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The Melanie Avalon Biohacking Podcast Episode #203 - Kristi Soomer

Kristi Soomer is the founder and CEO of Encircled, a Canadian-made line of versatile, sustainably made clothing that helps women streamline their wardrobes. Inspired by her love of travel and dislike for checking a bag, Kristi started Encircled in 2012 while she was working as a management consultant. At the time, she was travelling over 100,000 miles a year and found there was a a lack of travel clothes that blended style with function. Kristi's first multi-way design- The Chrysalis Cardi- was made on the kitchen floor of her condo, using a sewing machine she found on Craigslist.
Over the next two years Kristi immersed herself in fabric research and courses in illustration and sewing to create a capsule collection of sustainable made basics and multi-way clothing. In 2014, she left her corporate job to open Encircled's first studio space in Toronto. Since then, Kristi has grown Encircled into a seven-figure business that was named a Certified B Corp in 2018. Kristi is commited to meeting high ethical and sustainable standards in all aspects of her company, from using fabrics that honor the environment to providing good working conditions and fair wages for her sewers.



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creating encircle clothing brand

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going full time as an Entrepreneur

fabric choices; what is sustainable?



dye leaking, and sourcing high quality dyes

better regulations for textile workers

sweatshop labor and exploitation

luxury brands


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loretta breuning episode

b corp certification

social and Environmental standards

is this scalable?


what is fast fashion?

partially recycled offerings

sourcing leather

how many pieces should be carried?

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The Melanie Avalon Biohacking Podcast Episode #38 - Connie Zack
The Science Of Sauna: Heat Shock Proteins, Heart Health, Chronic Pain, Detox, Weight Loss, Immunity, Traditional Vs. Infrared, And More!

Expanding Into Men's Clothing

sustainable shoes:
Poppy Barley
Sus Outdoors

go to encircled.co and use the code MELANIEAVALON for 15% off sitewide!

tips for sustainability 


Melanie Avalon: Hi, friends. Welcome back to the show. I am so incredibly excited about the conversation that I am about to have. It is going to be, I think both a very fun conversation and a very eye-opening conversation. So, backstory on this topic. I was thinking about this. It's kind of crazy. I talk all the time about the importance of a nontoxic lifestyle, especially with things like skincare and makeup, because we're putting that directly on our skin, into our bodies. I talk about cleaning up our environment, our food. I have not talked about our clothing, and I think it's something that, a lot of us probably just don't think about. So, I was absolutely thrilled when Kristi Soomer reached out to me. She is the founder of a company called Encircled and initial pitch was about how the company is sustainable, and is doing all of this stuff with looking at the role of toxins in clothing and all of these different approaches to fashion that is better for both us and the environment. So, I was immediately very intrigued and was like, "Oh, I need to look into this." 

So, I had a call with Kristi, and she was absolutely amazing, so inspiring. So, I knew I had to have this show. Then actually since then, I interviewed and read a book called A Poison Like No Other by Matt Simon. That's actually all about microplastics, but he has a massive amount of information in his book about the role of plastics in clothing, so that further blew my mind. So, I've been looking forward to this conversation for so long. I have so many questions. Kristi, thank you so much for being here. 

Kristi Soomer: Yeah, thank you so much for having me, Melanie. I'm excited to chat with you about this subject and I definitely have to read that book. I haven't heard of that one yet. 

Melanie Avalon: Oh, it's so good. It's really, really shocking. I didn't realize how much of clothing today is plastic. It blew my mind. Right before this, I was actually looking at Encircled to see which different materials you guys use, which is super cool, so we can get into that. Before all of that, we talked about this on the phone, you and I, but what is your story? Because it is no small feat to start a brand. That was another reason I wanted to have you on. I love stories from really strong, independent women starting their own brands. I just find it so cool and so inspiring. So, what led you to start this clothing company? Because that is like a large task to end up to do. 

Kristi Soomer: Yeah, I'll give you the short version of that story, but I'm actually not a fashion designer by trade. I went to school for finance and economics and I have an MBA. So, I spent probably the first 10 years of my career working in consumer-packaged goods. I did some retail and then eventually ended up in management consulting, where I was traveling pretty much every single week on an airplane to client sites and having to pack a really, really small bag, because I always wanted to be the fastest in and out of the airport to minimize my time flying. I became quite the adept packer. But I started to get very frustrated with the lack of sustainable, and comfortable, and stylish clothing that I felt I could travel with for work and that I could wear after work. When you wear a pantsuit and you just want to rip it off at the end of the day, because it's so uncomfortable. I was feeling that frustration, for sure, with the pressure to have all these different outfits to wear to work, to look professional and presentable, but also wanting to be comfortable as well and not wanting to check bag. 

So, from all of those challenges, I was packing for my first ever yoga retreat to Costa Rica and my suitcase broke. I decided I had to pack everything into a teeny-tiny bag at 04:00 in the morning, because I was packing last minute, of course. I started to really question like, "Why was I bringing so many one note clothing?" I was bringing a dress that I would maybe wear once and like a cardigan for the plane, because I live in Canada and it's cold up here in the winter. And then a scarf. I started to get really frustrated and I was like, "You know what, there's got to be just a better way to do this. How do we not have clothing that is more versatile that we can change into a few different things?" 

So, I started off on that vein and invented this product called the Chrysalis Cardi, which we still have in our collection today. It's essentially an eight in one scarf tunic dress cardigan top that you can change around. It's made from really luxurious, premium sustainable fabrics and has these little hidden snaps, so you can snap together the look you need. And that became our first piece. Then I decided, got to go with it and quit my job. And then 10 years later, here we are. [laughs] 

Melanie Avalon: So, I know I imagine it would be like hours and hours, the entire story, but I'm just curious, like, the first steps, because I think so many people have dreams of doing something like you're doing. What's your advice or guidance or what was your experience actually turning that into reality? What was the literal first step to get things moving when you were creating that first piece? 

Kristi Soomer: Yeah. I would say, because my background was in fashion, it was to figure out how to actually make a product was like, step number one. If you think back 10 years ago, we did not have the depth of knowledge on the internet that you have today around this. So, now it's so much easier to go onto Upwork or one of those sites and find somebody like a product developer or take a course on how to design your own fashion product for non-fashion people. But back then, I literally ordered this book called The Entrepreneur's Guide to Sewn Product Manufacturing off of eBay, because it was out of print, because it was so old, and read it from cover to cover. It terrified me because it was so scary and so technical. 

