Getting to Know: Heather McDougall of Bogobrush

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Heather McDougall is the co-founder of Bogobrush, along with her brother John McDougall. Both are children of a dentist who pursued careers in other fields but they have come full circle and returned to the toothbrush. More importantly, they are using this single, everyday, taken-for-granted item and using it as a means for social change. More than just another toothbrush company, Heather has some very inspiring ideas about the ways in which the toothbrush can affect our environment and under-served communities, as well as communities in other impoverished areas outside of our borders, in a positive way. The Bogobrush is a great example of how the items we choose in our lives could carry a value that goes way past a monetary number. 

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How did Bogobrush come about? What were the inspirations, motivations and goals that fueled the birth of the Bogobrush?

John and I say the idea came from when we were kids, growing up as children of a dentist. But, really, neither of us had any intention of following the family business. John went to design school while I went to law school. During those years, we realized our shared passion for sustainability. We wanted to do our part, so we talked about a lot of ideas. We kept coming back to a toothbrush. It’s something people use everyday! More than half a billion manual toothbrushes end up in landfills or polluting natural habitats in the U.S. alone, and more than 80 million Americans lack access to adequate oral care. We had somehow come full circle from childhood.

What was it like growing up with a dentist in the house? I am sure you learned a lot of oral hygiene tips and tricks. Is that the part of the reason why you felt a calling towards helping people with their at-home oral hygiene?

Growing up was a blast. Our mom and dad always encouraged creativity, play, and adventure. Naturally, we also learned a lot about oral health: tips for best ways to brush teeth, what the best toothbrush bristles are, the foods and drinks that are harmful to oral health, how oral health affects heart health, and as we got older, we’d hear how lack of access harms a variety of communities around the country and world, and how policies and diet habits are barriers to quality care. I don’t think we felt a calling at the time, but it certainly helped us see oral health as a real issue to tackle for sustainability.

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Heather and John as little tykes, brushing away.

I understand that currently there are two models for your brushes- a recyclable plastic and a biodegradable handle. Could you describe each in more detail? Why did you guys decide to have a plastic one, rather than going entirely with biodegradable options?

Our plastic brushes are made from entirely recycled plastics that would have been thrown in the landfill. We use what is technically called “re-grind,” which is the plastic waste from other manufacturing projects. We get it from those projects, re-grind it up, and it become the recycled Bogobrush. The handle is 100% recyclable – just toss it in the recycle bin when it’s use is over.

The biodegradable Bogobrush is made from leftover plant material from farms across midwest America. The plant material gets mixed with a vegetable based oil and turns into a material that can be molded like plastic but is biodegradable! Both options can be found here.

We have both options so Bogobrushes can choose which end of life stream is best for their lifestyle. Not everyone composts or has access to community compost so recycling is the best bet. Same thing in reverse. And while composting is awesome, recycling has now become more energy efficient than landfills, and that’s an important industry to help advance.

I totally agree! We, ourselves, do not have an option for composting, and I am a huge proponent of supporting the recycling system in order to advance its abilities for future generations. So, what now? What exciting plans do you guys have in the future for the Bogobrush?

Later this year we’ll be launching a whole bunch of new products. We’re launching new colors, new biodegradable materials, and an updated design – still the same beautiful product, just more refined and less material so it’s better for the planet. Plus, the cat’s not quite out of the bag, but we’re also working on a children’s collection. We have some really fun things launching with that, and we hope you’ll follow along later this summer when we announce it fully!

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Definitely! I will be very much interested in the kid’s toothbrushes, since we see a lot of children in our office! Besides Bogobrush, what are some of your other favorite oral hygiene brands?

I love Cocofloss for my dental floss. I’d love to do a partnership with them for Bogobrush some day, too. 🙂 I also really love the Toothy Tabs from Lush Cosmetics. So easy to travel with and they have super random flavors. One of my faves is Grapefruit and Black Pepper. Mint toothpaste loyalists beware. Ha!

Bogobrush stands for Buy one, Give one. I think it’s amazing that you guys are devoted to making a social impact in the lives of under-served communities. What are some communities that benefit from the Bogobrush?

To date, we’ve worked with low cost health clinics in communities across the U.S. For instance, in Detroit, we partner with Covenant Community Care. These clinics serve populations who are under-insured or don’t have any insurance at all. They provide a beautiful health clinic, and top quality care. We think quality matters and helps everyone feel valued.

Recently, we decided to start expanding our giving beyond clinics and even beyond toothbrushes when the case is right. This past May, we partnered the Engineers without Borders from North Dakota State University on their work in a partner community in Guatemala. This will be an ongoing relationship and we’re excited to see how we can help support their work for educating about engineering, clean water, and health. We’re also working to get connected with urban farming and art education. Anything that we think relates to sustainability, we want to join the communities and lend our support.

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Partnership with NDSU Engineers without Borders

Currently are you guys accepting applications from other organizations to be a part of the Give Back program? If other communities are interested in benefitting from the Bogobrush, how might they became part of the program?

Yes! We are actually just creating an official application process for this. We’d love to hear from folks interested in partnering – once, twice, on-going, or any ideas welcome. Send an email to contact@bogobrush.com to get started.

Do you guys plan to extend your outreach program to international levels? I have a bit of wanderlust in me, so this question definitely peaks my interest.

