of benefits: walking to work everyday, to take time to take a walk or a run in the nearby forest, eat organic food from the ecovillage farm, etc. Respecterre is creating jobs for members of the ecovillages an people in the area. I am very proud of these results and it motivates me daily!

– What do you love most about your job?

I love the variety of jobs I have to do, the constant challenges that are brought to me. I learn to combine human management aspects and the management of a clothing production chain. In this process, I also have the chance to work within my values every day, for the production of green, ethical and local clothing.

– What are you most proud of having developed as a personal or professional working in this sector?

Having learned how to fall and get up … resilience! Yes it is a mistake, yes we make mistakes; but if you stay on it, it does not advance. We must stand up, try again. I like this quote that says “the strongest people are not always the people who win, but those who do not give up when they lose.”

We must also learn to live day to day while having a long term vision and confidence in the efforts we make. Success is always the result of great efforts. I have learned and am still learning to trust my intuition and my experience. This is what allows me to move forward personally.

– Everything isn’t always easy, and an industry like yours brings a lot of challenges. What is for you the greatest difficulty or frustration?

The fashion industry is not the easiest; the one of environmentally responsible fashion too. Our biggest challenge is always to find the right customers looking for these products, who understand what we encourage, that have the same values as us. Part of our business is selling to retailers. But I would say that this market is difficult, because over the years we have seen many retailers close their doors. Our wholesale market is constantly to be rebuilt. When we discover a new store, we lose one; it takes a lot of energy. By cons, our retail customers (individuals to whom we sell online) who have found us and loved are incredibly amazing! They understand what we stand for: fashion should be made local, environmentally friendly and sustainable. The apparel industry is one of the most polluting. Also, if the big clothing brands in the world made the choice not to exploit developing countries workers and favoring fair wages instead of constantly increase their profits, every human would be better off. This is an aspect of the industry that I don’t like, but I am proud to say that we are part of the solution.

– Is there a special feature of your job would you like people to know?

I am fortunate to work and live in a multigenerational environment; I love this aspect of my work! At 35, I’m still learning a lot from more experienced seamstresses. I also learn from their life experiences. I feel very fortunate to have access to such experiences. I believe that the seamstress job is very poorly valued. Most people do not realize all the work is behind a garment. My production manager eye, I see the making of every garment and I know how a seamstresses must have experience. Today, more and more, it’s my turn to share my experience. At Respecterre, we are seamstresses, not sewing machine operators: in this sense, there is a transfer of knowledge that takes time and comes with this choice and this new vision of the business. A small local business, ecological needs for everyone to be versatile in their work, flexible and willing to learn. This is a criterion that ultimately makes little monotonous work, nurturing and stimulating!

– Respecterre advocates lot of ecological values, ethics and local production. Can you give me concrete examples of things that you’re doing.

As I mentioned before, human relationships are at the heart of our success and we give them a great place. We support the jobs in our town. We also offer pleasant working conditions: a soft, flexible schedule, valuing what each employee.

Ethics and local aspect of the work with whom we do business. We sew a few times for other Quebec ecological brands … brands that, at first, saw us as competitors. Our honest and respectful work has earned their confidence and succeed in making them understand that we are stronger together than apart. Together, we offer a different choice, a responsible fashion, ecological and local, and we should be proud!

– What are your future dreams for Respecterre, but also for your industry?

I fervently hope that Respecterre continues to be a pioneer of environmentally responsible clothing. Our company also enlarges its scope, awakening consciences to an alternative and different way of living. Finally, I wish Respecterre continues to create jobs, both in its ecovillage in the town.

– What is your favorite clothing or your favorite Respecterre fiber? Why?

My favorite fiber is hemp. Although at first it seems to be not as soft as bamboo, it softened over time. It is also the most environmentally friendly fiber, it breathes well, it’s thermoregulatory. It naturally grows in Canada. We just have to find Canadian suppliers ready to transform the fiber into textiles (because currently all the expertise in this area is Chinese)!

– Work is not all in life. Do you have a passion or interests that motivate you in your personal life?

Several activities feed me every day. The first is to play sports, whatever, as long as it is outside close to nature! I also love everything about health, nutrition, yoga, meditation, spirituality. Keeping a good life balance. Never stop learning and keep growing is the secret of my happiness. It is also what gives me the strength and energy to volunteer for the ecovillage in which I grew up. This lifestyle is for me an incredible wealth. I hope to contribute as it continues to flourish.

– Give us a word or sentence that represents you well..

In fact, it is a reflexion that inspires me a lot: “Dance like nobody’s watching you, sing as if no one listened to you, love as if nobody had ever hurt you, work as if you did not need money, live as if heaven was on earth. “

“I would also like to add that a company like Respecterre is the result of its workers, but its success is due to many people who we invest time and energy voluntarily, to the ecovillage who supported financially and to customers who believe in alternative modes of ecological clothing and all of those who are telling their friend about Respecterre. Thank you all for this help, thank you for believing in Respecterre and still believing in it. “- Karen

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 .