Changemakers: Jelena Pticek and Karen Carrillo
Changemaker is our series that highlights some really amazing work that is fueled by a passion and desire to change the world through sustainable efforts. Freedom Clothing Collective is a co-op store in Toronto that sells and supports local fashion, art and design. It promotes environmentally sustainable practices and community-oriented programming. We caught up with one of the founders, Karen Carrillo, to learn more about what they are doing to make a difference.
Can you tell me a bit about your background, and what led you to starting Freedom?
Both Jelena and I have been creative types, triers of new things, collectors and purveyors of beautiful items from the get go. It was a natural progression for us to enter into the design field. With that said, we both got swept up in the ‘corporate 9-5′ world after we finished school, but thankfully soon realized it was not for us. Working for someone else, and for beliefs that don’t match your own is soul draining and doesn’t help anyone. Thankfully, we were both in a position to do something about it. Not everyone is, so we are definitely appreciative to everyone who has helped us out, and there have been many. What keeps us going is the knowledge of what the alternative is and the desire to keep doing something that makes a difference and, of course, what makes us happy.
What do you think draws people into your store? The local, sustainable or design aspect?
We are firmly connected to our local neighbourhood [Bloorcourt Village]. Like us, many of the people we work and live side-by-side with are very aware of and committed to the importance of shopping local and supporting small businesses.
That is why we really enjoy that our store, on so many occasions, acts as a community hub – and not just when we are holding an event. At any time, you can walk into Freedom and not only get to browse the hundreds of local creations, but have the opportunity to interact with many of the artists who created them.
Customers may not realize that whoever is working at the store is also a local artist. If buying a dress from me (KooCoo Carrillo), a piece of furniture from Jelena (Poppyseedliving) or jewellery from Kathryn (Kathryn Rebecca), they are surprised that they get to talk directly to us about how the product was created. It is an added personal touch that I think makes the connection that much stronger.
When we have these conversations with customers, we also get to discuss our commitment to sustainability and environmentally friendly practices. To explain how we are selective with respect to the merchandise in the store and our commitment to sustainability, design and how the quality of the craftsmanship all play an equally important role.
How is keeping it local incorporated into your everyday?
I live a life that is grounded in my neighbourhood and community – my footprint is pretty tiny (hopefully!). Every morning I wake up and tend to my little flower and veg garden in the summer or my hydroponics version in the winter. Gardening is very peaceful for me and the food is delicious! Then I either walk a short distance to Freedom and work in the store or spend the day in my home workshop designing and sewing my line of clothing. Or I might visit local stores to buy fabrics or other supplies. I like to know the faces and personalities of the people I buy things from and many times I run into some of my own customers. These things make me happy and that is the most important. Keeping things local is the core of my life and therefore the core of my work and business as well. It couldn’t be any other way.