Yes again! The Engineers Without Borders program is international support. We’re also working on a relationship with some folks in Spain who are doing reforestation and ocean clean-up work. For us, it’s all about the community of Bogobrushers and their communities of giving back. The Engineers Without Borders are at NDSU, and North Dakota is where John and I grew up so we have loyal supporters in that community. As long as people feel a personal connection to the give, we aren’t too concerned about geography. The folks in Spain will sell Bogobrush, so their sales and customers will be connected to their outreach work.

How may dentists in particular become more involved with spreading Bogobrush’s impact?

We’d love to talk to dentists about providing Bogobrushes to their patients. This could be through resale, or the brush dentists often give after hygiene appointments. Longer term, we’d love to develop a program through our subscription service online that helps dentists remind their patients of appointments and other important oral care check points. And, if dentists have any outreach causes their connected to, let us know and we can find a way to work together. Of course, on the simplest end of support dentists can spread the word on social media, offer to write blog posts, and share knowledge with our community.

What is the most difficult obstacle in trying to convince others to switch to a Bogobrush?

Our biggest obstacle has been getting the story out. Most people don’t care about their toothbrush. It’s an object that they have to use, and they dont’ think about it much beyond that. This means, a toothbrush, especially a manual toothbrush is mostly commodity and price-based. We are using values to sell a toothbrush. That means our job is to tell stories. To show people why a Bogobrush is worth paying a few dollars more for – the environment and helping your community. This fall we’ll be doing a lot more sharing our story because we have funding for marketing!

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How do you guys overcome difficult times?

Stay focused on the bigger mission. If we wanted to sell a cool looking plastic toothbrush, the hurdles would be much smaller. We’re trying to push the needle on a variety of fronts, though. We talk about our dreams for the world, we talk about our dreams for our own lifestyle, we talk about our vision for the company as it expands beyond Bogobrushes and into even more products that can help the world. Bogobrush is an amazing toothbrush, but for us, it’s so much more than that. It’s the start of something so much bigger.

How do you unwind and refresh?

Unwinding and refreshing happens for me whenever I turn off the switch on work, and let my mind roam freely through other adventures. For instance, John and I both love to be active and moving. For me that means yoga, hiking with my husband, or walking my dog. For John, he snowboards, hikes, or goes indoor climbing. Unwinding can even be dinner as a family, ditching my phone for a few hours, dancing in my living room, or playing music.

What would you consider your greatest success so far? And what is one moment you won’t ever forget?

Regarding success with Bogobrush, there are moments in time that we celebrate, but right now the greatest success that comes to mind is the very first step. The first decision to type into google “toothbrush manufacturer.” A close follow-up to that is learning to evaluate the balance of persistence and pivoting. We’ve been working a long time on this. We could give up at any number of challenging times, but our persistence and faith in our vision keeps us going. And our ability to see that sometimes the path forward is to turn right or left allows persistence to pay off.

One unforgettable moment is from 2014. John and I were in our bristling partner’s facility watching our first run of recyclable handles go through the machine, and success! We’d first tried to make Bogobrush from bamboo with overseas manufacturers. This didn’t work, and in bristling we lost more than half of the handles to breakage. Being with John, 2 years later to watch our pivot turn into success was so amazing.

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Bristling the Bogobrush.
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Success! Bogobrush bristles in the making!

If you could give one piece of advice to other creative entrepreneurs wishing to create social change, what would it be?

Know why you’re doing what you’re doing. Question why you’re doing what you’re doing. I don’t think 100% certainty is necessary, but a gut level peace and energy will keep you moving. And bonus advice – when you get stressed, do something else that’s fun! Nothing is as big of a deal as we think it is. I’m super guilty of this, but step out, do something fun – even if it’s forced. 🙂

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Canyoning in the Snake Canyon on a trip to Oman. “It was one of the most epic things we’ve ever done!” Heather is on the left with her husband David and John is on the right with his wife Hannah.

Thank you Heather for taking the time to interview with me. You’re an inspiration to the dental field and a wonderful reminder that we can make changes beyond the doors of a dental office. Bogobrush is currently offering TheDebtist readers their first subscription for free. Mike and I have personally been using Bogobrush since January of 2018 and we will not go back. 

Less Waste: For All Menstruating Persons, with Lunette

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

It undertook a lot of internal debating (a few months worth, actually!) before I had enough guts (read as wits?) to start writing this review about my beloved Lunette cup. The hesitation, off course, came from a silly, socially-instilled instinct to be wary of ever saying the word period outside the context of grammar class, literary works, and historical recitations. We’ve been taught that periods are something to be ashamed of, and not talked about. (Also taboo, sharing personal stories about monthly cycles, esp. for the entire world to read.) But while the topic of Mother Nature remains uninvited to dinner parties with the in-laws, I figure that my blog already teeters between the norm and the unspoken, so I might as well bridge that gap here and feel all the more relieved about it. In fact, I would consider it a social responsibility to alert all menstruating persons of the existence of Lunette period cups (ah, that felt much better, writing it aloud), and to speak about Mother Nature openly for the sake of Mother Earth. Why keep the silence when half of the population consists of menstruating persons?

Before Lunette cups….

