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Interview with a good woman: Alyssa Goodman from Chez Bippy

Interview with a good woman: Alyssa Goodman from Chez Bippy

Tell us a little about yourself:

My name is Alyssa Goodman. I am 26. I own Chez Bippy Shop, it's a clothing business with an ethical base. I graduated from OCAD and then decided that art wasn't for me. So, I went into fashion production.

What inspired you to start your business?

After graduating, I moved to Singapore and travelled through South-East Asia for a while, which is where I got in touch with the production side of fast-fashion and saw, first hand, how bad its impacts were. I was meeting a lot of people that were working in fashion production, or had family members who were and it's pretty ugly. That really sparked me caring about sustainable fashion and starting a business. Seeing the working conditions in these major factories throughout Asia was the inspiration for starting my business.

I came back to Toronto after my travels and I met my current business partner, who was in fashion production here and we decided to start the company. We actually dated first before going into business together about a year into us dating.

I wanted to take that extra step to create my own business and to show people that sustainability in fashion is doable, it's not hard to say no to a $10 t-shirt. That's the main focus for us, educating people that 'you can do this', it's not hard.

Did you face any unique challenges as a woman starting a business?

Since my partner is a man, some of the stuff I still have to deal with, even now, is when I'm addressing emails, I get a better response if I sign off as him. I find that people listen more, and tend to get back to me quicker. So that is an obvious one, having people respect me as the business owner was definitely hard.

I have found that especially hard with sourcing and sourcing for us is the biggest challenge. We're talking to people from other countries, by email, sometimes they don't speak English. I have to talk to a lot of men who have owned these family businesses for a long time and they think I'm a secretary or they'll ask to speak to a manager. So that part is difficult.

How do you maintain a healthy work/life balance as an entrepreneur/business owner?

So basically, it's impossible. But mostly (I stay sane) by compartmentalization - for example, having separation between everything, like when it's 8pm I have to stop working. Because I could answer emails all night. So, compartmentalizing but also being able to turn it off. I have to turn it off, even if I feel like I'm missing something or not doing my job as well as I could. You can't have longevity if you burn yourself out.

It can be particularly difficult as we're not just business partners, we're also dating. It can be difficult sometimes to have hard conversations, when you're tired and at home. That's why it's important to have that separation, so that you have days off where you're not just talking about the business.

Also waking up half an hour earlier has done me wonders. I find that I can get so much more done by just waking up half an hour earlier.

What’s the most valuable advice you’ve ever received?

I think probably 'grow slowly'. I had someone who is very, very wise in business tell me to never take out a loan for more than you think you're worth, like more than you think you could pay off. And don't worry about making money for the first two years.

So just grow slowly, take everything in stride, don't get yourself in a hole, don't expect too much of yourself or you'll be let down.

Do you have a self-care practice?

My self-care practice is Good Space! The yoga is good for me. Before that I would just go for runs but it's not as good for me.

Also, I try to make sure I have time to just do nothing, that's really important to me. I need to just sit in bed, doing nothing at all, otherwise I just get worn so thin. 

How do you deal with/manage stress?

I write a lot of lists. Like pro's and con's lists. So, if I'm feeling really stressed out, or if there's a deadline I'm like, ok, what's the worst-case scenario? And if this thing goes wrong, does it really matter?

Just thinking about the reality of it. And also thinking about perspectives. I'm 26, if in 10 years this is actually going to affect me then maybe my being stressed out is warranted.

Imagine if you told your grandparents what you were stressing out about, they would laugh at you! So just trying to have that perspective, trying to look at it from an outside perspective.

Also, yoga does that for me, it helps me manage my stress.

How do you deal with periods of procrastination or lack of inspiration?

With the business side of things, I'll try to think of my favourite artist, or favourite filmmakers, and go through their catalogues. So, taking it back to why I started the business, thinking about what I like. Sometimes I think with the internet, with going on Instagram to find inspiration, it can often be too much. It's like I don't know what I'm looking at. I'll be inspired by something that doesn't make sense for me, like a stylist or an image that doesn't actually help me in any way.

What will inspire us when we're designing is just like looking through all of the years of Yohji Yamamato or Junya (Watanabe), and seeing what they did and that can spark something. Or watching a film, I especially love Jean Luc Godard films when I'm feeling uninspired because I feel like there's this beautiful serenity of calmness, but also energy that passes through them. It will make me inspired visually but also slow down the pace a little.

A little while ago I read 'The Tipping Point' by Malcolm Gladwell. I was feeling pretty stuck thinking about the growth of the business, thinking am I doing this right? Is it even going to grow? And I think reading other people's words sometimes, or watching other people’s things and seeing how they were able to do it can help. It's normal to be stuck. You can't just always be producing as a creative person.

What inspires you to keep going?

The fact that people still shop at Zara. If people are still shopping at Zara, I will want to keep going. I want everyone to stop buying fast fashion. I want people to stop exploiting other people, I want to create more jobs for people where we live, for communities that don't have money and creating a new industry to manufacture for is going to help Toronto and Canada, to give our youth more jobs.

Until people start realizing that what they're doing is bad, I will be making Chez Bippy garments and trying to educate them.  

We're a sustainable, ethically sourced company that is affordable. Obviously, we can't call out other brands or guilt people and make them feel bad about what's in their wardrobe. But we can educate them. You have to be active to care, because it is a choice for you to get sustainable clothes, or buy vintage or buy organic.

What is your favourite book/movie/music to feed your soul?

