I’m often in awe of the incredible, philanthropic and passion filled work that women around Canada are doing to politically inform a generation of people who desperately need to be led.
Sarah Elder-Chamanara is one of these amazing people. Co-founded in 2019, Madame Premier is a women-owned and operated small business rooted in politics, community-building, feminism and design.
What started as an unsuccessful fundraising pitch by Sarah, turned into a brand celebrating the intersection between politics and feminism. Madame Premier aims to empower other women through fashion and stimulating dialogue. Madame Premier is bringing awareness, sparking discussions and moving the dial on this issue. In our chat, I learned exactly how Sarah is doing this and wow, was it enlightening.
So tell us who you are and what it is that you do, Sarah.
I’m the co-founder and owner, of Madame Premier, a feminist and political clothing brand in Calgary, Alberta.
What made you want to do what you do, and how did you get started?
I’ve always been really political and feminist. The first iteration of Madam Premier – before I knew it was going to be what it is now – was before the 2016 presidential election in the States. I made a sweater for myself and one other person in high hopes that Hillary Clinton would become the first female president and shatter the highest glass ceiling. Obviously that election didn’t end the way the I wanted it to, but, fast forward, and I’m on the board of an organization in Calgary that encourages women to run for municipal council. I pitched merchandise as a fundraising idea and it got rejected. They weren’t interested in it. But I connected with another woman who was on the board, and it became a business.
That is incredible. How long after the election was this?
Madam Premier is just over a year old. It feels like it could be 2090, but it’s actually still 2020.
The year 3000.
Yeah, right? How long has this year actually been? So it launched in 2019, but I had the idea in 2018,
Amazing. It happened organically. Is this your full-time role?
When I came up with the idea, I was seven months pregnant. Then I had our second baby who is now 19 months old, so my role up until only a few weeks ago was a full-time mom. Madame Premier took a backseat to that. They only both started preschool at the beginning of September, so when the time has allowed, I’ve been trying to fit it in wherever I can.
What is your mission in your career?
I hope for world peace? No really, what do I hope for is more women in politics, better decisions being made, a more representative government with leaders that look like the majority of Canadians, so it reflects who we are as Canadians today, not the Canada of 150 years ago.
Yeah. Do you feel optimistic?
It depends on the day or the hour. I really try to remain optimistic. It is easy to be pessimistic especially with what we’re inundated with, and it’s intentional on the parts of certain politicians and their constant feeding of the news cycles, and because it’s so rapid, and it can be overwhelming. We just have to keep lifting ourselves out of that and think about the bigger picture, which is, how do we stop that cycle? What if the person who’s creating the chaos, isn’t the leader that we need? How do we find the one that will be?
Totally. For your own like personal sanity, how do you decipher or compartmentalize the information you’re consuming between news that’s nourishing and real versus what’s sensationalized?
Throughout the day, I receive new news alerts, and I’m subscribed to the New York Times, and check Twitter and Facebook. I like to stay abreast of what’s going on on a daily basis. But then I do know for my own mental wellbeing that sometimes like, I just have to stop. In the evenings, I definitely take a break and look at People magazine or Us Weekly online. Then I go back to reading The Guardian, BBC, the New York Times.
You need that. Especially if you’re anything like most people are, we’re just consuming, and eventually you’re gonna start consuming garbage. You have to take a break.
Right. I should also say that my content changes around my children. Obviously we’re not exposing them to everything that we take in. So, you know, I get a good, healthy dose of Paw Patrol.
That’s funny. What would you tell your teenage self if you were to meet her today?
There are so many things I should actually make a list! One would be: wear a crop top, because you totally can.
That’s a good one. What led to make the decision that it was not okay for you to wear a crop top?
There’s the systemic sexualization of the body, and a Western standard of beauty. There were just so many things that informed that decision. After having two children, I’ve realized that every body is a crop top body.
Yes, every body is!
I would also tell myself – because I didn’t have a straight path and didn’t finish university until I was almost 30 – that experience can come from other aspects of your life. I would tell myself to think about what makes you really happy and then focus on those things, because that’s the definition of a full life.
Yeah, love that. What’s the best advice that you’ve ever received?
I’ve received some like good advice, but I don’t think I’ve ever received a great piece of advice. One thing that sticks out in my mind is dress for the job you want, not the job you have. I would totally give a shout out to Kamala Harris because in a political context, what she’s done for women – with her fashion, style, and everything about who she is, has given women provisions to dress for the job they want.
Love her! We’re going to have a Vice President who wears Converse.
That is amazing, right. Because, why not? The idea that politics is an old white man in a suit and a tie is antiquated.
Right. It’s a construct.
And that’s not where we are anymore.
What advice would you give to someone like, not yourself, but just someone trying to break into your industry?
I still have a really hard time answering that question. I’m a mom still, and a designer so that’s an evolving conversation that I’m having with myself. When [our models] come to a photo shoot, they’ll ask, should I do my hair? Should I do my makeup? And I tell everyone dress for who you are, whatever makes you feel good and represents who you are. That’s the way I would hope you to be. So I think about being authentic, and on the political side – if you have an interest in politics, you just need to start volunteering, but don’t just volunteer for anyone.
How has the current social climate with particular respect to the injustices within the BIPOC community changed or influenced your industry?
These are the things that really should have been a part of our conversations 20 years ago, but are only really coming alive now because of some very seriously disturbing, upsetting and criminal events that aren’t isolated to this year alone. It’s not just this year that George Floyd was murdered. This has been happening for a long time. It’s not like there has been a watershed moment where everyone was like, oh, hello. I got a clue. It’s been happening, it’s still happening.There are still so many people in Alberta, in Canada, the U.S. and around the world who are completely happy with the status quo.
If you try having conversations with them, they’ll say, “I had a really hard life,” or, “I worked hard for what I have,” because they don’t understand privilege, and even I didn’t always understand my own privilege. I am undoing my own systemic learnings and biases.
But it’s about having the conversations and doing the work as well.
The experiences that you have are ones that in that I won’t ever have. Right. No matter how attuned to these issues that I am. I want to have that awareness and Madame Premiere is about breaking down those barriers about having those conversations.
I’m excited to see that transpire over the next while for you. What’s on the roadmap for the rest of 2020 and into the new year?
I have a collaboration with the Women’s Legal Education Action Fund that we just launched. It’s a t-shirt and a tote available in both English and French.
That’s amazing. We will definitely stay plugged in as things continue to grow for you. All the best.
Thank you, you too.