I struggled about the monthly wasteful habits I was engaging in. Specifically, single-use tampons in plastic capsules and the occasional single-use pads.  TMI? Read on anyways. If you think about it, assuming each menstruating person uses an average of 4 tampons a day for seven days a week, twelve times out of a year, for thirty seven years, basic math tells me that each menstruating human uses 12,432 tampons over the course of time that Mother Nature chooses to visit. Multiply that number by all humans favoring tampons, and you’ve got a whole lot of tampon plastic applicators covering up that landfill. Now, not everyone prefers this method, so say they use pads instead. The math comes to something similar, and the visual of a piece of land covered with a mountain of pads is just as stark. So when I started to consider the planet’s needs and wants, I started to fret about my monthly decisions.

I considered many different alternatives.

First, I switched to recycled pads and tampons without plastic applicators. But still, knowing that I threw these away at the end of the day really bothered me. Then, I thought of the reusable rags that remind me of medieval times. A doable deed, but then I didn’t love the idea of walking around in soaked rags all day, and what of swimming? So then I looked into underwear that is made from materials that soak up the leaks. A fan of the new wave engineering, but then what of the smell? This post just gets worse and worse doesn’t it? And still, it didn’t solve my problem with the swimming. (Why the obsession with swimming you may ask. In high school, I was part of a swim class that required me to be in a pool every day, at a time when I was just starting recurring menstrual cycles. So yeah, the problem of periods and swimming still go hand in hand, and always will.) But as with everything that seems like it can’t get any worse, eventually, it gets better.

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I found Lunette cup…

…right when I was about to give up. If I am being completely honest, what caught my attention at first was the fact that I could choose whatever color I wanted. This post is becoming all around shameless. For new users, what is a menstrual cup you may ask. For lack of a better image, think of a literal cup used to catch your flow. It’s reusable, safe, odorless, eco-friendly, and most importantly, comfortable. So comfortable I forget about Mother Nature all together, for up to twelve hours at a time! Which is such an upgrade from the typical 4-6 hours with other single-use tampons and pads.

The first question that I asked was, “How safe?” We’ve all been taught to care about the food that goes into our bodies, so why not the other things too? Lunette cups are made from medical-grade silicone that is FDA approved, hypoallergenic, toxin-free, durable, and isn’t harmful to human tissue. This Finnish company has thought of it all!

The next question obviously is how to use. The packaging comes with a very simple diagram with light verbage to walk every first user through the steps. After washing your hands (duh!), you simply fold the silicone cup and insert, allowing you to go about your day for up to twelve hours, worry free! Depending on one’s flow rate, you may have to remove and empty the cup more often than twelve hours. For convenience, there are two cup sizes, one larger than the other to accommodate heavier flows so that days are not bogged down with emptying cups. Once emptied, rinse, and repeat. The rinsing simply involves using cold water and then hot water. If you are concerned about needing to do this at a public restroom with only one common sink area, Lunette has got you covered with their Lunette CupWipes! But honestly, 12 hours is a long time, so as long as you remember to empty right before you leave the house and right after you get home, then there really is no need for the CupWipes. Then again, not everybody is a homebody. At the end of the cycle, I always boil my menstrual cup in a pot of water for 20 minutes. Lunette sends a small pouch with every purchase to store your cup in during non-menstruating days, which allows me to carry it around at all times, in case of surprise visits.

So now, the specifics…

…to the Lunette cup for me personally. TMI continues. And yes, I created questions for myself, then answered them. This is such a peculiar post…

  • Color: Pink! Erm, well, violet, technically.
  • Size: Lunette Size 1. This is the smaller size. I am 5’1″ and am barely over 100 pounds. I chose this one because to me, it seems it would be more comfortable for my petite frame.
  • How many times do you empty the cup? 4 times a day for the first few days, 2-3 times for the later days. I could probably empty it less frequently if I get the larger size.
  • How long have you been using the Lunette Cup? I have been using Lunette cup for the past four months. I can’t believe I have lived so many years without one!
  • Have you ever used their cleaning products? No, not yet. I find that boiling the cup upon first receiving it and after every cycle is sufficient.
  • Is there a time where you’ve found it inconvenient? Yes. Only once. When we traveled to Mexico City and I was not confident that faucet water was as bacteria free as I would like. I had to keep waiting for a time and place where I was able to take a bottled water into a private bathroom with me and use that to rinse the cup. This may have been the only time I would have bought the cleaning products, if I thought of it ahead of time.
  • Is it difficult to use? No! The learning curve is flat as a valley, it’s so easy! And it teaches you so much about your anatomy. I think we all need to start learning more about our bodies, in general, instead of always trying to hide away from it. I think everyone should give this a try.

For those interested in trying Lunette for the first time, use the code EarthDay18 to get 20% off of all Single Lunette Cups! Feeling charitable? Try the Charitable Buy One, Give One Menstrual Cup, benefitting girls and women in need around the world. 

Getting to Know: Lindsey McCoy and Alison Webster of Plaine Products

 

Getting to Know: Mandy Kordal of Kordal Studio

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Mandy Kordal is the founder of Kordal Studio, whose mission is to create garments in an ethical manner by paying their workers a fair wage, designing garments that are not trend-focused, and using natural and organic textiles. Their products are focused on knitwear made by experienced knitters based in both Lima, Peru & NYC. They create our garments using both handloom and Shima Seki whole garment knitting machines. Both processes create a fully fashioned product, meaning each piece is knit to the exact shape and there are no left over materials. All of their cut & sew wovens are produced in NYC and dyed at a local dye house in New Jersey. 

