Stylish Social Enterprises – Doing Good Through Fashion

Our purchases do make a difference. With the holiday season fast approaching, now may be the perfect time to support fabulous causes without compromising on style. My column in this month’s Community Cord discusses how.

See below.

Shop Local

I’m often asked whether our individual purchases really make a difference, and my answer is always yes. Consumers have more influence over the products that are produced, and future products that are being developed, than we may realize. With every business striving to make a profit, they look to consumer behaviour to drive their innovation, product development, and marketing decisions to increase the likelihood that us consumers will choose their products over a competitor’s.

A 2013 Business Development Bank of Canada study called “Five Game-Changing Consumer Trends” identified a “Made in Canada” advantage for businesses, as social and environmental concerns have become increasingly influential in consumer purchasing decisions.

The commercial landscape has changed for retailers and they must adapt to meet new consumer standards. Canadians do their research before making a purchase and a majority are now trying to buy local, with many willing to pay a premium for goods that boast a Made in Canada label.

As a result of these shifting attitudes, new businesses are popping up that place doing good at the centre of their business model. These are called social enterprises. From Tom’s Shoes, which give shoes to children in need, to tentree, which plants 10 trees for every purchase, shopping for a cause has gone mainstream.

It’s true that it can be challenging to see how our individual purchases make a difference, but Carmen Clubiné, a local jewelry designer, makes it clear that they can. She created her jewelry line, Alfaro Clubiné, in partnership with Joel, a 23-year-old hearing impaired man living in Paraguay who had few options for employment in his community.

“When our friend in Paraguay met Joel, he had a temper because he really couldn’t communicate with anyone,” explained Carmen. “He was frustrated, and it got to the point where his own community didn’t want him around.”

When Joel was young, he attended school for a while, but it wasn’t set up to meet his needs. As a result, he had a lot of time on his hands, and his older brothers taught him how to work with filigree silver. When they moved away to make a living elsewhere, things changed for the entire family.

“Joel wasn’t in a good place when our friend met him, but when he started working, he became a different person,” said Carmen. “For me, that was the wow moment. Alfaro Clubiné is making a big difference in the life of a man, his family, and his community.”

This is one example of a local social enterprise that, with your support, can continue to positively influence another person’s life. Many more exist in Waterloo Region, and with style and impact combined in a business, it is now easier than ever to engage in socially-conscious purchasing.

Our consumption decisions add up, and big businesses pay attention. Our purchases make a difference, and isn’t that a beautiful thing?

A Blooming Affair Fashion Show in Review

Happy Thanksgiving Canadian readers and what a gorgeous weekend it’s been in Waterloo Region. I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank all of YOU for following the blog and sharing your shopping stories with me. It’s truly been an amazing year, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed meeting many of our wonderful shop owners, reporting back to you on our local shop spots. This week I had the pleasure of kicking off Oktoberfest season in style at the 2015 A Blooming Affair Fashion Show, held at Bingemans Ballroom.

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There was certainly plenty of eye candy at this year’s event, organized and run by a talented committee of 13 community members. The show drew a mixed crowd of young women, sophisticated women and the occasional male companion, all looking for the latest in fall and winter fashions. The styles were hot, with some new fashion features in the show like Gadsby’s Clothing Co. Inc in Cambridge, Plato’s Closet in Kitchener, and Grace the Boutique from Stratford. While La Crème in St Jacobs always puts together a gorgeous collection, this year I thoroughly enjoyed the styles from fb and me, with their youthful and colourful, yet sophisticated designs. It’s definitely worth a visit (especially now) if you’re looking for some new fall items.

Along with the eye candy on stage, attendees were invited to shop till they dropped at Most Magazine’s Boulevard of Boutiques. With some vendors also being featured in the fashion show, it was a great way to bring a piece or two home with you, after checking them out on stage. There weren’t too many familiar faces this year in the Boulevard, an area which I feel could be improved to better showcase our fabulous fashion community. Style may be the focus of the event, but it also does good, benefiting a local charity with a portion of the raffle proceeds. This year, that partner was Lutherwood, a wonderful organization which provides mental health, employment, housing and family support services to thousands of individuals in our community.

Overall, it was a fantastic night, thoroughly enjoyed by attendees and an excellent start to an eventful Oktoberfest season. If you’re already looking ahead to next year, be sure to mark October 5, 2016 (at least, that’s when I think it is) in your calendar for the next A Blooming Affair Fashion Show. Hope to see you there lovelies.