I learned a lot from that book, and I started to get a grasp on what are the steps to actually manufacturing a product, because I think as consumers, we're so used to just seeing a product in the store and just not even really understanding how it even got there. There're so many steps behind the scenes to even make a basic T-shirt, from the initial sketch, to the technical design, to the technical specs, testing fabric, figuring out the pattern, testing the pattern, fit models, all this stuff down to manufacturing, and final delivery that as a consumer, you just don't know about. So, I would say the first step is just to get educated on that whole process of what goes into making a product, and then basically figuring out how to make it. So, I chose to make it locally in Toronto, so our whole collection is made up here in Toronto, Canada still. 

I wanted to do that for a few reasons, not only from a carbon footprint, but ethics perspective, but also quality, being able to produce close to home and be able to go to the factory and see what they're making and how they're doing it. It also enabled me to start with lower minimums, which is a big issue in fashion, not having the cash to invest inventory. So, from day one, I always suggest people starting with their idea and figuring out learning a little bit more about the process, figuring out how to get that idea to execution is probably the hardest part, and that's probably the biggest barrier to entry in the fashion industry today still.

Melanie Avalon: Wow. Yeah, I'm so fascinated by this, because I launched a supplement line, and I was so grateful to partner with a preexisting company. It's not a white label situation, it's still my actual product. But I worked with an entire team at MD Logic. So, they do all the production and all of that stuff. When you were starting your company, were you doing all arms of it, like, the production, the order fulfillment, everything? 

Kristi Soomer: Yeah. So, I wasn't physically making the product. We had a factory in Toronto doing that, but I was shipping the orders. 

Melanie Avalon: Sourcing it. 

Kristi Soomer: Yeah, I was shipping the orders, for sure, and I was sourcing the fabrics and working with all the parts and pieces. So, for that first garment, that I talked about, you need a pattern, you need to know what fabric to use, you have to go through-- Learning about fabrics is really challenging, and we can definitely talk about that later, both in regards toxins and sustainability, but also performance. There's just no guide to which fabric to choose for what. There're so many different varieties, and weights, and textures, and all that kind of stuff. So, it can be really overwhelming. 

Yeah, it was a lot of me doing everything at the beginning, from customer service to shipping to marketing, all that kind of stuff. I was also working full time for the first two years of my company. So, I was still consulting [laughs] and still traveling. So, it was becoming a little-- That's what ended up being the catalyst for quitting my job. It was growing so much, and it was taking more and more of my time on the weekends and evenings, and I just couldn't do it anymore. So, yeah, it's important to have-- I think if you can find a way to outsource production, that's a really big piece. For most brands, especially in this space, they always are very involved in the design of their products. That's pretty key, I think, to creating a differentiated product in the market as well. 

Melanie Avalon: Question actually about that moment where you did go full time Encircled. Did you have the experience of being nervous about that switch? Because I feel like that's a common story I hear, where people have a stable job, but they have their passion on the side, and it can be really scary, I think, for people to commit fully to this other passion. So, was it a situation where it was obvious that Encircled was going to be sustainable, no pun intended, as your full-time job or was it like a scary jump over?

Kristi Soomer: Oh, my gosh, it was so scary. So scary. I am not one of those people who's leap in the net will appear. That is not me. I am the most cautious entrepreneur, and I do not come from an entrepreneurial family at all. So, they were super not on board with me becoming an entrepreneur, especially since-- I'd invested so much in education, and I perceivably had my dream job, and I was making great money, but I wasn't very fulfilled by my career at the time, so I was definitely seeking more. So, it was so scary. I couldn't even pay myself out of Encircled when I first quit my job. So, that added to the fear factor because I was single and I was living by myself. 

So, it's a tough decision, but I think at the end of the day, I knew that if I didn't make that decision, I might regret it. It just came down to asking myself like, I could always go back to consulting, I can always go back to a corporate career, but I saw an opportunity with this product. I felt very passionate about the way I was building that business and the values of it. So, I was like, "I can't always go back to that." So, I might as well try it out. If it doesn't work out, then I can always go get a job. I, thankfully, have not have to do that. So, yeah, eight years in full-time, haven't had to do that, and hopefully never will go back and work for anybody. 

Melanie Avalon: Wow. Okay. I'm so glad I asked that because I just feel like that is so common. That was my experience as well. I was doing podcasting, and my book, and all this stuff, but I always had a serving job on the side. I was so scared to not have something that seemed like we're clocking in, like, getting a paycheck, and then I lost that job because of COVID, and that's when I realized, "Oh, I actually didn't need to be doing that." Like, "I actually can do this full-time." I think it's just so common. So, I really encourage people, if they are in this situation, to really explore their passions. Okay. So, the fabrics. You mentioned that, I was looking at the fabrics that you guys use and it's super cool. Some are from wood pulp, some are from bamboo, flax. What is the difference between sustainable and non-sustainable fabric? I guess, that's a place to start. And how many options are there actually out there? 

Kristi Soomer: [laughs] Such a great question. So, when I came into the industry, I always thought there's just the sustainable fabric collection and the non-sustainable fabric collection, and that's what there is. 

Melanie Avalon: Black and white. 

Kristi Soomer: Yeah, and I thought it was a very black and white subject. Like a lot of things in sustainability and even in nutrition and all this, there's so much gray area that it really depends. So, while there are fabrics that I would say are worse than others and some of them that are truly bad, there are some that are really great, but there's a lot of messy middle with fabrics. So, I'll give you a couple of examples to illustrate that. But typically, what you mentioned at the beginning, those petroleum-derived fabrics like polyester and nylon that are-- we would call them virgin fabrics, so they're brand new chemically processed fibers, those would be on the bad end of sustainability because for obvious reasons, they never biodegrade. They're using petroleum, and plastics, and a lot of chemicals in the production. And not only creating harmful impacts to the environment through doing that, but also questionable impacts on your skin from wearing those fabrics. But on the positive side of those fabrics, they do last a long time, which is actually one of the negatives. Like, they don't biodegrade. But if you're wearing a pair of pants and let's say you're keeping it for like 20 years, they are going to be your number one fabric, because they're so long lasting and so resilient, because they are from plastics, essentially. 