How did you start in the fashion industry? What inflection point inspired you to start a sustainable company?

​I studied fashion design at the University of Cincinnati’s DAAP program. During the course of the program, you are in school for half of the year and working in the industry for the other half. So, every summer and winter, I was traveling to a new city and working for fashion companies like Gap, Trovata, Hannah Marshall, etc. This was so helpful because I learned early on that I really loved working for smaller companies. After graduating I worked for a two years as an assistant designer, one year with Betsey Johnson and another year at Doori.
I don’t know if there was a specific point or moment that marked when I was inspired to start a sustainable company. I guess I approached starting my company the way I would begin any relationship. I wanted to treat the people I worked with well and with respect, to consider the impact on the environment, and to create beautiful quality clothing. Along the way, I worked freelance design jobs for larger companies to supplement my income and became very aware of the impact the fashion industry was having on the environment. The amount of over-sampling and textile waste alone was horrifying! In the end, I guess it was a combination of wanting to create a company that embodied my values and learning about the real impact this industry has on the environment, having our company be as sustainable as possible was the only option.

How did you find the courage to start?

I think any amount of courage came from my friends and family, who have been my champions since the beginning and I honestly couldn’t have started without their support and encouragement. But also, I was 25 when I started the company. Previously I had been working as an assistant designer making 30k a year in NYC, so I didn’t have much to lose! I was extremely lucky to not have student loans, I knew how to live in the city on very little money already, I didn’t have a family to support, etc. Those factors helped a lot! Not to say that is the only way, but it made the decision to start a little less scary.

What is Kordal’s mission statement? What do you hope to accomplish with your company, in terms of changing the way the fashion industry works?

​Our mission is to create garments in an ethical manner by paying our workers a fair wage, designing garments that are not trend-focused, and using natural and organic textiles. Our hope is that our existence as an alternative to fast-fashion, along with many of the other sustainable brands out there, provides customers with a choice. We have the power to change things through our purchases. We saw it with the food industry! Even Walmart now carries organic products because more and more customers purchased it. If all of these smaller brands can prove that investing in sustainable fashion is not only important but also profitable, then we can shift the thinking of the larger companies as well. At least that’s the hope!

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What requirements do you have to ensure a sustainable and slow fashion model?

My personal requirements are that all of our employees, vendors, makers are all paid a fair wage. That all of our fabrications and yarns are natural fibers that will eventually bio-degrade back into the earth, and as much as possible we are working with Organic Certified materials. We are also committed to reducing the amount of plastic use in our shipping and receiving, we recently made a switch to mesh reusable bags for all of our garments vs. working with poly bags.

In a very demanding industry such as fashion, how do you resist the pressure of creating for 52 seasons? How do you keep you and your brand grounded?

​Ha! Oh man, creating just two seasons is already insane at times! Are there really 52 seasons? I think we’ve been lucky to work with boutiques that share the same values as we do. We don’t work with large department stores for example, so we’re able set our own pace, more or less. I also think we’ve been able to stay grounded becaus​e we don’t have investors or external influences pushing us to produce more things faster It’s been self funded from the beginning, which means our growth has been slow and steady.
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How do you source fabric ethically? What other ways do you ensure ethical practices for your company?

​We are lucky to have a great community of sustainable designers here in NY, so when I’m trying to source a new denim fabrication, for example, I don’t have to start from square one. I can reach out to friends in this group to help begin my research. For designers starting out, I would recommend the BF+DA sourcing library. They’ve created a great sourcing library for all sustainable fabric and yarn vendors! Other ways to ensure ethical practices is to look for certifications from your vendors, such as Fair Trade or GOT.

In what ways can consumer’s contribute towards making a change away from fast fashion?

​Supporting smaller brands, asking the larger companies difficult questions, like “Who made my clothes?”, buying second-hand or vintage, and staying away from synthetic fabrics (they will stay in landfills for hundreds of years, just like plastic!).
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What governmental policies do you feel could go into effect that could improve the fashion industry?

​Import-Based Tax – I think if there was an tax on imported goods that would help level the playing field for domestic manufacturing. ​

Are there any particular podcasts or books about fashion that you could recommend to readers?

​Yes!
Conscious Chatter, this episode is really awesome!​
Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Fast ​Fashion
Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China
The True Cost (documentary)
River Blue (documentary)

Getting to Know: Molly Acord of Fair + Simple

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Molly Acord is the founder of Fair + Simple, a company created around the act of gift-giving. Desiring to give people a simpler way of gifting products that are fair trade and that have a humanitarian impact, Molly created a gift card that can be redeemed for any item in an ethically sourced collection. “Gift giving is my love language, handmade is close to me, and serving others is a privilege. This is where I fit.”

What inspired you to start Fair and Simple?

There was a point when I realized that my buying practices were likely having a negative impact on the world, and I began to educate myself on how to change.  It is so overwhelming, and almost paralyzing, at first.   I was inspired to start Fair+Simple from a desire to make it simple to give a cause-based, socially-conscious gift.