Meet Robyn. Owner of Le Prix – Waterloo.

Le Prix is a true gem. Operating out of owner Robyn Hobbs personal residence, the store is open by appointment only, offering customers a personalized shopping experience. Unique in its mission, Le Prix looks to help women love their bodies again while dressing in fabulous, affordable, pre-loved and new pieces from around the globe. Not only is this a fantastic place to shop, Robyn offers her services as a stylist, to help customers pair pieces together to create gorgeous looks. With future plans to travel/shop in Morocco, Egypt and India, this is one boutique your inner adventurer will adore.

Meet Robyn

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Bubbly, extroverted, and stylish, Robyn has an eye for great fashion. As a student and entrepreneur, she has learned how to find quality pieces at reasonable prices. With a passion for the environment, Robyn has combined her interest in travel, shopping, and recycling garments into a rewarding business venture.

Read on for the rest of our interview.

Thanks for meeting with me Robyn. Are you from Waterloo Region originally?

Yes, I was born and raised in Cambridge! I came to Waterloo to do my undergrad at Laurier and now I’ve been living here for about 8 years. I love Waterloo. I mean I just bought a house here!

That’s great! I know you’re very busy with Le Prix and other things…can you tell me about your life right now?

Along with owning Le Prix, I’m actually a graduate student completing my Master’s in Environmental Studies. I also work part-time at Laurier’s Graduate Students Association doing communications and graphic design. On the side, I sometimes do graphic work as well. Things are definitely busy, but now is the time to establish what we want in life, and I love what I’m doing!

I totally agree! Can you tell me a bit about Le Prix?

Le Prix is a fashion and lifestyle brand that provides pre-loved and new designer clothing, shoes and accessories from around the globe at affordable prices. I also offer my stylist services to help customer’s look and feel their best.

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How did it get started?

I started Le Prix during my last year of undergrad. I have always loved shopping, and when I became a student, it became important for me to find great pieces at affordable prices. That summer, I didn’t have a job that was working out, so my good friend pushed me to finally start the business. My friends always liked what I was wearing, so I would style them, and when I was out shopping, I would find pieces that wouldn’t fit me, but I knew would look great on someone else. Eventually friends of friends started messaging me and asking if I would pick up items for them, or if I would take them shopping. That’s when I realized I had an idea for a business and decided to start Le Prix.

It seems like it’s really taking off too.

Yes! It’s been organic growth which I am grateful for because I’ve been a student the whole time. I started with just a small clothing rack in my room, but it’s been slowly growing since then. I now have a whole room in my house for it which is great! I also got involved with Laurier Launchpad, which really helped me refine my business. The program offered so many resources. It gave me access to lawyers, accountants, marketing support, etc. Each week I worked on one part of my business plan, and then met with potential clients, changing the plan as I went. It was great! DSC_0244

How did you decide to offer clothes from around the globe at Le Prix?

Well after Laurier Launchpad, I finished my undergrad and went travelling for 3 months. I have always loved travelling, and found people really loved the pieces I picked up abroad, so I thought, why not shop for Le Prix while I’m away. That way the pieces are completely unique. I’ve shopped in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Austria, the Netherlands, Spain, and this summer, my mom and I went to Paris and Rome.

Wow! So when you’re abroad, where do you shop?

I honestly have incredible luck. I believe most of the time I’m simply in the right place at the right time. I will stumble upon random, one-day markets, or sidewalk sales with fantastic items. Often before I go somewhere, I will look online to see the great shopping areas, or I message bloggers in those cities to see where I should go too.

DSC_0249I bet you find some really great pieces.

Oh yes! Fashion is so cultural and everywhere I travel is completely different for shopping. I get a gut feeling about the pieces I purchase for Le Prix. There are so many different style personalities, so I shop for every one of them. I try each and every piece on myself before buying, even if it’s not my size, just to make sure there isn’t any damage. Sometimes I find that my pieces are actually ahead of the trends here in Canada because I’ve shopped abroad. I Snapchat my shopping adventures to customers, so they can feel like they’re travelling with me!

How did you come up the name Le Prix for your store?

