Meet Zoë Fox, Ethical Designer and Founder of Thrive Lifestyle Boutique

Happy International Women's Day! I'd like to shine the spotlight on my ethical-fashion fairy godmother, Zoë Fox!

Zoë is a self-taught businesswoman, fashion designer, ethical product expert, and skilled seamstress. She owns Thrive Lifestyle Boutique, which carries her children's brand Little Fox, her adult-fashion line, Zoë Fox Co, along with a variety of ethically sourced products. Zoë and I met through a friend when Zoë agreed to take a chance on my young brand and stock my pocket poem tees in her store, located on Salt Spring Island in B.C. Be sure to follow Thrive on instagram to keep up with her current projects. 

Tessa Battistin: Zoë, you took me under your wing and walked me through the questions I had about this industry. You have been so generous with your advice, and helped me to see the possibilities that exist in the ethical fashion space in Canada. Whether you know it or not, you’ve been instrumental in my development as a producer of goods.

Zoë Fox: "I’m thrilled I was able to pass on some of my knowledge and advice to you Tessa. I can see you’re really driven and I know you’ll find your voice, whether its as a designer or an advocate. You’ve actually shown me that I don’t need to be an expert to be a little louder about my thoughts on the subject. Thank you!"

Tell me the story of Thrive Lifestyle Boutique - which of course, is the story of you too!

"I grew up in Victoria which is just a 30 minute ferry ride and a short commute away. But when I wanted to start a family I thought Salt Spring Island would be a nicer place to raise children. I’ve always been outdoorsy, creative, passionate about doing my part for the environment, and drawn to design. I’m extremely particular about colour which is something that really stands out in my business. Good or bad, people notice that first.

When my daughter was born I began sewing her clothes because I wasn't satisfied with what was available on the island. I wanted something that was sustainably sourced, ethically made, and looked different.  I made many things that first year, but the thing that drew attention was a military style hat. I originally upcycled all the materials, but later chose a nice Tencel twill and a hemp/organic cotton blend. I got asked for [the military style hat] so often that I started vending at local craft markets and then in the busy Saturday Farmer’s Market. I was able to build up my business there and on Etsy for 3 years. Then, I opened the brick and mortar store, Thrive Lifestyle.

Thrive has had many incarnations over the last 5 years. It was difficult to figure out what locals wanted verses what tourists would purchase. I wanted to provide fashionable items since they weren’t available on island but I quickly recognized that most of us just want good looking clothes we can wear on a hike or at the beach… after all, that’s why we’re here. Luckily I think I’ve found brands that achieve both. My goal is to bring together ethical and sustainable brands to promote a healthy and conscientious lifestyle. Thrive is a thoughtful curation of unique products, both beautiful and practical.  

When I first started the store it was really hard to source ethical brands. I started to design clothing and have them manufactured in Vancouver. I had hoped to wholesale my line to other stores but with the cost of living in this area of the country and paying people living wages, the clothing can really only be sold directly to consumers to be profitable. But It’s more important to me to continue producing ethically then it is to grow my business that way. I’m still learning about all of my options and as I produce larger runs, the price comes down."

How has operating Thrive Lifestyle changed your view on the world?

"I didn’t realize how offended people would get when I wrote “Ethical fashion” on my sign. Turns out people take that as a personal attack. I wasn’t prepared for the aggression. I’m just providing another option, if you like the product, wonderful! If you learnt something while shopping, that’s even better!

People have their own interpretation of the word “ethical”, some assume it means everything is made in Canada or made of natural materials. I try to explain that my interpretation is that the items were made in a way that respected people and the planet. That’s fair wages, safe working conditions, sustainable practices, and social responsibility. A lot of the time that means locally produced… but I’m also really happy to bring in an incredible product made anywhere in the world. And I won't carry just any ethical brand, it must be practical, well made,  and aesthetically pleasing.

I now have a deep appreciation for small business owners. It’s really hard work, and often we aren’t profitable for years…. If you get that far. I made it that much harder limiting my product lines to only sustainable and ethically produced goods. I’m incredibly grateful for the appreciation and encouragement I’ve received along the way. I’m happy to be operating in a part of the world where I am supported by like minded people."  

How did you learn to sew? What does the practice mean to you?

"My mother taught me to sew alongside her when I was 6 years old. She passed away when I was 10 and the practice makes me feel closer to her. There are these moments in my life where I catch myself unconsciously being just like her. I can’t help but think she’s guiding me along the way."

