Meet Melissa. Owner of More Than Half – Kitchener

I’m incredibly excited to post about an amazing hidden gem in downtown Kitchener! More Than Half is a fair trade clothing boutique which offers fashionistas amazing style, value and the chance to do good through their fashion choices. Receiving the fair trade trademark ensures the entire production process – from raw materials to the finished product is good on the planet, free from child labour, is ethical, and supports individuals in the developing world by providing safe working conditions and a living wage. Now that’s something I can get behind!

I spent a low-key evening sipping green and peppermint tea with the lovely Melissa Stieber, owner of More Than Half which opened up only 10 months ago. Her passion for fair trade and making a positive difference on the world is inspirational and at the heart of her boutique. Read below for the inside scoop on More Than Half and the lady whose making it such a success in our community.

Meet Melissa.

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Melissa is a local girl, growing up just outside Kitchener, in Wilmot Centre. When not at More Than Half, Melissa participates in many different activities including walking, biking, running and art. Melissa loves to paint – paint things that are meaningful to her. Here is our interview:

Thanks for sitting down with me today Melissa. I’m excited to learn all about More Than Half. What a lovely store! Do you think there are a lot of great boutiques in our region?

Yes there are. I wish more people would open up clothing stores especially downtown. There seems to be a lot of restaurants and cafes, which are great, but we need more retail. To give people more options.

I definitely agree. Have you found you’re unique in offering fair trade clothing in our area?

Very unique. This is exactly why we opened up the store because there wasn’t this option available to people. You can buy these items online but with clothing you want to try it on. You want to see how it works on your body. It’s been a very interesting journey opening the store. I had the idea in mind for quite a few years before I opened it up here. I used to manage a Ten Thousand Villages store in Toronto for a couple of years. We had to close up the store there, and then my husband and I moved back here. While I was working there I just thought, not even in Toronto, can you go into a store and buy fair trade clothing. That blew my mind!

No kidding. I’m wondering why there is even a difference between fashion and fair trade, eco fashion. It should all just be fashion.

Exactly. Why does there have to be that distinction? I believe every item of clothing should be made ethically. I mean why should it be the opposite? Us, the planet, everything, we’re all connected. That’s how I see it and with fair trade you’re getting the whole positive attitude aspect of the connection because the workers are treated well, the planet is treated well. There is no animal cruelty with leather being used. It’s the best thing ever! I’ve met so many interesting people in the community by opening this store and have been able to tell them about fair trade. When you’re not in the industry you don’t have those options to tell people. But every day I can tell someone about it. So I’m making a difference that way.

You definitely are. Hopefully I can share your message. Have you and your husband done a lot of travelling?

Yes! We’ve travelled a lot in the States. My husband and I are huge fans of the States. We’ve done 4 big trips there now. We’ve been to California twice and want to go back again. We haven’t travelled overseas much, because of the cost, but we would like to one day.

Travelling is great for opening your mind to new experiences. You are bringing some amazing, fair trade pieces from around the world right here to Kitchener. Thank you! So how do you decide what to order for the store?

It all depends on style. I wanted (to offer) things that we’re different, but not too different. I find that with a lot of the fair trade fashion there are lots of neutrals and clothes that look plain. I know that’s a lot of people’s style, but I wanted offer something that would reflect myself as well.

Now I have to ask! Do you play dress up sometimes when no one is around? I mean it must be pretty neat to own your own store!

Haha…well….I just take the pieces home! This store is such a reflection of me and what I love. It’s amazing the people who come in here, you have no idea who they are. For example, the Founder of Sustainable Waterloo Region comes in to shop from time to time. He visited a couple times before I found out who he was. There are lots of people interested in fair trade and doing good which is great.

I think part of what is so amazing about Waterloo Region is that so many people are starting their own businesses and are succeeding.

I think that’s what’s great about our generation. We’re more confident and we know there are all these possibilities and opportunities for us. Ever since I can remember, I’ve always kind of been weary of things, people, and companies. I didn’t really follow the crowd. I always just thought for myself. Maybe it has to be with being the youngest. I would see my sisters do stupid stuff and I was like why are they doing that.

Haha, that’s too funny! So what is the best part of owning your own store?

I guess it’s just the independence, doing my own thing. I’ve also met a lot of interesting individuals in our community. I had that at Ten Thousand Villages. I got to meet a lot of open-minded and cultured people. Having my own store, I’m meeting that community again, which I love.

That’s great. So can you tell me why you decided to open up More Than Half here in Kitchener?