Whereas on the far end of the spectrum, I would say, in the highly sustainable fabrics, if you go to maybe a hemp or organic cotton or even Tencel, which is a fabric that we use, which are from naturally derived sources, they are obviously biodegradable. They're naturally derived, use relatively low chemicals depending on which fabric it is. Particularly, I can speak to Tencel, which we use, which is from reconstituted wood pulp that's sustainably sourced, and that will return to the earth eventually, but it requires a little bit more gentle care. You can't just throw it in the dryer and fry it on level 10. It's better if you hang it to dry. It is a beautiful fabric, and it won't fade, and has a lot of amazing qualities, but it's more expensive too. So, there's a trade off at kind of every step of the ladder, I would say. 

Then even more complicated, when you talk about a fabric like cotton, which historically we've been taught is natural and safe through a lot of marketing from that industry, it's a little bit misleading because it really depends on how that cotton is processed, if it's organic or non-organic, if they're using GMO crops. There's a lot of slave labor in cotton. There's a lot of harmful pesticides used in cotton. So, you really have to be looking further beyond just the fabrication, but also to the certifications and where it's made and how it's made, which is an extra step that consumers are not used to having to make. But I know that people are starting to get used to it in their food, and their beauty products and stuff like that. So, like you said, I think this is the next wave, like, clothing and starting to demand ingredient labels on our clothing almost where the stuff is from. 

Melanie Avalon: Wow. Okay. This is so fascinating. Yeah, so speaking about the washing, the long-lasting virgin fabrics that are created, like, the fake compounds, so that was something that Matt said in his book and in the interview that, so apparently clothing that is made out of these plastics, every time we wash it, they actually shed tons of microplastics and that goes into the water and into our environment, which is a big negative. But the more you wash it, the less that happens. His solution to the fashion industry issue is for people to get a few pieces of clothing that they wear a long time, [giggles] rather than just all these new clothing all the time. 

Kristi Soomer: Yes, there's a huge consumption issue in the fashion industry, like, over consumption and overproduction. So, it doesn't even matter. If some of those fast fashion brands switch to sustainable materials, they're still producing too much clothing for the world and the planet to absorb. So, I totally agree with what he's saying. You can do things, like, we used to sell a wash bag called GuppyFriend and you can wash your synthetic clothing in there, so that it doesn't shed microfibers into the environment. But the reality is is that and I don't know if you talked about this in the book that microfibers are now so in our waterways that we're all consuming them anyways.

Melanie Avalon: Oh, they're everywhere. They're everywhere. He said, they're literally on every point of the earth. So, they're at the bottom of the oceans, like, the deepest steps, and they're at the top of Mount Everest, because they get into the air, and so then they just go everywhere. [laughs] So, it's crazy. And they get into the water. Yeah, okay another question about that. Oh, it's funny. I feel like I'm really great one side of the spectrum and really awful on the other, which is, that I actually pretty much wear the same thing almost every day, literally. I get embarrassed, because I go to the grocery store and cryotherapy every day, and they probably wonder why I wear the same thing. But it was what you were saying at the beginning with your experience with the clothing, and the travel, and the need of these one-use pieces.

I just like to have a piece of clothing that I know is really comfortable, that gets me through the day, that I really enjoy, and then I'm good. I don't want to make that decision every day. So, I'd rather just have my go-to pieces and be done and not make that decision. I'm bad though on the flipside, when I go out buying too many dresses. So, that's where it all evens out. One more question about the toxins and the certifications. We talked about, I don't know if you-- Do you say it or do you say in each letter the OEKO-TEX? 

Kristi Soomer: Yeah, it's pronounced apparently OEKO-TEX, which is not intuitive, but yes. [laughs] OEKO-TEX, yeah. 

Melanie Avalon: It was like not what it looks like. [laughs] 

Kristi Soomer: I know, I know. I was pronouncing it wrong for years and then I met them at a trade show, and they said, "OEKO-TEX." I'm like, "Oh."

Melanie Avalon: Oh, okay. What is that exactly or not exactly, but what is its purpose? 

Kristi Soomer: STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX is basically a certification. So, it's used in textiles. It's very commonly seen in bedding, actually, which is nice because you don't want to be lying on bedding that has chemicals all over it. But essentially, it's a certification that any materials or anything used in the processing of that fabric. So, in the raw and dyed finished yarns, the finished fabrics and knits, everything has been certified to be free of harmful chemicals, because believe it or not, there is still a whole set of chemicals in the fashion industry that are allowed that are not healthy for the human body and not highly regulated, especially overseas. 

So, majority of production of clothing in Canada and the US is not done on shore. I don't know the numbers for the US, but I know in Canada, it's like about 95% of clothing worn in Canada is made overseas. I think the US is similar. It might be a little bit more production in the US, but the regulations overseas are not very tight on certain things like dyes. So, there's a type of dye called an azo dye, which is still allowed in certain countries and it's a known carcinogen. So, we don't want those on our clothes, obviously. So, OEKO-TEX a way of certifying that, essentially the fabrics have been tested to be free of these harmful substances. 

Melanie Avalon: Wow. On the dye front, I've had the experience of where I'll have a piece of clothing and it literally leaves dye on me. Is that normally an indicator that it's not a good thing or can there be like nontoxic dyes that do that? 

Kristi Soomer: It really depends. So, generally, I'm a huge fan of recommending washing your clothing before you wear them, no matter what. I know people don't like doing that, because oftentimes, some clothing doesn't look as good on the second wash. I'm not judging, because sustainable fashion is all about progress over perfection. But when I was younger, in my 20s, I used to wear a lot more, I would say, trendy clothing. I would do a lot of going out dresses, and I would not want to wash them before I wore them because they would not look as good because they were not very good quality. So, I knew they would fall apart or something or get all worked. But reality is, we want to wash them, especially if they are coming from overseas primarily, because yes, you want the dyes to come out, because maybe that's an indication they didn't properly wash the fabric at the fabric finishing facility. So, there's probably still chemicals lingering there. 

