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

– Ugo, what is your current role with Respecterre? What tasks do you perform on a daily basis?

I am in charge of Sales and Marketing and am the client contact for sales. Basically, this involves selling our collections to shops every six months, developing new markets, and nurturing relationships with clients. I also respond to corporate requests, in which businesses ask us to sew garments bearing their logo. Those include Radio-Canada, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, and some spas.

In terms of marketing, I take care of creating catalogues for our collections, thinking up posters, and designing new undergarment boxes. I also manage the Respecterre website—that includes implementation and maintenance, newsletter and blog post writing, and promotion for our apparel.

I also work as company manager, taking the reins to steer Respecterre in the right direction. For example, I organize associate meetings. Essentially, all business development issues are generally routed through my office.

– You are a newcomer to Respecterre. What led you to your current position?

At first, I was practically supposed to be an observer, nothing more (!). At the time, I was going to help with the online shop and support Karen in some of her duties. However, Respecterre was growing and its staff was undergoing changes. Slowly but surely, I started to get involved more and more in sales and business development. As with most jobs in life, it’s important to get acknowledged with the work environment and carve a niche for yourself!

– What do you like best about your work?

Above all, I like being creative, e.g. designing graphics for the website or marketing campaigns. I also love to popularize information. In our industry, a large amount of information remains undisclosed or shared as half-truths. Hence, I like to search for accurate information, so that I can explain to consumers what they’re buying. This way, they can make informed purchases!

Twice a year, I visit retailers throughout Canada. I really enjoy these trips and encounters with our clients.

– Which personal or professional quality are you most proud of having developed through your work in this sector?

My sense of organization when it comes to my tasks, schedules and follow-ups with clients. This is very important in order to be efficient while keeping your cool!

– You work in an especially difficult and competitive industry, which requires great strength, high motivation and certain specific values. What are yours? How do you express these values through Respecterre and its development?

My motivation is much strengthened by the fact that we’re offering citizens an alternative to the second most polluting industry in the world. Also, we’re giving consumers the option to purchase their clothing in a responsible manner. Last but not least, everyone has to earn a living, and I think my work with Respecterre is a nice way of doing this.

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

Working in sales is very challenging and requires an exceptional amount of perseverance and commitment. The clothing industry is highly competitive—and yes, this even includes the eco-friendly clothing niche. Doing business with retailers is like walking on a tightrope: the market is volatile, so many shops close down or have trouble paying us. Opening up our market often seems like an impossible mission. Up until now, the clients we have won over are only making up for the ones we lose. Also, the clothing industry makes it difficult for us to expand because our clothing lines only provide for a small niche; not all shops are after what we offer, even eco-friendly ones.

We also strive to advocate sustainable development, yet sometimes we bump into obstacles. For example, finding a supply of natural fabrics in small quantities is quite the challenge. Most suppliers sell non-organic or synthetic fabrics in large amounts, which only big brands can afford to buy.

Another annoying aspect of my work is that even now, very few individuals are aware of all the steps involved in making a garment. There’s fibre production, transformation of those fibres into thread and fabric, design and sewing, as well as transportation and sales. Many people are involved in these steps. In the conventional clothing industry, worker rights are often disrespected: think of pesticides sprayed on fibre crops or dyes used during fabric production. This process also has heavy consequences on the environment. People sometimes have trouble understanding their seven-dollar T-shirt and seventeen-dollar jeans come from the exploitation of several people and are damaging to our planet.

Much work has yet to be done to popularize this information and share it with consumers in order to help them make conscious choices.

– Is there a specific aspect of your work that you would like people to know?

I work at Respecterre with my mother Noëlline and my sister Karen, which is a great privilege every day!

– Recently, you have developed the logo “Made in an Ecovillage” which appears on Respecterre clothing tags. Can you tell us its meaning and purpose?

This logo represents the whole concept behind Respecterre, which people don’t really know about! We are not like most other businesses who serve the interests of a single person. On the contrary, we are a team of associates who use our profits and wages to support a community aiming to change the world through better education of youth and development of a sustainable and fair-trade lifestyle in every aspect.

To be completely honest, this logo also serves a very precise marketing purpose: standing out from our competition. In a way, our only option is to convince people to buy clothes based on their ecological value. On one hand, if we cannot convince consumers of the importance of such a choice, our company would not be profitable enough to survive on the market in the long term. On the other hand, if everybody starts buying eco-friendly clothes in the next few years, which would be great news, we would lose business to large corporations. We need to stand out.

But in the end, who else can boast about living less than one kilometre from their work and their children’s school, to enjoy family lunches every day, to grow their own vegetables and make their own compost, and to make some of their clothes? Supporting Respecterre also means supporting an ecovillage: in other words, a lifestyle.

– What are your dreams for Respecterre and for the industry in which you work?

My biggest wish would be to participate in the development of hemp and flax fabrics made in Canada, as well as the development of clay-based dyes. By doing so, we would go up a notch when it comes to sustainability, as our clothes would be 100% local! However, we have to wait for changes regarding industrial hemp laws, which are in the works. The federal government just has to make a decision. Also, I must admit that despite the possibility of growing hemp in Canada, there’s still one even more significant challenge—finding a way to convert the fiber into thread and fabric. We lost this ability over the 20th century due to stigmatization of hemp; hence, to this day, all the expertise to transform hemp fiber is located in China.

I would also like to help boost Respecterre’s sales figure, in order for our team to earn a decent minimum wage. We succeeded in creating a well-established alternative business, yet our costs are very high. Our survival is due to the low salary accepted by all our associates. In this sense, it would be a great reward for our very committed workers to one day earn some more well-deserved money.

What is your favourite Respecterre clothing or fibre, and why?

I love the Maheo Bermuda shorts. The fabric is made from a hemp and organic cotton blend… it’s wonderful!

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

For sure! There’s music (both listening to it and playing piano), as well as personal development in all areas of my life.

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

Developing something simple can get quite complicated!

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 .