We could rave about our experience at Eco Fashion Week for days and it’s all thanks to an inspiring woman named Myriam Laroche. Five years ago, she founded EFW in Vancouver and hasn’t looked back since. Laroche certainly knows what she’s doing having worked in fashion journalism, styling, advertising, buying and as a visual merchandizing teacher! With a highly-regarded reputation and growing support, Laroche is succeeding in cultivating a fashion community in a city known for its frosty tendencies.
Hailing from a small island in Quebec called Île d’Orléans, where residents are actually referred to as “les sorciers” or “les sorcieres,” (witches, in French!) Laroche embraces all who cross her path with a radiant smile and open arms. It only took one encounter with this wonderful woman before she began referring to us as “her witches,” which of course made us extremely happy.
She has influenced many lives across the country with her knowledge about sustainable living. Laroche sees the bigger picture–everyone’s eco-recipe varies depending on their individual circumstances. It’s being aware and doing something that counts. She has made a name for herself in Vancouver, and sure knows how to host an event. After all, she’s a sorceress!
What brought you to Vancouver?
I needed a change; I had gotten kinda bored with the fashion industry. When I started my career in buying 22 year ago in Quebec, retailers dealt with four big seasons per year and replenishment every month. Then fast fashion happened and now they handle 52 collections per year. I reached a place where I was like, what’s the point? We were buying too many clothes. The retailer was scared of missing sales but at the end of the day, we were stuck with a bunch of inventory and markdowns. Then consumers start to expect marked down clothes and brands start to make clothes with a “fake” retail price because they know it’s going to be marked down right away. For me, fashion has always been a way to give yourself an identity. Now, I think people are bombarded with trends and it’s overwhelming. So, I moved here and I soon realized Vancouver is a city for people to build because it’s still looking for an identity.
What inspired you to start Eco Fashion Week?
I learned that Vancouver wanted to be the greenest city in the world by 2020. Then I thought, in terms of fashion, ‘What’s next?’ Because we’ve accomplished almost everything – the clothes are magnificent, the fabrics are perfect. Men and women have never looked so beautiful in clothes. Can we provide that amazing feeling of comfort, practicality and quality and still be responsible and mindful?
How was Eco Fashion Week received?
We launched the website before the event. The next day, we saw an article with the headline, “A third failure in Vancouver.” It read, “After BC Fashion Week and Vancouver Fashion Week, now we have Eco Fashion Week and we’re expecting to see that one crash too.” But that fuels me; it didn’t put me down for a second. And we proved ourselves. The first event was pretty cool. The curious came, the haters came, and of course it was not perfect but they saw the quality of production. The team consistently achieves a quality experience considering our resources.
What was your biggest challenge in establishing EFW as a respected event?
We believe in what we do and when people come to the event, most leave supporting what we do. The struggle is the financial aspect. It’s been five years now and the team is paid but their pay is reflective of our revenue. Our sponsors need time to trust us. Why would they give us $100,000 the first few seasons? So, this year we took the whole year to plan the event and it showed. Now, people are already open and I’m talking with partners for next April. I don’t need to call a hundred times to get an appointment anymore!
How did your fashion background influence your approach to being eco?
Most people involved with eco fashion have an environmental background, not a fashion background. From my experience, I think the people who need to be educated are the buyers and product developers. If they could learn more about different ways to be sustainable, I think they would find a way to integrate it into their daily tasks. We need to find ways to work with what’s already in place.
Myriam Laroche with Ken Alterman, CEO of Value Village,
and Sara Gaugl, VV’s director of communications.
What’s your favourite part of being an eco influence in the city?
To see the following grow and to realize that you’re making a positive impact. For our first season, we were quite rigid with what EFW was supposed to be – it has to be this type of designer, these are the criteria, etc. Over the years, we realized there’s more than one way to be green. And that applies to brands too! Each brand’s eco recipe depends on their human resources, financial resources, material resources and time resources. So what works for H&M might not work for Nordstrom and I think that’s a problem the industry is still trying to figure out.
Who inspires you?
My team! At least half the team have been with me since day one. It’s very motivating to know you’re not alone. When leading a movement like this, you often feel alone because you think you’re crazy for believing in something that’s just getting underway. Of course, EFW guest speakers inspire me, but what keeps me going is my team and the cause itself!
What main aspects of the fashion industry need to change?
Fast fashion and high fashion brands need to take responsibility for what they’re making. When I started as a buyer, we marked up about 50 percent. Now it’s 80 percent. Can you do fast fashion and produce cheap products for a cheap retail price without hurting anything? Are you ready to cut your mark up? But at the end of the day, it’s not just the price of the item. It’s the story behind how it got there. I don’t think the solution is to stop making in Asia because it would be an economic disaster. Then consider the environment. How were these products and materials transported? How much packaging is used? How much waste is produced? I think each brand needs to take action on something. What are their values? For one retailer, it might be waste. For another, it’s no fabric with chemicals. Just go for it! Own it and know all the information about it because this movement isn’t just a trend.
What do you hope for your future and the future of EFW?
I want to be more into the field. Right now, it’s just a big mess. We just need to clean it, more than trying to reinvent it. It’s like moving into a house where the first owner left all their crap everywhere. You can barely open the door, not being able to see how beautiful the house is. But you keep everything and start to clean it, to move things around. Then the house is amazing. I see the fast fashion industry a bit like that. I want to find a way for myself to travel more, go to factories in Asia and see the mess so we can work together to find and advocate for practical solutions. What happens to boxes of products with small defects that won’t be shipped to retailers? We talk about increasing wages but until then, are the workers dressed and fed? Could factories or retailers pay for their children’s schooling? Personally, I want to be more in the field and ‘out there.’ For Eco Fashion Week, we’re always evolving and expanding. We’d love to venture across the border and hold an event in Seattle, and perhaps an east-coast edition in the future!