Where does the name Fair + Simple come from, and what does it represent?

The idea for a simple gift card fell from the sky, and I knew immediately it was a calling.  I called my husband, a school-teacher, and right away pitched the idea.  He also received an equally excited call a few minutes later with the idea for our brand name.  Fair means that every gift in our collection is fairly-traded and cause-based.  Simple represents this idea that a recipient of a F+S card can redeem it for any single item in the collection.  When you don’t know what to get someone but you want to shop ethically, you can give a card and let them choose their own gift.

Fair trading | Simple giving.

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What values do you want your company to represent?

We desire to offer a meaningful gift that simplifies our customer’s life, while positively impacting the person behind the product.  We value sustainability which involves both ethical manufacturing and intentional design.

What do you hope to change in the way we as a society consume products?

Gift giving is a unique time to make a difference.  Instead of defaulting to a Starbucks gift card (no offense to Starbucks!) every time someone isn’t sure what to give, I want customers to use that opportunity to support fair-trade artisans around the world who have need.  Instead of careless and easy, it’s careful and simple.

What is the humanitarian impact of the companies F+S supports?

We seek to benefit those in high need.  The gifts in our collection support a series of impact including clean water initiatives, a recovery house for women, fair paying jobs for impoverished people, vocational training, micro-loans, and educational sponsorships.  While I love culturally rich and highly skilled artisan products, my heart is more geared for the marginalized people who have nothing: no skills, no startup money, no market access.

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 Does Fair + Simple look into eco-friendly products as well, or do you focus more on the social impact primarily?

To me, environmental and social responsibility are inextricably linked.   I believe social impact starts at the supply chain.  If you are using natural fabric, that means it starts at the seed and the farmers who grow it.  This extends to how a product is made, how it is used by customers, and how it ends its life cycle.  People and planet are all over these steps.  We have also noticed that the fair trade world is a bit inundated with items like jewelry, scarves, and leather goods.  We will always have these items in our collection where impact is the greatest, but we are currently making strides for some products that support our values for simple living and high impact sourcing.

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How do you go about choosing which companies to partner with?

We look for companies that have both a beautiful mission and product.  I believe women and education are the main catalyst for change in a community, so we primarily work with companies that support these two initiatives.  We also need to have a well-rounded collection, so this plays a factor in which companies are in the collection.  No matter what, the cause of the company must be the main reason why they exist and they need to align with our developed standards of production.  I have a deepening desire to connect customers with the person behind the product, so I have started to work directly with groups where there is a high need.  This includes single moms weaving coop in Peru and a sewing coop in the Philippines! These products are scheduled to launch in the Spring.  I only have so much buying power, so I make it count.

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In a perfect dream world, what is your ideal future in terms of the way consumers and makers interact and trade and purchase goods?

In my dream world, consumers are intentional about purchases.  Over-consumption is obsolete, and people buy what they need and take care of what they have and give where there is need.  Less disposable, less carelessness, less disconnect.  More reuse, more intention, and much more connection.

To help with your gift-giving endeavors, Fair + Simple is offering TheDebtist readers 15% off with the coupon code debtist15“. As always, every item in the collection gives back to a partner company’s mission. Offer valid until March 31, 2018. 

Getting to Know: Julia Ahrens from Miakoda New York

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Julia Ahrens and Laura Ahrens are the sister duo that started Miakoda New York. Julia is a fashion designer who turned vegan and had a new-found interest in creating a company that treats animals, people, and the planet equally well. Her yogi instructor sis Laura inspired her, and together, they co-founded Miakoda. 

What was the inspiration for starting Miakoda?

After going vegan, I no longer wanted to wear or create clothing that exploited animals and used animal fabrics/skins/fibers. I worked in the industry and felt so conflicted when asked to work with these materials. I tried to look for a company that I felt comfortable supporting and designing for, but there were so few 100%-vegan-companies and they weren’t hiring (and most were pretty small!). This was my initial reason for starting Miakoda. As I thought about what vegan fashion meant for me, I realized it goes beyond animals and includes the planet and other humans. I really wanted to work for a company that made me feel like I was making a difference by our planet in a meaningful way. I love fashion and I love designing, but design without purpose and reason felt extremely lack-luster to me and I really wanted to create something that felt meaningful and purposeful to me.

 

What values do you want to portray most in your company?

It is so important to us to portray the idea that humans, animals, and our planet are ALL important and it’s our responsibility to treat ALL of them well. With that message, we also want to encourage that NO positive action is too small. We value when consumers make a conscious decision. Whether you have learned to shop ethically and make sustainable choices, or if shopping with us is the first time you’ve ever heard of clothing made from bamboo… you’re making a difference and we value that!

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What are ways in which Miakoda practices ethics and sustainability?

All of our garments are made from organic and sustainable plant based materials. No animals are harmed [a.k.a. no wool, no silk, no fur, no leather, etc] and no toxic chemicals are used to grow our fibers [only organic cotton here!]. We choose to only work with fabric suppliers who are equally as committed to monitoring their supply chain, providing safe work environments, and paying fair wages. We cut and sew our garments in an ethical NYC factory that we visit regularly. We truly believe that happy fibers sewn by happy workers create happy customers!