Then also, typically when clothing is sent from overseas, it's usually put in containers on ships. To prevent things from happening along that journey, it can sometimes be sprayed with things to prevent mold or rats from eating the fabric. So, oftentimes, if you open a garment that you've purchased and has a weird smell to it, that's some sort off gassing of the fabric or it could be something that they sprayed on it. So, I always recommend washing your clothing before you put it on your body, because a lot of people will have sensitivity to it. While there's no factual, this is going to cause you cancer or something like that. It may cause skin irritation or if you touch your hands to your face or something like that. So, it's always a good idea just to clean that clothing first. Dye leaking can be a sign of a poor-quality fabric for sure. So, we've tested fabrics before where dyes leak. We won't use them, because who wants to have dyes on their legs. It's not a good situation. Whether or not they are safe, it's just not good for your body, probably. 

Melanie Avalon: That is mind blowing. See, this is things people do not know. This is crazy. With the dyes, when you are finding your materials, I'm just curious, do the materials come in different colors, or do you separately source the dyes, or what color options and you like actual production on your part, how does that manifest? 

Kristi Soomer: Yeah. So, about half our fabrics are actually knit and dyed locally in Ontario, our province that we're in. So, for those, we're primarily working in a very neutral set. We're working from scratch. We're working with a knitter to knit the fabric, and then it goes to a separate facility to be dyed. And so, for those we're picking dyes So, we use a lot of black and navy. Those are best sellers. But if we're coming up with an olive or something, we're coming up with inspo for it, and doing a lab dip is what they would call it, where they put together-- basically, almost when you're matching paint, they put together a bunch of colors and then test it on the fabric to see what it looks like, and then you approve it. But it really depends--

Another half of our fabrics are bought from overseas, because there's not a lot of knitting left, unfortunately, in North America. So, we have some suppliers that are certified overseas that we work with through a supplier in Canada. There we have a little bit more standardized, I guess, colors we can choose from. That leaves us open to not having to buy as much fabric, because when you knit your own fabric locally or globally, even there's usually a lot of fabric you need to buy to qualify to do that. So, we like the blend of working with two suppliers, because it opens us up to do some more seasonal colors that we would like to do to brighten up the collection. But we always vet our suppliers to make sure that they're using certified dyes and sustainably sourced processes for everything, because most companies do not. It's actually really hard to find those suppliers in the industry. It's getting easier, I would say, since I started the business, but it's a challenge. It's more expensive to be a fabric supplier like that, and simply, a lot of people don't want to bring on that cost. 

Melanie Avalon: Wow. I really, really do wonder, because I feel like we've seen or we are seeing a movement, especially in the food industry, and the skincare and beauty industry towards an awareness about all of this. Do you think this will happen more with fashion? I know you said you're seeing it a little bit, but do you think there'll be a big movement or a moment? 

Kristi Soomer: Mm-hmm. Yeah, I think there's been a couple of pivotal moments for people in the industry, like, a big one that was at the beginning, I would say, when I started Encircled, maybe a few years after, there was a factory collapse in Bangladesh, where a bunch of fast fashion brands were making clothing. It wasn't a factory that collapsed from an earthquake. It literally was unsafe and collapsed and 1,200 people died. Majority, young women, like, under 25 who are making clothing for a bunch of brands that I won't name, but I'm sure most people can google and look up. 

Melanie Avalon: What year was it you said?

Kristi Soomer: It was in 2013. 

Melanie Avalon: That's my biggest fear, being in a building collapse. 

Kristi Soomer: Oh, gosh. Yeah, terrifying. Terrifying. There's Fashion Revolution is an organization that was formed out of that to fight for better regulations for workers after that in Bangladesh and around the world. So, Fashion Revolution Week is coming up in, it's in April, I think. Mid-April. 

Melanie Avalon: Oh, really? Ooh, I'll have to air this maybe around that time. 

Kristi Soomer: Yeah, that would be amazing. I can send you the dates for it. Yeah, they've done a really great job of bringing awareness, but it's unfortunate that it takes some of these tragedies to bring that to light, because I think, as a consumer, I can understand we want to believe that businesses are operating in the best social good that they're not exploiting labor. No, of course, they wouldn't use unsafe materials. I'm definitely not a conspiracy theorist of any sort. But at the end of the day, it costs a lot more to do things ethically. If a business can make more money, especially a for-profit publicly traded corporation, they're going to try and do it. So, that has a negative impact of everybody down the supply chain to the workers, ultimately to the end, people wearing the product too. 

So, there's definitely still sweatshop labor in fashion. Absolutely, 1,000,000%. There's unsafe working conditions, there's exploitation of children in the fashion industry. There's a lot of bad stuff going on that needs to come out. I think there hasn't really been enough awareness around it. So, I'm hopeful that with all the social media tools that are becoming more prevalent globally, this opens up a world of communication and hopefully will empower some workers to be able to speak out, because I think that is the biggest issue is that there's a lot of fear in the industry, especially overseas, and people don't want to-- They can literally get killed for trying to form a union overseas. So, I think there's a lot that needs to be done to change this industry. It's just taking a long time. I think with food, the regulations have been more put forward from the government. Here, it's just not as regulated. Fashion is still just unregulated. So, that's the biggest issue, I think, facing it and why the change has been so slow.

Melanie Avalon: I'd have to think about it. But it might be the biggest thing that everybody is using every day in massive amounts that is just wildly unregulated. Because everything else, at least has some regulation. Wow, that's crazy. The sweatshop stuff and all those issues, does that even happen with the elite couture clothing brands? 

Kristi Soomer: Yeah, just because that's another big myth in the fashion industry that just because a brand is like a luxury brand that they're paying their workers well, which is, totally not true. It can be true, but it's not necessarily a correlation. So, there's a really great website. It's called remake.world. They do basically a transparency report where they go through and talk to and interview a bunch of popular brands, and rate them on their accountability. You'd be surprised that most of the luxury brands are the ones that are failing because A, they won't disclose who they're working with, which is a huge red flag at the get go, but also, they have no proof that they're paying any living wages to people. 

So, you can just imagine that the margins that they're making, it's incredible. But people still crave these luxury brands, because they have that front end, like, I don't know. I'm not a luxury shopper myself, but I guess, there's some credibility because a certain celebrity wears it or whatnot. It feels really luxury, but you have to be really careful. The good thing is, there's a lot of resources now like Remake World, and Fashion Revolution, and other places where you can research brands and get a read on how sustainable or ethical is this brand really, so that you can make some more informed decisions before you buy. Because I think that would be very surprising to people to see where some of those standard brands stack up versus others. 