Oh there are a lot of different reasons. Just to fulfill my passion for fair trade, a desire to do something important with my life, and also just to work for myself. I always hated working for someone else. It wouldn’t matter what job it was, even if it was the best job in the world. If I had to work for someone else I’d just hate it. This store is my life.

Do you do a lot of research on fair trade?

Everyday. Just researching and updating and seeing what’s new in the standards. It’s also one of my goals to start my own clothing line. Now I’m in the process of learning how that part of wholesale will work.

Wow! A future fair trade designer. That’s amazing!

Yes. I’m trying to find fair trade co-ops to work with and deciding how I want to do the work. You know, do I want to buy fair trade cotton and then have people in Canada and the USA make the clothes to get both ends of it (fair trade industry)? People need work here too. So that’s a whole process. It will be 5-10 years down the road. I think I’m always going to feel like I’m not doing enough good in the world. I’m not sure if that feeling will ever go away.

You’re doing good! You’re starting something here and giving people options for fair trade fashion. I think we’re such a global society, yet so far removed from the people who actually make our clothes, grow our food, etc. You’re helping to connect people back and making it simple for them to do make ethical fashion choices.

Ya! To me it’s living a selfless lifestyle. I can’t ignore the things going on around me.

For sure! Can you give me three words to describe your store?

Hmm this is a hard one. I think I would say ethical for sure. Unique and eclectic.

How did you come up with the name for the store?

More Than Half? It comes from a quote by Martin Luther King Jr. He has a sermon on peace on earth and how things are interrelated. In part of it, he says “and before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you’ve depended on more than half of the world.” He goes into a lot more detail about this and that like this is where your coffee comes. I was just really inspired reading that sermon. It was bothering me that it was taking so long to figure out a name. I needed to find something perfect. I read that and I just knew it was the name. See full speech here.

That’s an awesome story! Good thing you waited for the right name. Now you have something else to tell people about. So who are the clothes for? Who do you see coming through your doors on a regular basis?

A lot of different people. We have people who can’t really afford to shop new, but buy a few pieces here and there. These are the people who normally buy in the thrift stores – but they still believe in fair trade so this gives them that option. Then we have people who have these same beliefs but have a lot more money, so they spend more. And then there are people that are kinda the opposite of this, rather they do or don’t have money but don’t care about fair trade at all. We get everyone in here. We do get a lot of men in so we’re trying to expand our men’s offerings. This is hard though with fair trade because it’s mostly women’s clothes. The women we tend to get in are 30 to 60.

Well I’m not even 30 and I think the clothes are cute! Lots of nice dresses for sure. So what does style mean to you?

I guess this is why I used the word eclectic to describe my store. I personally don’t care if things match. I like colour. I like patterns. I like vintage. I like combining old and new together. That’s one of my favourite things. (Points to self) My skirt is new and my cardigan is just from a thrift store. In the summer I only wear dresses and skirts. I don’t really believe in the whole what’s in style thing or fashion for the seasons, you know. Just wear what you want.

I’m with you there. You need to create a timeless style that’s about you. That’s what personal style is all about, you. Any fashion tips for our readers?

I think it’s important to know your body type. Know what works on you. What those clothes actually look like, who cares, as long as you like them.

That’s great. Are there any websites people can visit to learn more about fair trade?

There are. Fair Trade International. They focus more on food and coffee, that sort of thing. Fair Trade Federation and World Fair Trade Organization, they deal more with arts and crafts and clothing.

Excellent! Well thank you so much for your time. Just to finish off….can you tell me some of your favourite spots to visit in Waterloo Region?

I don’t get out too often, but there are a lot of awesome places to go to. I do love Death Valley’s Little Brother in Waterloo. It’s really cool. It’s a whiskey and espresso café. I’m really into whiskey so it’s kinda cool to have a place you can go to get good whiskey but in a café setting rather than a bar. I also go to the Princess Cinemas a lot because it’s one of the only places that has movies that I like. I love all of Wes Anderson’s movies. I also love the Cohen Brother movies. I have an eclectic taste in movies. I love Alien, the original from the 70’s but I also like children’s movies like Sandlot and fantasy movies like Pan’s Labyrinth.

Readers, this store is a definite hit! I would more than recommend you take a trip to 8 King Street East, downtown Kitchener and visit Melissa. Not only will she tell you all about fair trade, she will sell you an excellent product too. Take a look at my new flats, hand-made in Ethiopia. These definitely are going to be my go to shoes when the rain clears up!

So what are some of the brands offered at More Than Half?

More Than Half is also on Facebook. Don’t forget to like them to stay up-to-date on the store and hear about their sales first. When you stop by, be sure to say a big hello from me.

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