I wanted to invoke a level of luxury with the name, but I also wanted it to represent affordability and fun. The original name I chose was Le Prix D’Amour which means the price of love. I chose this because I really don’t think you should have to pay a lot for clothes you love. The name was just too long though, so over time, I shortened it to Le Prix. I really love the name because Le Prix is a mix of pre-loved and new clothes, but mostly pre-loved. I care about the environment, and think repurposing clothes is key, which makes them more affordable and special then always buying new.

That’s so true. So who do you find are your main customers?

Well with me being a student, many of my original customers were students too. That’s been changing. I would say there are two: young professionals and their moms. These are ladies who no longer have young kids, they are coming back into their own, and want to have fun with their style.

DSC_0253How does the personal styling work for your business?

Currently, I function by appointment only. I have the online store as well that I ship from, but to visit Le Prix, customers call, email or text. I really want the store to feel like customers are shopping in their best friend’s closet. Not only that, then clients get my full attention and they can come alone, or with family or friends, which they love. When customers are shopping, I help them with how to wear each piece, as well as figuring out what other pieces they have in their wardrobes already that could work with the new pieces.

I also get contracted out and go to other stores to shop with clients. I do wardrobe overhauls…I used to love the shows Clean Sweep and What Not to Wear so the styling piece is a combination of those two things, only nicer.

What’s your favourite part about owning Le Prix?

I think women spend too much time hating their bodies, when they really shouldn’t. Everyone is awesome and unique, and I want to help women love how they look. There’s that little mission in there at Le Prix. I love helping clients find their style. Some already know what they like, but aren’t always sure how to pair pieces. I help customers build on what they already know, so that they like what they see in the mirror. My favourite part is helping customer’s feel good, that’s why I do what I do. DSC_0251What’s unique about shopping at Le Prix?

Well I have a 7-day return/exchange policy, which many second-hand stores don’t offer. I also do gift wrapping, and customers’ get high quality pieces at affordable prices. I shop around the world, have a fashion trunk they get to pick a free item out of when they spend $25 and Swiss chocolate as a thank you. I love my job and I love helping customer’s feel better. The one-on-one attention I provide is also unique!

What does style mean to you?

Style is expressing how you feel each day. It’s looking put together, however that means for you. Some people are boho, others’ are preppy. Style is putting yourself in pieces you feel great in. I always tell my customer’s if you don’t feel like a 10 in it, don’t buy it!

DSC_0246I completely agree! Do you have any fashion tips for our readers?

Honestly just wear what you feel good in. I personally don’t like when you can see someone’s’ bra straps in an outfit. It just doesn’t create a cohesive look. A good pair of dark denim, or black skinny pants go with everything and can transition from day to night! A blazer is also a must in a wardrobe. It can be dressed up, or down, with the cuffs rolled up. Since we live in Canada, you also need to think about what your coat is saying about you because it’s one of the first things people see. If you don’t want to wear a fancy coat, try a nice scarf and cute mittens.

Thanks so much for sharing Le Prix with us Robyn! It truly is such a fabulous shopping spot. Just to finish off, when you’re not here and at school, where do you like to go in our community?

I love the St. Jacob’s Market, especially the Mennonite cinnamon buns The Fritter Co. apple fritters. I also love the Seven Shores Cafe, Huether Hotel, Starlight Lounge and Masala Bay.

DSC_0254Are you looking for a new look? Need some help with your style? Want to shop fabulous pieces from around the globe? If yes, then a visit to Le Prix may be just what you’re after. Using her expert eye, Robyn will help you find pieces that truly reflect your personality, at budget prices. Yahoo! Be sure to follow along with Robyn’s adventures on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat (@RobynLePrix).

Meet Carmen. Designer behind Alfaro Clubiné – Waterloo and Paraguay

In a world of seemingly similar jewelry styles, it’s difficult to find a piece that wows and expresses one’s personality. With subtle sophistication and a truly good story, Alfaro Clubiné designs stand out in a crowded marketplace.  Each piece is handmade and guaranteed to get you noticed. Inspired by Canada’s natural beauty, Carmen Clubiné designs pieces that celebrate what we often miss.

Meet Carmen.