Sustainable fashion and ethical fashion don't have to be expensive. There are accessible price points in the industry, but ultimately myself and other slow fashion brands, we want people to buy less, but better and actually wear the clothing that they're buying. That's the most sustainable thing you can do is wear your closet. 

Melanie Avalon: I'll just put a reference in there for listeners. I recently interviewed Loretta Breuning. She a psychologist. She has a lot of books on the brain, and society, and people. But she has a book called Status Games, and that's all about the role of the neurotransmitter serotonin in our seeking of status. It's fascinating. But she has a whole chapter on clothing, like, how long we've been doing this whole fashion thing and why we do it. It's fascinating. She makes the case that it's actually very evolutionary. Like, if you look at different animal species, they will do stuff similar. Like, the stripes on zebras mean things indicate their status, and different animals will have different colors. It's really, really interesting. So, that's just like a sidenote. So, Encircled is a B Corp, correct? 

Kristi Soomer: Yes, we've been a B Corp since 2018. 

Melanie Avalon: What does that mean and what goes into getting that certification? 

Kristi Soomer: Yeah. So, a certified B Corp is essentially a third-party audit. It means we've been certified to be a company that is above board on governance, and workers, and the environment. It's really a higher standard of social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability. There's a whole assessment process behind that. There's a bunch of really popular brands like Patagonia and Eileen Fisher are B Corps. They're some of the original B Corps. I think there's about 8,000 around the world, if I'm not wrong. So, it's not a big-- not a lot of companies get this certification, because it is really difficult to get. There's an assessment process and there's a lot of documentation you have to provide, and you also have to recertify every three years. So, we recently recertified, I think two years ago, and we're able to improve our score, which was amazing. 

Melanie Avalon: Oh, wow. I didn't know there was like a score level on it. 

Kristi Soomer: Yes, there's a score. I'm not sure exactly what it's out of, but I know we scored 103 before we were, I think like 90 or an 89 or something like that. So, you have to be above an 80 to qualify. I don't know what the top score is, but I think it's like 150 or something like that. Yeah, so, we're very proud of that. It's a big assessment process, and it takes a long time to recertify even. The best thing about the B Corp, I think, is that for consumers, they know that these companies have been rigorously evaluated against a bunch of social and environmental standards that are industry leading. As well, it opens us up to new best practices. So, that's how we were able to improve our score versus our previous assessment was just being in this group of companies, and being in their programs and learning more about what things we can do to become even more socially responsible. 

But essentially, it is a commitment. We've written into our corporate bylaws that we are using business as a force for good in the world. So, we're prioritizing people and the planet over profit, which is a big declaration that I don't think a lot of companies want to make. So, that's why you won't probably see as many B Corps as we would love to have in the world, but it's a really great movement to be a part of. It's actually B Corp month in March this year. That's just celebrating that. A lot of these B Corps go beyond the standards. So, we go beyond what's required. So, in the fashion industry, obviously, we just talked about the bar is pretty low. There aren't very a lot of standards, but we go beyond that when it comes to our sourcing, our manufacturing, how we treat our workers, even down to how we design and launch products. That's really what it means to be a B Corp. It's to be a positive impact in the world. 

Melanie Avalon: So, the size of your company now, do you foresee scaling up even larger or where do you see your company existing as far as actual size and production? 

Kristi Soomer: Yeah. So, we're still a very small team. We've ebbed and flowed over the pandemic. We had 22 people at one point, and now we have five or six, and we're largely about the same revenue, which is interesting. But decided to streamline things a lot, just because I found that, once you get up to that level of employees, it's just like you're not able to really be in the business, and doing design, and those things that I like to do. You're really an HR manager at that point. So, I want to really come back to our roots. Yeah, we're definitely wanting to grow and seeing some positive growth. 

I think the industry is shifting. There's a lot more awareness around sustainable fashion and a lot more questions from people. It's super interesting to see. There was very famous celebrity recently partnered with a fast fashion brand for a conscious kind of collection. I jumped on that post and seeing the comments from the consumers, calling them out for greenwashing and ethic washing. I was so proud. I was like, "Wow, everybody sees this. This is so good," because it scares me a lot when I see greenwashing, because I think it can really mislead people. But consumers are getting more and more educated, which is really awesome. That only helps our business as well, because we need that awareness around the issue in order to solve that problem for our customers. 

Melanie Avalon: So, to clarify, because I don't know if we actually defined it. So, when you say fast fashion, those are presumably clothing brands that are just creating fast turnover clothing?

Kristi Soomer: Yeah. So, fast fashion brands essentially have no fashion seasons. They release thousands of new styles every week. A big example of a fast fashion brand is a brand called Shein. I think they launch about 5,000 styles a day or something like that. So, they're creating a lot of clothing at a very cheap price. So, like, $10 dresses and stuff like that. So, you have to imagine, at the end of the day, fashion is like any business, like, your supplements, I'm sure you understand the product cost and its math to come up with pricing. It's not magic. There's something in that. 

Melanie Avalon: I have two-hour calls just trying to figure out the price and it's like a math equation. 

Kristi Soomer: It is, but it is a big math equation, right? There're inputs into it and you can't exactly be like, "Oh, I'm just going to take out the labor. Nobody needs that." But these fast fashion brands, what they do is, to get a $10 dress cost, you have to really cut back on some areas to be able to do that. That's really challenging. That means somebody's not probably getting paid along the way, and the materials are probably not good quality, it may not fit and they may not care. [giggles] The customer service may not be good. There's so much that goes into that. So, that's why I think the education really needs to happen in the industry, because just like supplements too, because I'm really into wellness and nutrition. 

You can go onto Amazon, and there'll be an $8 bottle of B complex, and then there's a $50 bottle and you're like, "Which one should I choose to choose?" choose $8, but then you realize like, "That's not the good kind of like, whatever B6 in there. It should be this one." It's like that where you really, at the end of the day, there's a reason why sustainable and ethically sourced fashion costs more, it's because there's living wages being paid in there, there's high-quality, premium, sustainable materials in there, and those just cost more. That's just the reality. It's not that we want to price gouge consumers. It just costs more money to make products in an ethical way. Unfortunately, the consumer has been trained that cheap is better and more is better. So, that's where that kind of conundrum comes around. 

