After graduating from Vancouver’s Emily Carr University of Art. Tabitha Osler set off on a year and a half long adventure – travelling through India, Vietnam, and New Zealand. During those travels, Tabitha found herself more attracted to textiles than then the sculpture and drawing of her art school days. Through friends, she was introduced to the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, Belgium – a school that bridged the gap between sculpture and fashion. She applied and was accepted to the cut-throat program that cuts nearly half their students each year. And she was one of approximately 10 who graduated with their masters.
“That school gave me the tools that I needed to get the confidence and the creative ability I needed to become a designer,” she says. “Where I had my own original ideas and confidence in them.”
When setting out to start her business, Tabitha knew she wanted to create a children’s wear line that was kind to the planet. Initially, she thought she’d be using organic hemp and cotton fabrics but – as it turns out – organic cotton is not great for the environment, it soaks up tonnes of water. Hemp and linen were good alternatives but quite expensive. To Tabitha, sustainable clothing should be long-lasting and durable, and neither hemp or linen last for long.
“How do I make sure it doesn’t end up in landfill again?”
That’s the question Tabitha wrestled with while developing Faire Child – her luxury children’s weatherwear line. “I wanted to be active in the recovery process.”
She found the answer in an article of fabric from German producer, SympaTex – 100 percent recycled and made from PET (plastic) bottles – and able to be recycled again at the end of its life. With it, she creates high-quality children’s weatherwear from her home in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.
Tabitha also knew she wanted to facilitate outdoor play – to conceptually connect children to their environment. “I was definitely a child with way too much energy,” she says. “I would need to run around the house.” What better way to promote play than create an outer shell that allows kids to really let go?
Not that her chosen high-tech eco-fabric doesn’t come with its own challenges. For one thing, it’s costly – a luxury sportswear fabric she tries to sell it at mid-market prices. But Tabitha wouldn’t have it any other way. “I wouldn’t choose any other fabric,” she says. “It’s the only one that did what I wanted to do. It’s breathable, washable, and durable. It’s like magic.”
As a mom to Charli, her three-year-old daughter and inspiration for the weatherwear line, Tabitha is concerned about the future that awaits her little love, and that colours the way she does business. “It just doesn’t make sense to do anything else at this point,” she says, of sustainability. “It’s counter-intuitive. And it’s an easy switch. It’s just thinking differently.”
Part of that difference is embracing cradle-to-cradle certification – one of her first goals, where anything you create has to go full circle – waste to resource, on repeat, endlessly. And they’ve developed a buy-back program – where customers return Faire Child garments at the end of their life to ensure a closed loop.
“Our buyback program applies to garments that have been torn or worn out and just can’t function as meant to. And then we recycle them,” Tabitha says. And they’re working with Dalhousie University’s engineering faculty to create a system to remove the brass snaps (to be recycled separately) and a patch kit so people can repair holes at home.
So far Faire Child has received a lot of support – from customers, local media, through their Kickstarter campaign, and from the Nova Scotia government. And they just won Canada’s first ever FedEx small business grant – garnering the clothing line a 25,000 prize, a marketing branding workshop, and really great FedEx rates because of their commitment to stewardship of the environment.
“I couldn’t really stand by and not be a part of the change,” she says. “I also knew that I wasn’t going to become a scientist overnight and like solve the problem with that. I never liked chemistry or math that much, but I am a fashion designer, so I know that there is power in art and creativity and impacting how people see things. That was my only outlet. So I just chose to do what I could. I wouldn’t feel as good about going to work if I weren’t doing this – something that I’m passionate about and that’s kind of what justifies all of not spending every single day with her.”
Sometimes doing what she can comes with consequences of their own, especially as an entrepreneur with a young child. “I have to just say nope – stop the guilt. It’s okay that I go and work – she’s going to be fine. But I think that’s the trickiest part,” she says. “I do like being there every morning, and I like being there for dinner. And I would like to have another child. I think I’m just going to have a big gap. But yeah, having a child turns everything on its head in a good way and a hard way. But essentially in a really positive way.”
Robyn McNeil is a Nova Scotia-based freelance writer, bartender, and editor of the Whole Family Happiness Project. She lives in Halifax, with her son and a penchant for really strong tea, yoga, hammocks, and hoppy beer.
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