What is your favorite type of textile to work with, or what is your favorite piece that you’ve designed?

"I love to work with hemp or linen woven fabrics. They’re natural, beautiful, and strong. I know that the time I spend turning them into something is worthwhile. I don’t have a favourite piece I’ve designed, I think I’m too busy dreaming up the next one."

You post photos of your adorable kids wearing Thrive styles often. How has motherhood informed your quest for ethically sourced materials?

"I already knew I wanted my children to have natural, chemical free, and previously loved items. I wanted a healthy environment for them and didn’t want to add to the over consumption parents are told they have to buy into. I am certainly more motivated to help our planet out knowing that we’re leaving it to our children one day. I’m far more aware of the cost of sustainable / ethical children’s clothing and understand how quickly they grow or wear out them out. I believe being a parent has helped me design and buy better goods to offer at the store."  

Can you tell us the story of your two brands, Little Fox and Zoë Fox? 

"I started my children’s line [Little Fox] in 2009 while on maternity leave with my daughter, opened Thrive Lifestyle in 2012 a few months before having my son, and then rebranded my clothing lines as Zoë Fox and Little Fox in 2016. This has all happened pretty organically and as you can tell I also had other priorities. I’m pretty happy with where I’m at considering my youngest son only just started school this year. I’d say my focus has not been on building a brand. I put more energy into the store as a whole. I’ve built a reputable company and am known for my honesty and integrity. I’m focused on my clothing brand for 2018, the timing seems right, I’ve had a lot of breakthroughs and connections leading up to this moment and I’m excited to see it come together." 

What do you think that the ethical fashion industry in Canada needs the most?

"I’m sure there’s a lot I could say on this subject but what really feels relevant to me right now is the idea of independent sustainable designers coming together to share knowledge. If we want the industry to thrive in Canada, we need to help each other out. It’s really difficult to source fabric, labels, notions, supplies, machinery, services, etc. If we worked together we could meet minimums, bring prices down, save on shipping, make less mistakes, spend less money on developing separate fit chart, etc."

Do you think that ethical brands will break into commercial retail spaces? What needs to happen for this to progress? Would you ever move into a mall space if the opportunity presented itself?

"I think we’re already seeing ethical brands becoming commercial. It’s trending… and that’s a good thing! However, I like independent boutiques, I am thrilled to meet the owners of these small businesses, The environment is usually calming and enjoyable, and I get better fitting service and product knowledge from the staff. I don’t see myself expanding to multiple stores and this anti-commercial island will never have a mall. So it isn’t really on my radar."

Do you see sustainable items as a luxury good?

"Unfortunately yes. We either have to invest more money or more time to learn about fabric types, ethical brands, or sourcing these goods. We recognize that in many cases we invest more upfront but in the long term we save. That feels like a luxury that some of us can’t afford.

I think we’ve all heard about voting with our dollar. I believe it’s really important to support the types of goods and businesses we want in the future. It will result in prices coming down.

Having fewer, better made pieces will cost you the same as having a larger wardrobe but you have to be ok with wearing fewer items and for a longer period of time. I happen to love this idea, so it works for me."

What is your easiest ‘sustainability’ tip that you’d recommend- do you do anything at your store or in your home to reduce waste?

"I have less stuff… I’m a minimalist at heart and really try not to accumulate things unless I really believe they add value to my life. It’s hilarious that I sell goods for a living. But at least I feel like I’m providing really great options!

At the store, I do the typical stuff like reuse packaging, recycle, use natural cleaning products. I only produce new goods using sustainable fabric and I’m looking into textile recycling for my scraps… I make baby hats out of the off cuts but there’s always a little bit left over. In 2017 I started planting a tree for every sale of my own brand. I planted a lot of trees! I’m trying to replace that with something that feels more relevant… any suggestions???

There are so many aspects of running a clothing brand and retail business that doesn’t feel sustainable to me. I recognize that we all need jobs and we all need to consume in one way or another. I’m a busy mom with a lot on the go, so I really try to take myself lightly. I recognize that every step I take in the right direction is progress and I don’t harp on myself when I forget my reusable grocery bags! As long as we’re all doing our best and educating ourselves, that’s just going to have to be good enough for me."

"In a society driven by cheap things, I believe in conscious consumption, quality over quantity and celebrating the origin of my brands. I care deeply about quality of life, family and all those special moments in between. So join Thrive in the pursuit of a more conscious lifestyle, it's a fun ride, I promise!"