In that book you were talking about at the beginning, advocating for buying less is definitely a great way to go, because do you really need 14 new dresses every month? That becomes the question. Are you actually wearing those dresses again? If not, what happens to them? So, I think there's a little bit of a mindset shift that needs to happen in the industry overall around consumerism. But again, speaking to the psychology of it, I don't know if we'll be able to get there. I hope we can, but it's definitely there is something very emotional about clothing. People have a very emotional attachment to what they wear. 

Melanie Avalon: This is such an important mindset shift, and you just said all of it. But just to say it again, because for me, I don't think I've really thought about this, but when I would see these clothing lines. I know the ones you're talking about and you can get them online and they're really, really cheap. I think I was just assuming that other brands were unnecessarily marking up the price. Not that that-- and I should know this now, creating a product line, but not that maybe it was necessary that it's required to have a higher price to treat everybody correctly and make everything sustainable and healthy. So, this is a major mindset shift. Oh, so, another question about the greenwashing. What are some other examples of greenwashing that people might see in the clothing industry? 

Kristi Soomer: A good one would be when brands launch partially recycled collections. 

Melanie Avalon: Oh, okay. Yeah, can you talk about that?

Kristi Soomer: When I talked about nylon and polyester, there's-- And even with cotton, you can buy recycled cotton yarns, recycled nylon yarns, recycled polyester. But even with that, you need to be really careful. So, firstly, it's really important to try and aim to have a recycled fiber that's 100% recycled fiber, because just later on in the biodegrading or if we want to even recycle that fabric, which they're starting to do now, it's just easier to break it down if it's one fiber in there and not blended. But I'll often see brands do 50% recycled polyester, 40% regular nylon, and then 10% something else, and then they're introducing the new recycled collection and you're like, "Okay, it is technically recycled." [laughs] This is not 100% recycled. 

Or, I've seen some brands calling different things, like, vegan leather, I think is another one that's a bit of a greenwash. So, I'll probably get in trouble for talking about this, but vegan leather is essentially like PVC, which is plastic. Yeah, essentially, unless you're using cactus leather or mushroom leather, which are derived from natural products, which most of these brands are not, you're essentially using plastic, which, yes, is vegan, but no, it's not that much better if you look at it, because it is plastic, it's created from chemicals, it will never break down, it's very toxic in the way it's produced and it off gases. So, yeah, that's another big one is when I see vegan leather pants or something like that, I'm like, "Okay, come on, [laughs] this is just plastic pants." Let's just call it plastic pants, which is fine, but just say what it is and don't mislead people. So, that's a big one. 

When people say vegan silk and it's nylon, so it's basically made from petroleum products, but it's vegan because it's technically not from silk. That's another big greenwash that I see quite often. And then around, I think, the recycled fabrics too, it's really important. This is where certifications really come in, because it's become very trendy to work with recycled fabrics for leggings and stuff like that. We've used them as well. But you need to make sure that the sourcing on it is good, because there's so much demand for those recycled fibers now that are from water bottles, or fishing nets, or whatever they're from. Other brands are coming up and just making them out of new water bottles just to have the sourcing. So, that totally does not solve for the problem [giggles] at all. It's making more waste. So, you need to check the certifications on products and make sure they're truly being from sustainable sources, which is really important. 

That's where it becomes, I think, confusing for the consumer, because we work with a really popular fabric called Tencel modal, and modal is made from reconstituted beach tree pulp, and we use certified Tencel, so it's sustainably sourced, and renewably planted, and its managed forests, like, it's very, very well done. But you can also get modal from Indonesia where they're clear-cutting beach trees to do it. So, that's why you need to ask more questions about how and where it's from to really get the true answer. That's why fashion is so complex. Just like, I guess, food is too. There's different organic versus permaculture versus non-organic, like, there're so many different ways to slice things, and it can be overwhelming for consumers. But I think just asking questions is a really great place to start. If somebody's not sure, asking the brand, DM-ing them or emailing them, asking them more information. If they can't tell you, that's usually a pretty big red flag as well from a greenwashing standpoint. 

Melanie Avalon: Wow, this is just beyond fascinating. I don't know if you know the answer to this, but with leather, do you know, in general, the sourcing of leather, does that come from cows that also were being used for food or are cows killed just for leather? 

Kristi Soomer: That's a good question. I don't work with leather, so I think it comes from both. I think there's definitely leather that comes from byproducts, I would say, and then some that doesn't. I think it's a similar industry where you can get dyes that are very toxic or dyes that are not. It's, again, one of those things where there's a lot of gray area. But again, leather is very long lasting. I think there's positive elements to that, as long as it's being sourced responsibly and ethically. But I don't have a ton of experience in leather because we actually don't use it at all. 

Melanie Avalon: Okay, got you. Yeah, I've been curious about that. I need to research that. Another question about the style. So, you spoke about these fast fashion companies that are releasing thousands of styles. How do you approach your catalog and the question of how many pieces to have? And then the second question would be, how do you decide personally?

Kristi Soomer: Mm-hmm. Yeah, that's a good question. So, it's always that fine balance, right? You need some newness to the collection to be able to keep up with what's happening from a trend perspective to a certain extent. But my favorite thing is to design styles that we can keep in the collection for a long time. So, really timeless silhouettes. Our most popular pant has a pant called the dressy sweatpants, which we've had for almost seven years. We've done some iterations and updates to it, but it's largely the same pant. So, I love working with really timeless, trendless silhouettes. But we aim to launch on average, like, it's been a quiet winter, but maybe one to two products a month, if that versus these other brands were launching 30,000 skews, we're launching like 10. So, we're very small and very slow still. 

But it is a balance, because you want to be able to bring some new product to people. But also, I'm not just going to launch a product just because I think it's trending or whatever. I want to make sure it's going to be really high quality and hold a place in our customers closet for a long time, and that they'll get a lot of wear out of it, and that it's well made. So, we do a lot of testing and fitting behind the scenes that takes a lot longer to do, which is why we call ourselves a slow fashion brand, because we're very slow to launch. 