 

Name  one thing that you love most about your work? What is the hardest thing about your job?

The thing I love most about my work is seeing people wearing and enjoying the clothing we create. It is so rewarding to create something that I am passionate about and seeing other people enjoy it! The hardest thing is reaching new customers and to make our mission reach more people.

 

How do you decide which factories you work with and how do you ensure that they are producing fairly?

We have worked with a bunch of factories in NYC. Before I work with them, I always visit the factory and check out what they’re all about. We are lucky to be based in NY, which is one of the safest garment centers in the world. Fair labor is hardly enforced overseas and there have even been instances of sweatshops and slave labor in California. We talk to the factory owner about labor and what they do to support the workers they employ. There a bunch of sure signs that a factory isn’t what they claim to be— when they don’t let you watch your garments be sewn [out-sourcing to cheaper factories while pretending to be making your garments is a real thing!], when you’re only allowed to stop in when the owner is there, and when they don’t welcome random visits to check-in.  It’s important to talk to the factory owner, talk to the garment workers, and to keep your eyes open to make sure what you’re being told is actually what’s going on.

What are some challenges that you see in the fashion industry and how does Miakoda try to improve the industry?

There are so many challenges in the fashion industry at this point in time. We are so much based in a fast-fashion model which focuses on how much can we get and how cheap can we get it for. Garment workers are paid cents per garment sewn and consumers expect garments to cost dollars. Miakoda’s effort is to educate why this is horrible—not only for the workers slaving away to make the clothing, but for the planet as well! Our workers are paid a fair living wage, work normal hours, and are treated with kindness and compassion in a safe work environment. Our materials are high quality… grown with love and compassion for the planet as well as the workers harvesting them and the workers knitting them. We believe in quality not quantity—and quality doesn’t just refer to the craftsmanship of the garment, but to the lives of the workers involved in bringing the garment to life.

 

Do you believe purchasing power goes a long way with changing the way the fashion industry currently is, or is there something else that you would like to see happen in the future that can facilitate the change away from unsustainable and unethical practices?

I totally believe that purchasing power goes a long way! We’ve seen how the dairy industry has been deeply hurt by consumers purchasing more dairy alternatives and plant-based milks. Supply and demand is very real—companies can’t afford to make something that people aren’t buying. The goal isn’t to put these unethical and unsustainably companies out of business [per say] but to show them that people WANT sustainable and ethical clothing so that they can shift what they are doing to create a better future for our planet.

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Why the focus on staple pieces and athleisure wear?

Whenever I bought specialty pieces in the past I saved them for ‘that special occasion’ or wore them a few times before my style changed and no longer loved them the way I did when I purchased them. Staple pieces can be loved for years and years no matter how your style changes. We choose to focus on athleisure because comfy clothes are the best clothing. I personally hate the feeling of getting dressed in the morning, leaving for the day, and an hour or so into the day feeling majorly uncomfortable in the outfit I picked. In the past I would look forward to going home so I could change into something comfy and take off my tight jeans, constricting t-shirt, itchy sweater, etc. I find that I am in SUCH a better mood when I wear comfy clothing—I feel more confident in myself and less irritable. Our goal is to make compassionate clothing, and personally, I don’t feel I can be the most compassionate human being that I can be when I’m super uncomfy in my clothing.

 

If you had to choose one word to describe your design style, what would it be?

Comfortable! 100% definitely. If it’s not comfortable I don’t want to design it or make it or wear it.

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Miakoda is one of the few companies I have seen promote body positivity in their advertising. I think that is awesome! What started this idea and how do you try to create a good example of confidence for women everywhere?

Thank you so much! I really think it’s so incredibly important for humans of all shapes, sizes, and ethnicities to be represented in media. From a consumer’s point of view, I personally hate when I’m trying to buy a garment and I can’t even tell what it will look like on my body type. I think it’s so helpful for customers to see the garment on a bunch of bodies to be able to envision it on themselves. From a personal point of view—I am SO sick of black and white thinking that’s perpetuated in the media. The idea that only one body type is beautiful, or that only one hair color is beautiful, or that only one type of intelligence makes you intelligent, or that one lifestyle makes you successful. It’s simply not true and we don’t want to be another company falling into this mindset that you aren’t enough and perfect as you are! I’ve heard so many women say that they hate shopping online because looking at models makes them feel horrible about their appearance. Whether it brings up feelings of not being thin enough or not being toned enough or having smooth shiny hair or acne free soft skin… whatever it is, the thought that a beautiful, intelligent, kind human can look at the images we put out into the world and feel bad about themselves is horrifying to me [seriously!]. All of our models are beautiful… and not just because they’re “pretty” and because they’re “models” but because they are really wonderful humans [*disclaimer: we have been so lucky to work with really awesome models who are absolutely amazing!].

 

When do you feel most beautiful?

I feel most beautiful when I’m having a conversation with someone I love where I am just constantly laughing and so engaged in the conversation and enjoyment that it doesn’t matter if my eyeliner is running down my face from the tears in my eyes, if I’m making the “ugliest” laughing face, if my entire face is red from hardly being able to catch my breathe. It sounds corny, but it’s so true. The days I’ve felt the “ugliest” are the days when I try to make my outward appearance look the best. I can easily say that every time I’ve ever gotten my hair and make up professionally done and dressed up for a fancy event, I’ve felt horrible in my skin the entire day.

