· By Megan Alexander
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, 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.
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, I find that I get a better response to emails if I sign off as him. I find that people listen more, and tend to get back to me quicker. So that's 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. There's no longevity if you burn yourself out.
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 pros and cons 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.
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 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, 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. 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. We don't want to guilt people or 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 buy sustainable clothes, or vintage or 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 when I'm 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.