Melanie Avalon: Do you sell all your inventory or what if you don't? 

Kristi Soomer: Yeah. No, we do not sell all of our inventory. [laughs] I wish we did. We've definitely had moments where we sold stuff out for sure on launch, and then have to produce. But that's the challenge with fashion is, like, understanding. Unless you're operating on a pure preorder model where you're just reordering and then delivering almost like a kick-starter, like, you're delivering like three months later or six months later or something like that, then you can produce to demand. It's very hard to do that because it does take-- Even producing locally now it's a lot slower, but it does take about six to eight weeks end to end if you have the fabric, sometimes longer. So, that means consumers would have to wait for a preorder, which sometimes they'll do, but not maybe that long. 

So, we do our best to try and forecast to what we think people will need. Then if we have excess inventory left over, it's nothing like you would see in the fast fashion world. It's not like thousands of clothes being burned in incinerator. [laughs] We're like, "Oh, we've got five extra smalls left, let's put them in the sample sale." That becomes a discussion. But it's pretty rare that we grossly overproduce the product, just because we're pretty small batch company anyways. 

Melanie Avalon: Got you. So, what do you do with the extra inventory? 

Kristi Soomer: Mm-hmm. Well, eventually we will mark it down. A lot of it will end up, we do quarterly samples and second sale where we'll have inventory that maybe has some minor quality defects or something like that. So, we'll put it into that sale and sell it online at a discount. And then if we can't really get rid of it, we will donate it, essentially. Yeah.

Melanie Avalon: You're donating the best clothing for people, so that's amazing. I hope they appreciate it when they receive that. I'm just curious with your own personal style, because you said that fashion was not your thing historically. Would you wear every single thing on the website or do you create things that you need to fill out the catalog with, but they're not necessarily like your style? 

Kristi Soomer: That is a really good question. Nobody's ever asked me this before, but it's a great question. [laughs] So, it's a bit of both. My style icon is like Jennifer Aniston, like, I love her. She's so timeless and so classic. That's more of my style if I'm getting dressed to go out. I live in a lot of athleisure. I work from home a lot, so I love to live in leggings. Our dressy sweatpants are one of my favorite pants of all time, for sure. So, there's definitely pieces where I wear them a lot from our collection. I would say, our core customer is a little bit different than us. She's probably a lot more professional than I am, so she's in a lot more professional environments where she has to be more dressed up. 

So, I would say, we've got a lot of pieces on our site that I probably wouldn't wear on the daily just because I'm not dressing up as much as she is, because we have a lot of women who are boardroom bosses and they're wearing a lot of blazers and comfortable suiting, I guess, if you will. So, we've really niched into that workwear that feels like loungewear area. But I still wear a lot of the classics. I love our dressy leggings as well as our dressy sweatshirt and our T-shirts. Those are definitely classics that I wear on repeat. But I'm definitely a lot more casual, I would say, than our core customer on the whole. But in terms of design, it's a collaborative effort with the team. So, a lot of it is sometimes me coming up with ideas and then the team will refine them, or maybe the team comes up with an idea of something that there's a gap in the collection. 

For example, we're about to launch a new pant, which is actually a recycled fabric. It's recycled Ponte fabric. That pant is a very timeless silhouette, really soft and structured. I probably wouldn't wear that every day, because it's a bit more dressy, but I'd definitely wear that pant going out or to important meetings and stuff like that. That was an idea where we did a collaboration with the design team. We just wanted to do more of a structured pant that was comfy and sustainable. So, the ideas come out of anywhere, essentially. But I would say going forward, we're trying to get a little bit more organized around our design and trying to bring in some resources to help with that, just because it's not my natural talent let's say. [laughs] I do my best, but I'm not a fashionista. I'm not on top of the trends. My friend asked me the other day, "What's in for spring?" I'm like, "I have no idea. [laughs] Literally no clue. White T-shirts, I hope." So, yeah, I'm definitely more classic over trendy. 

Melanie Avalon: Do you think you'll ever have a classic cocktail dress? 

Kristi Soomer: [laughs] Yeah, definitely. I think we've had a couple of more shorter dresses before. We used to have a dress that we're trying to bring back, it's really cool, it's called the Retrograde Jacket Dress, and it's basically a jacket that converts into a dress. So, it has the [unintelligible [00:49:29] zipper, and it's really cute. It has pockets. It's like a mini, like a bit of a bat wing shape, it's really cute. So, we're redoing that right now, actually, because it did have vegan leather on it, and we wanted to get rid of it. So, we're trying to source a cactus leather to replace on it and redo that design completely. So, that's one that's more of like a cocktail dress. And then we have another dress called the Revolve Sleeveless Dress, which is coming back, which is definitely more of a cocktail dress, but it converts into a top as well. So, it's a fun piece. 

Melanie Avalon: Oh, because I was looking at the Revolve Dress, which looks really cool, but I was like, "I want it without sleeves." So, it's basically-- that's coming?

Kristi Soomer: Yeah, that's coming back in probably a couple of months. We can send you one if you want. 

Melanie Avalon: Oh, my goodness. Yes, please. [laughs] It's right up my alley. Oh, that's amazing. Okay, I'm excited. So, you were mentioning a lot, like, she and that this is for women. Would you ever expand into men's clothing? 

Kristi Soomer: Yeah, we've tried to dip our toe in that area before. It was not very successful for us. I think that's because we only were able to really launch, like, a few pieces. So, that's the hard thing is, when a menswear brand tries to get into women's wear or vice versa, it's like you have to go big into that or else it's hard to shop there. It's like the same thing with offering. We have extended sizing up to 4X in a few styles, and it's hard to play in that space unless you have a bigger collection, because people want to be able to put together outfits, which totally makes sense.

But we just haven't had the capital to do it. We're largely bootstrapped. So, creating a 10-piece collection, let's say, for men, would be really difficult for us financially, I think. But it is something we've thought about, because there's not a lot of brands out there with really comfy pants for men that are like dressy. [laughs] So, it's definitely something I've thought about, like, the dressy sweatpants for men, for sure. But yeah, maybe in the future, if we get some financing, we test it again, for sure. 

Melanie Avalon: And what about shoes? 