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Style maven, designer, and creative thinker, Carmen has a passion for helping others. Growing up in El Salvador, she has seen poverty, and is committed to making the world a better place. In partnership with Joel, a 23-year old deaf man living in Paraguay, the pair are creating quality jewels for fashion-forward individuals. With few options for employment in Paraguay, particularly for the hearing impaired, this social enterprise is directly supporting Joel and contributing to his community. Our purchases can make a difference, and one from Alfaro Clubiné goes a long way.

Read on for the rest of our interview.

Thanks so much for meeting with me Carmen. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself? Where are you from?

I was born and raised in El Salvador, which is a tiny country in Central America. It’s absolutely gorgeous there. It’s tropical, and volcanic, but it’s a country with a very sad history. There’s always been wars and earthquakes. I lived through the 12 year war when I was a teenager which was difficult.

Growing up, I was very close to my father. He was a man ahead of his time, an architect with a social mission. There was so much poverty in El Salvador and he wanted to change this by improving housing. He became the architect for the poor. I was fortunate enough to get an education when I was young. I attended a British School, but I always saw these two worlds. I didn’t realize how much those experiences shaped who I was until I started Alfaro Clubiné. Helping others has always been in me and important to me.
summer deeper - SOLIt’s funny how life seems to only make sense in retrospect. You look back and you see how all your experiences have brought you to where you are today.

Exactly. Like my father, I’ve always been interested in design. But I had to think why don’t I want to just become a designer, why is that not enough? For me, there had to be more.

So what happened next? How did you end up settling in Waterloo?

I came to Canada to study industrial design and I met my husband Paul during this time. After university, we moved back to El Salvador and started our own business. It was a gift store more than anything, but I also designed baby rooms. This was a dream job! The business was thriving after the war, it was a peaceful time. I had 2 of my 3 children there. After 7 years though, my husband said we had to leave. I didn’t want to come back to Canada, but things were starting to change in El Salvador. The crime rate was rising, and it wasn’t as safe anymore. So we left, and came to Waterloo. The country we returned to though wasn’t the same. There were no jobs. My husband worked with furniture, and now all the furniture was made in China. It was a challenge to adjust, but we love Canada, and Waterloo especially, so we’re happy to be here.

Wow! What a story! How did you get started in jewelry then?  

When we came back, I decided I was going to stay home and raise our children. When our youngest was just a baby, I dabbled a bit in jewelry design, more as a way to get out of the house. I took lessons and just loved it! It was something beautiful that I did. It was only a 6 month thing though. I did a lot of freelance graphic design while the kids were in school, and when they were old enough, I took a job in London as a designer. This was about 2.5 years ago now, but the job only lasted a year.

Then I didn’t know what to do, so I went to The Working Centre which connected me with the Ontario Self Employment Benefit Program. Unfortunately they are ending the program this year, but it helps entrepreneurs start their own business. My original idea was to create a design-thinking, design-experience company, but that all changed when a good friend of ours came to visit. He lives in Paraguay and works for a non-governmental organization there.

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Around the time I was to submit my business plan, he visits and brings a pile of jewelry telling me I have to help me sell the pieces. I didn’t like the jewelry designs, they were beautifully made, but very generic. Our friend said he had met this young guy, who was deaf and didn’t have any opportunities. His own community didn’t even want him around. It was very sad. I tossed the idea around, trying to see if there was a way I could help. I really felt for this boy Joel. He lived in a small, poor town, and I knew this life myself. I had seen it growing up. I decided to change my idea. I just felt that this was what I needed to do.

What is life like for Joel?

Joel is a wonderful young man, but life is certainly a challenge for him. He doesn’t hear and he doesn’t speak. He signs a little bit in his native tongue, and he lip-reads. When our friend met him, he had a temper because he really couldn’t communicate, he was frustrated. It got to the point where everyone in their community was saying we don’t want him here, he’s crazy, please lock him up.

Was Joel trained in jewelry making?

He is actually from a family of jewelry makers. He has 12 brothers, who all make jewelry. In Paraguay, this is work done by men. When Joel was young, he really didn’t have anything to do. He did go to school for a short-time, but there was no structure in place to support his needs. Basically, they tried to teach him to sign, and when it didn’t work, that was the end of school. To keep him busy, his brothers taught him to make jewelry and work with filigree silver. He’s very skilled. Once the brothers grew up, they moved to Argentina to make a living. There are very few jobs in Paraguay. That’s when things really changed for Joel and his family. Joel, again, had nothing to do, and no one would hire him because he was deaf. He wasn’t in a good place when our friend met him. When we would skype initially, he would just look at the screen and then look down.