 

If you could teach a whole generation of younger girls one thing about the meaning of beauty, what would it be?

Beauty is immeasurable. It’s not black and white. It’s not a number. It’s not a color. It comes from being a good person. You can change your make-up, your body shape will change as you get older, you can cut your hair differently, but the way you talk to yourself and treat yourself and talk to others and treat others will make you feel more beautiful than anything else. I promise.

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What is your current definition of success?

This is such a tough question. I hate to think of success as a monetary accomplishment, so I’ll say my current definition is how much of a positive impact are you having. Do you practice mindfulness and implement sustainable practices in your daily life? And do you treat yourself and those around you kindly? Money is important to live a comfortable life, but living a life you can feel proud of and that can impact others in a positive way will leave a much more lasting impression. I’ve never been to a funeral where someone boasted “We will miss XYZ person because they had a great career and made a lot of money.” It’s definitely more common to hear “This person always made us smile”, “This person had a great sense of humor”, “This person always thought about others”, etc., etc.

 

What are your top favorite books, articles, or documentaries that shaped your lifestyle or way of viewing the world?

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer and The True Cost take the cake for most influential shapers of my lifestyle.

 

What legacy would you like to leave behind?

I want Miakoda to be my legacy…. to be remembered for  making an impact on this world and on an industry [fashion industry] that so desperately needs reshaping.

Back to Basics with Miakoda New York

This post is sponsored by Miakoda New York, an athleisure clothing label devoted to producing comfortable, every day wear in an ethical and sustainable manner. 

When it comes to curating closets, I’ve embraced something close to a no-frills policy. Over the past few years, my clothing choices have increasingly gravitated towards basic, minimalist styles, dismissing trends in exchange for timeless classics. I’ve found that this is simply my personal taste, but decreasing the need to keep up with fashion trends is also a plus, since it eliminates the draw towards buying clothing or accessories in order to keep up with the times.

Fashion is about dressing according to what’s fashionable. Style is more about being yourself.                                                       -Oscar de la Renta

Additionally, practicality has climbed my ladder of priorities, usurping the need to search for statement pieces. I prefer to make statements with my actions rather than my things. Versatility is equally important, to fit my hobby-filled lifestyle. On any given day, you can catch me baking bread, while practicing yoga, writing on my blog, photographing random “lifestyle” moments, learning guitar and new languages, and sneaking in a few pages of my current book at every opportunity in between bulk fermentation sessions for my dough. Those activities may embrace practicing dentistry more half of the week. Top the busy schedule with hours of socializing with family and friends, and one can see why going back to basics was attractive to me. The most ideal pieces in my closet fit together with any other article of clothing, making grab-and-go an easy, and common, occurrence.  Regardless, I try to attempt getting dressed with the utmost intentionality, establishing a sense of comfort for whatever activity may arise, while still attempting a decent appearance, for who ever I end up meeting during the day.

So today, I decided to take Miakoda New York through my daily routine. Their clothing line is composed of athleisure wear, all of which I could see myself toting on any given Sunday. Sunday is my only weekend day off, and while I wear scrubs a majority of my other work days, I like to use Sunday as an(other) excuse to dress as comfortably as possible.

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A huge fan of the basic black tee, you can see me outfitted in just this very thing for half of any given week. In fact, I have about five black tees that I cycle through, but I always find myself running out by Saturday. So here I am, adding another black tee to my arsenal.

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This essential tee is all sorts of comfy, and all I need on any warm, Southern California morning (read as: for two-thirds of the calendar year). I spent the morning taking in the sun’s rays, before ordering my chocolate pretzel, a twist on my usual pain au chocolat.

The boxier fit is less constricting than the body hugging types and honestly, is more flattering for teenage-girl-like physiques like mine. Each tee, as well as other products from their clothing line, is ethically made in a New York factory that the founders personally visit a few times each season. The black one that I’m wearing in particular is made up of bamboo, organic cotton, and spandex. Bamboo lends to the fabric a layer of softness, while the spandex lends some stretch. Both were much appreciated when I continued to wear this tee later in the afternoon on my yoga mat.

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Unfortunately, despite the warm sun rays, it was not long before I started to feel a bit too cool. Comfortable to me usually means a room temperature of 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and although we live in So Cal, it IS the middle of January. Sensibly, I am always carrying around additional layers and I couldn’t help but throw on Miakoda’s sweatshirt before we’ve even left our first destination. The sweatshirt kept me warm, and happy, as I continued to gobble up that chocolate pastry.

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The sweatshirt accompanied me on my search for a spritzer for my new Ficus houseplant, and all errands and chores thereafter, including grocery shopping, running the laundry, washing the dishes, etc. It definitely draws me in with its functionality. I can see myself throwing this over scrubs, wearing them to bed as pajamas, or sitting on the couch sinking in its comforts while I type, type, type. In fact, I continued to wear it while I did some writing, cooked meals for the upcoming week with Mike, and relaxed with a late-night movie with Kirsten. (Note: over scrubs, and all other activities, never in the same day). This piece will definitely transition through my day-to-day activities quite nicely.