Kristi Soomer: Yeah, shoes are a whole other-- Oh, my gosh. Yeah, I can definitely recommend some shoe brands. That would be great. But yeah, I stay away from shoes. I don't know anything about shoes. [laughs] They scare me. 

Melanie Avalon: So, that's like a whole different world?

Kristi Soomer: It's a whole different supply chain. So, we use a lot of, what we would call, knits or jerseys, even making woven garments, which are non-stretch garments is a whole different supply chain. It's so crazy. I don't know, I just assumed before I got in this industry that, "Everybody can just make everything." That's not true. We have factories where all they can make is T-shirts. They can't make anything else. And then we have factories, all they can do is pants. They can't make anything else. There's specific machinery for everything. So, for shoes, I don't think there's any shoe manufacturing left in Canada, maybe in Montreal, but in the US, there might be a little bit, because New Balance, I think, still makes shoes there. But it's very, very much an industry that's evaporated over the last 30 years on shore. So, you have to go overseas for that, and then build a whole supply chain, and stuff like that. But there's some great ethical shoe brands that I can link you into after the show if you want some options. 

Melanie Avalon: Oh, yeah, that'd be great. We can put that in the show notes. Well, first of all, thank you so much. So, Kristi is offering our listeners a 15% off discount, is that right, on the site? 

Kristi Soomer: Yeah. 

Melanie Avalon: So, you can use the coupon code, MELANIEAVALON, and that's at Encircled. So, that's encircled.co.

Kristi Soomer: Mm-hmm.

Melanie Avalon: Make sure I get that right. Okay. So, we'll put that in the show notes, and that code will be for 15% off sitewide. So, thank you so much for that. Well, this has been so amazing. Just stepping back or maybe just provide a nice way to end things, so for people going forward, because I feel like this probably opened a lot of people's eyes, aside from obviously buying some pieces from Encircled, which would be amazing, just in their daily life, what are some things that people can do to just live more sustainably when it comes to their clothing? Should you wash in the beginning and then wash less? Should you go through and actually clean out your wardrobe and keep some for a long time? What should people do? 

Kristi Soomer: Yeah. So, I'm a big fan of just being overall more intentional with your closet. If that starts with a closet cleanse, so going into your closet and evaluating what you're wearing and not wearing, I think that's a great first step. I wouldn't necessarily get rid of what you're not wearing. I would more so challenge yourself as to why you're not wearing it and see if you can maybe reincorporate it into your wardrobe. We used to do something called the Wear Your Closet Challenge, where we would ask our followers to take seven pieces and see if they can style them over the next seven days. You'd be surprised. People will find pieces that they love that they forgot about and they're like, "Oh yeah, I love that top. I don't know why I don't wear it." Because a lot of us have too much clothing in our closets, so we can't even see half the stuff we have and we forget about it, and we tend to wear the same thing, like, you said on repeat. Everybody does that. That's like a very human tendency. 

So, I think that's a great place to start is to just evaluate what you have in your wardrobe and start to challenge yourself to wear stuff that you're not wearing. If you want to eventually get rid of it, give it to friends, swap it, sell it on Poshmark, or trade it, or something like that, or donate it, there're lots of options there. And then if you are shopping, I think just doing it with more intention. So, being very clear about your style, and what you're looking for, and being thoughtful when you're shopping for stuff, like, doing some research. So, if you want to get a new pair of jeans, doing some research beforehand, looking up the brands on some of those resources that I mentioned, checking their ethics, checking reviews, trying them on, seeing if they're going to fit, and how timeless are they. I think we tend as a society to overinvest in single occasion clothing and underinvest in wardrobe staples that wear on a repeat basis. So, I always encourage people to flip that paradigm. 

If you're like a jeans and T-shirt person, you love to wear those on the daily, then you should be investing more in higher quality pieces like that, because they'll last you longer, you'll get more joy out of wearing them, they'll be better coming out of the wash, and they won't shrink, and all that kind of stuff versus spending $600 on a gown that somebody will only wear once. You know what I mean? So, that's something I'm a big advocate for. If people are really curious, they can look into our blog or just google capsule wardrobes. I think that's a great way to also start to plan how you purchase clothing is to really start to have a more intentional approach around it. 

Melanie Avalon: Wow. Okay. This is so incredible. Well, I have just so enjoyed this conversation and I feel like people are going to love it. It's funny. What's not funny? When we first connected, I posted in my Facebook group gauging people's interest on a show on the topic, because I haven't talked about really anything like this before on the show. It was overwhelming, the amount of questions and excitement people had about this topic. So, I'm so grateful for what you're doing. Actually, appropriately enough, the last question that I ask every single guest on this show, and it's just because I realize more and more each day how important mindset is, so what is something that you're grateful for? 

Kristi Soomer: I'm grateful for my dog. I am a proud dog mom and I love her so much. [laughs] You can check her out on our Instagram from time to time [laughs] if you want. 

Melanie Avalon: Oh, I will. That's amazing. Yeah, speaking of, what is your Instagram and how can people follow you? 

Kristi Soomer: Yeah. So, you can follow me personally. It's @kristisoomer. So, K-R-I-S-T-I-S-O-O-M-E-R or on Encircled, we're E-N-C-I-R-C-L-E-D underscore, @encircled_. You'll get to us. And yeah, if you have any questions out of this podcast episode, feel free to tag me personally or DM me. I'm happy to answer them or I can do a video response or something like that. We love educating people on sustainability, and capsule wardrobes, and slow fashion. So, no silly questions, so don't hesitate to reach out. 

Melanie Avalon: Awesome. Well, thank you so much, Kristi. I'm so grateful for what you're doing. Just more people, A, need to be doing this, need to be hearing about this. So, thank you. Well, thank you for not only creating the brand and doing what you're doing, but also taking that next step of education, because I feel like a lot of people could just stop there with creating it. But you're going on podcasts, you're spreading the word, you're commenting on those greenwashing posts. So, thank you so much for what you're doing and I'm really excited to see the future of your company. Hopefully, we can stay in touch because I'm just very much inspired by you. So, thank you. 

Kristi Soomer: Yeah, thanks for having me, Melanie. It was a pleasure. 

Melanie Avalon: Have a good day. 

Kristi Soomer: Thank you. 

Melanie Avalon: Bye.

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