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What was it like when your started the partnership?

Communicating was definitely a challenge. There were problems in the beginning where I didn’t get him and he didn’t get me. I loved the work that Joel did, but I didn’t like the designs. They were the same as everyone else’s. I wanted him to make my designs.  I drew up some prototypes, and sent the drawings by e-mail. When the actual pieces were sent back to me, they were exactly how I wanted them. I wasn’t even in the same country as him, and he brought my vision to life. Apparently when Joel started working, he became a different person. He no longer had a temper, it was really amazing! That to me was a wow moment. That’s when I realized this was what I needed to do.

That’s amazing!

I know. By working together, we can make the world a better place. Now when we skype, he is all smiles and waving. His parents are so grateful as well. When our friend gave him cash for the pieces he made, he told his interpreter that he was going to buy running shoes. He had never owned running shoes before, so this was a huge thing. He always wore flip-flops and got hand-me-downs from this brothers. A few months ago when we were skyping I said you need to show me those running shoes, so he bends down and sticks his feet in the air so excited haha! It was so cute. Coming from Latin America myself, I have seen poverty. It’s hard to help everyone you see, but this is making a big difference in the life of a man, his family, and his community.

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Oh my goodness, what a story! He does do beautiful work. Where do you get your inspiration for the designs?

My first collection was inspired by the seasons in Canada. I just love Canada and think it’s such a magical place. Coming from El Salvador, sometimes I step back and I just can’t believe I’m in a country like this. When I designed the collection, I was looking at it through these eyes. My second collection was inspired by Mennonite gardens, and country flowers. Natural elements are what inspire me, especially around Waterloo Region. I just doodle ideas, and Joel makes them come to life. When we started though, it took me a few months to realize that some of the pieces I designed wouldn’t work. There’s definitely been a learning curve for both Joel and I, but it’s been a wonderful journey.

Do you have plans for another collection?

I do. Right now, I’m actually focusing more on creating mini designs. I have larger pieces which are just gorgeous, but I find our customers are really drawn to the smaller designs for everyday wear. Joel absolutely loves to make these as well. The experience has just been so great that it’s now my dream to work with another artist in a different country and medium. I want to help people and use design as a means to help people. Together, we can create something really beautiful.

What are people supporting by buying Alfaro Clubiné pieces?

They are providing a job to someone who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to have a job. No one will give Joel an opportunity just because he is deaf. That’s Latin America. There’s no forgiveness when it comes to that.

Thanks so much Carmen!

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Stunning, unique and handcrafted jewelry that does good can be purchased online, at the Cobblestone Gallery in Waterloo, or the Distillery District in Toronto. To stay up to date with Carmen and Joel, be sure to like Alfaro Clubiné on Facebook and follow them on Twitter and Instagram.

To learn more about what you will be supporting, watch this video.

To see a video on how Joel makes each piece, visit the website.

Eco-friendly and Stylish Baby Bibs Now Avaliable in Waterloo Region. Introducing Bibi.

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Attention stylish moms in Waterloo Region, this is a post for you! A hobby turned business by Fazlin Bandali has brought the cutest baby bandana bibs to our community. These eco-friendly, organic cotton bibs are the perfect accessory for the next generation of dapper dressers and they’re practical too!  Whether you’re looking for a unique baby shower gift, or want something creative and handmade for your little one, Bibi has “bibs worth drooling over.”

I had the opportunity to meet Fazlin whose passion for clothing and interior design are perfectly paired in the baby bandanas project. A new venture, Bibi was launched only weeks ago with the goal of serving moms and babies in Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge. Each fabric is hand-selected by Fazlin, who pairs patterns to make a statement. Not only are the fabrics gorgeous, they are accented by bright, colourful snaps which are safe for baby and grow with them.

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Reversible, machine-washable, and eco-friendly are all important words to consider when choosing items for little ones. Lucky for us, style and softness are combined in Bibi bibs, which is essential when dealing with delicate skin.

Like what you see?

You can get your own Bibi bib for only $20.00 online. Fazlin will also be participating in the Stork & Stroller Show at Bingeman’s on September 27th, showcasing her fashionable line of baby bandanas. Be sure to follow Bibi on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to stay up-to-date with sales and news.

Happy shopping!