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For a more refined look, I paired the sweater with light and airy silk drawstring pants. Still laid-back and modest, but slightly more elevated. Averse as I am to putting on the ritz, as some would say, I usually combine cotton basics with more delicate fabrics, to create a discreet outfit that is all-together enticing to the wearer (me) and alluring to the eye. Paired with some sturdy clogs, this summarizes my ideal ratio of practicality and style.

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The boxy nature of the sweater makes it similar to the tee, a brother if you will, with longer sleeves and a thicker, softer composition. You can tell that this sweater was very thoughtfully constructed. Perhaps worth mentioning is Miakoda’s affinity towards using sustainable plant fibers such as organic cotton, bamboo, and soy. From their commitment towards finding ethical fabric suppliers who are using sustainable products, to their investment in partnering with high quality garment factories in New York, one can tell that the company is committed towards creating change in the way clothes are being made.

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With tees and sweaters such as these in tow, I can go on with my hobby-infused lifestyle without a hitch. Suffice to say, writing about ethical companies and about not believing in the word negligible interests me more than writing about the next fashion trend. On the heels of that thought, it’s just as important to me to support companies that are trying to change the way the fashion industry is being run.

Unfortunately, fashion has transformed significantly in the last twenty years. The way we produce, distribute, consume, and then throw away, clothes has sped up to an alarming rate. Larger companies cannot keep up with the supply and demand without hiring megasuppliers, who then hire suppliers, who hire sub (sub-, sub-, sub-) suppliers to produce the clothing. It’s become such a large scale ordeal that it’s difficult to control how large orders are being filled. Case in point, when a factory burned down in Tazreen and sixty percent of the products were being produced for Walmart. Walmart had no idea that their orders were in Tazreen. In fact, they had previously visited the factory and deemed it unsafe and had specifically banned their suppliers from using that factory. So how did their products end up there? Because multiple sub-sub-sub-suppliers pawned off the work to this factory, without ever needing to communicate with Walmart. Other companies’s products were also being produced there, such as Disney and Dickies. Because these companies have specifically banned the Tazreen factory due to unethical working conditions, none of these companies were responsible for compensating the victims of the fire. When the fire first began, some workers asked to leave, and they were told to go back to work. Minutes later, they were enveloped in smoke, and some tried to escape through stairwells that had locked exits. 112 workers were killed in that fire, and many people suffered broken limbs trying to jump out of the windows.

Factories are being audited, but audits don’t necessarily prove that factories themselves are improving, only that factories are improving at making it seem like their conditions are improving. Additionally, as with the case above, audits aren’t really enough to stop orders from reaching these factories. Some orders are even sent to small groups of workers, or at-home workers. It’s gotten so bad that producers don’t know what company their products are being made for. Their orders come from, and are delivered to, middlemen. Alternatively, interviews show that many large companies don’t know in which countries their products are being made, let alone which factories.

Supporting small companies dedicated towards ensuring high quality products and meeting ethical standards of working conditions is important to me. Miakoda’s sustainability and ethics are worth noting. One of the problems we see with people who are aware of the pitfalls of fast fashion is the immediate reluctance to buy anything new at all. As more anti-fast-fashion advocates protest by shopping only vintage hand-me-downs to abstain from supporting unethically made clothing lines and to decrease waste, may I suggest that doing so does not pave the way for an improved future in the fashion industry. By shying away from purchasing new products completely, we do not allow the growth of smaller companies trying to change the fashion scene. As we disappear from the consumer population, those who are left purchasing any goods at all are either unaware of the situation, or are aware but choose to ignore. The hamster wheel of supporting companies that sell cheaply-produced goods at a larger cost to the planet and the living beings inhabiting it will be strengthened, and these companies will continue to thrive. Who will be left to support smaller companies trying to implement change?

In order to ensure that our products are being made ethically, the companies have to be held accountable for the production of their products, down to the very last detail. This doesn’t include just factory workers and hired employees, but also includes the workers who supplied the materials and their working conditions. We need to start thinking about the planet, as well as everything and everyone living on it.

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I understand that this problem goes way beyond our purchasing power. Buying from the right companies will not directly yield immediate abolition of child labor and unhealthy working conditions. Governmental policies need to be implemented in order to successfully produce the changes we want to see. But in order for those policies to go into effect, it requires a call for change. As long as the large majority of the population continue to consume as if we are okay with conditions that violate basic human rights, there will be no pressure created to promote change. Our purchasing power acts as a vote towards the future we want to see.

Miakoda understands that as well. When asked to name the one message that they wish to send out to the world through their work, they answered with this. Everytime you make a conscious decision, you make an impact. Your closet can be filled with fast-fashion, or clothes that you’ve only worn once, but the decision to buy an ethical basic tee that you wear daily does make a difference. I do not believe in the word negligible. We need to feel empowered by our decisions, because they do matter.

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For those who were wondering, the tee was paired with Eileen Fisher denim (similar one here) and accessorized with Nisolos and a gold Giving Key with the word “Create”. The sweater was paired with silk pants, also from Eileen Fisher, and accessorized with another pair of Nisolos and a black matte Giving Key with the word “Fearless”.

This post was sponsored by Miakoda New York, but all opinions are my own. Thanks for supporting the brands that support The Debtist.