My favourite book to feed my soul is East of Eden by (John) Steinbeck. To me it's like the Bible or words to live by. I love it, it lines up with Cain and Abel and then aligns with Bible stories, following a similar timeline. You can open it to any page and it's great.

Music for you're feeling sad would be some Sam Cook or Elizabeth Cotton, she's a folk singer, she's great.

Movie, would be (Pierrot) Le Fou by Jean Luc Godard.

Megan Alexander
December 12, 2018
Interview with a good woman: Tara Miller from Health Hut

Interview with a good woman: Tara Miller from Health Hut

Tell us a little about yourself

My name is Tara, I am the shop owner of Health Hut on College in Toronto. I’m a Holistic Nutritionist-turned-Intuitive Eating counsellor. I don’t preach scare tactics or restrictions with my Intuitive Eating clients and, similarly, don’t use a fear-based approach to taking on a natural lifestyle in the shop :)

I moved to Toronto 10 years ago and now live in the neighbourhood. I have a dog and 2 cats. I love the community.

How did you start your business? 

I started in 2011 in Muskoka. I had recently finished school for Nutrition and I was practicing one-on-one consulting but I felt a pull to be putting my energy into something else.

I remember learning a lot in school about products, something I didn’t really think I would learn in Nutrition school. It was the first time I had ever looked at what was in the products that I was using. Maybe it was naive but I just trusted that everything was safe, with everyone’s health in mind. I was really surprised and, from there, started getting interested in alternatives.

So that summer, 2011, my mom inherited a gas station in Muskoka. We had had an ice cream hut on the property for a number of years but we closed it, so that summer I asked her if I could try to start a business there and I thought it would be fitting to try the natural products. There’s not really anything like that in Muskoka. So it started there! And, I mean, I had no business plan or expectations. I ordered a bunch of products and people came! I was shocked.

Then I opened up on Harbord Street in 2014. Each step I made felt right at the time. If you had told me I would be doing this (at Health Hut on College) the day I opened in Muskoka, I never would have believed you. Each time I made a jump it felt good. It felt challenging, but it felt good. I felt OK I and that I could handle it. But that took a number of steps. 

So there was a lot of trusting your gut throughout the whole process?

Yes, exactly. With some things I just knew that that wasn’t the time. I did things a lot slower, which I think is what allowed me to stay around. It can be frustrating seeing new people in the market who are moving more quickly than you and feeling small in comparison, but what I’ve learned is that if you can keep sticking around, you can get there. It’s not always easy, but I think that’s one thing I had in my favour was my humble beginning and my ability to grow and change and learn.

Did you face any unique challenges as a woman starting a business?

I’ve always seen my mom running her own businesses, so it never felt like a huge challenge to me as a woman. Even when I started my store, she was helping me with the bookkeeping! I think seeing that, I never had a doubt in my mind that this was an OK thing to pursue and that you didn’t need to be a man to be an entrepreneur.

Additionally, this industry is super female-friendly. There are so many amazing people in Toronto who I’ve gotten to meet and are doing great things.

How do you maintain a healthy work/life balance as an entrepreneur/business owner?

I didn’t always have this balance. I was working a lot out of my home and not really setting boundaries. Now, I have scheduled work hours. They may be longer than most people’s scheduled work hours but I try not to take work home. Because, when you’re working from home, it can be like you’re not working when you’re supposed to be and then, in the evening, you’re also not relaxing like you should be.

Of course, as a business owner, you’re always kind of ‘on’. As in: someone can always call you and you’re always thinking and dreaming of the next idea. But I feel that I’m able to fully engage in my relationships or walk the dog without thinking about anything business-related so, yes, I would say the best advice for that is to just have the separation.

What’s the most valuable advice you’ve ever received?

That same idea of slow and steady. I don’t know if it was something that was ever given to me, but it’s definitely something that I keep going back to in my mind. Especially in the tendency to compare where I’m at with where other people or businesses are at. I remind myself that it’s OK to go at your own pace. It doesn’t mean you’re not going to get there!

Do you have a self-care practice?

Maybe this is cliche but going to the gym every morning is a huge part of how I practice self-care. It’s never from a feeling of self-punishment or obligation, I just know that my day is dramatically different on the days that I move in the morning versus the days that I don’t.

Secondly: the practice of saying no to things. I love socializing, but if I have too many commitments in one week, I know I won’t feel rested or at my best self. I emphasize staying at home, going to bed. It’s such a simple concept but feels like such a nice luxury.

How do you deal with/manage stress?

I know myself well enough to know when I need to stop and just be alone and rest. I really like walking the dog, getting out of the city when I can, or just getting into nature here. On the weekends, going down to the Brickworks or through Trinity Bellwoods. I like that Toronto offers so much green space.

How do you deal with periods of procrastination or lack of inspiration?

Sometimes just changing it up. Like if I’m working by myself and I’m in a bit of slump, I’ll come out and talk to the girls in the front, or go out for dinner with a friend I don’t see all the time. Talking to other people, talking to people who are doing the similar things to me. Re-reminding myself why I’m doing this. But just getting out of your own bubble is huge.

What inspires you to keep going?

I really genuinely love every day that I have here, so the thought of not having that, alone, inspires me to work hard to keep it going.

Another thing is that it’s not just about me anymore. I think about all the people that are at the Muskoka store on opening day each season that are so excited to be there. I would hate to let my customers down, my staff down, my vendors down. The whole freedom thing is nice but now I have commitments to my community.

What is your favourite book/movie/music to feed your soul?

Right now, I’m really into Rhye, Feist, and Florence and the Machine. I saw Florence in October for my birthday and it was life-changing!

Megan Alexander
December 11, 2018