Fast fashion is a known detriment to our environment and one founder is doing something about it. Meet Kristi Soomer, Founder of Encircled. Encircled is a slow fashion brand that does it all. In Kristi’s words, “Encircled creates clothing without compromise.” It is a Certified B Corporation, which means it puts the planet and people before profits. In addition, Encircled’s factories are OEKO-TEX(R) 100 Certified, meaning that no harmful substances are used to make their clothing.
Kristi’s story is just as riveting as her brand. As a former management consultant, Kristi walks us through her career pivot and the challenges and wins she faced along the way while building her highly successful and sustainable slow fashion brand.
For people who don’t know, tell us what you do?
I’m the founder and CEO of a local, slow fashion brand called Encircled. We create clothing without compromise. Our pieces are stylish, comfortable, sustainable, versatile, and ethically made. We retail direct-to-consumer through our website and are proudly 100% made locally in Toronto, Canada. Encircled is also a certified B Corporation, which is a testament to our commitment to using business as a force for good in the world – something I’m personally very passionate about.
What does slow fashion actually mean and what does it mean to be a Certified B. Corp?
You can think of slow fashion as the antithesis to fast fashion. It’s an approach to making clothing that is thoughtful and reverts to the values that we used to hold dearly in the fashion industry thirty years ago.
A certified B Corporation is a private certification created by B Lab, a non-profit organization. It enables for-profit brands to be certified in their ‘triple bottom line’ approach and be verified for their approach of prioritizing both shareholder and stakeholder priorities through an extensive assessment of a brand’s corporate governance, workforce, environmental and community impact.
In Canada, there are just over a dozen certified B Corporations in the fashion space, with only a handful of them that are female-founded.
What made you want to do what you do?
I studied finance and I also have an MBA. I never envisioned my life as the founder of a fashion brand. It was around 10 years into my career when I was thriving in a role as a management consultant. I was, however, also living out of a suitcase, flying to client sites each week. While packing for a last-minute yoga retreat, my suitcase broke, and I came up with a really cool product idea – a versatile and stylish convertible dress-cardigan-scarf. I felt my passion ignite immediately. I started to wonder what my life would be like if I followed through and built the brand from there – a brand that has a strong foundation on ethics, environment, quality and values.
What adversities did you have to conquer to build the brand and what do you attribute your success to?
Entrepreneurship is a journey. At every stage there are new challenges!
From initially figuring out how to build a website and make a product, to how to find customers, raising money, to scaling a business with little capital and low levels of resources, to trying to break through as a brand in one of the most competitive industries in the world – we’ve done it all. I wouldn’t say we’ve conquered it all, but it’s a work in progress that my team and I take on every day!
I attribute my success so far to a little bit of luck and a lot of persistence, consistency and resiliency. Being an entrepreneur is literally like riding a rollercoaster on repeat. It’s an adventure, it’s exciting, it’s exhilarating, but sometimes it can be downright scary. This past year has been no exception to that, and the ability to be flexible, pivot, and keep going when things get tough, is an important attribute for any business owner.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
From one of my favourite entrepreneurship books, the E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber, “If your business depends on you, you don’t own a business—you have a job.”
It speaks to the need to create a team to help you build your brand. I wouldn’t be where I am without my entire team at Encircled.
What is your mission in your career?
I want to make a positive impact on the world through my work and I want to level the playing field for brands, and underrepresented founders.
What are the first steps you would recommend to someone who wants to be more sustainable with their closet?
The first step in building a more sustainable wardrobe is to wear (and take care of) what you own already. Oftentimes, we’re quick to go shopping without shopping in our own closets first!
Second, depending on the level of organization in your closet, it may be helpful to do a ‘closet audit’ (we have a workbook on our website to help with this!) and truly streamline your wardrobe. This focuses on keeping only what you actually wear in your closet – it’s an incredible freeing! It will make space in your closet for all your favourite pieces to be properly hung up, easily accessible and wrinkle-free. No more closet chaos!
Third, if you are in need of a new clothing item or feel the urge to shop – do so mindfully. There are many ways to be sustainable – from buying vintage, to upcycling, swapping and supporting slow fashion. If you’re not sure if a brand is sustainable or ethical, start asking some important questions – who made my clothes? Were they paid a living wage? What materials is it made from? Are these materials sustainably sourced?
Becoming a more conscious consumer is a slow process, but the more that we can hold brands accountable, the more they’ll feel pressured to make meaningful changes in their supply chains.
That makes a lot of sense! Now, what’s a secret about your job that you can tell us?
I don’t know how to sew. I’m more of an idea’s person!
What advice would you give to someone looking to transition their career like you did?
Take time to truly think about your personal values, and what’s important to you. We spend a huge portion of our life at work, and I’ve found that alignment with my values is what makes it feel worthwhile.
What’s up next at Encircled?
We’re launching our summer collection at Encircled, including several pieces that truly blend dressy with comfiness. Two key wardrobe staples launching in June are the ‘Comfy Paper Bag Short’ and the ‘Comfy Paper Bag Culotte.’ These pieces look extremely dressy, have high-end styling details, epic fit and are made from locally milled sustainable fabric — the same fabric that we use for beloved ‘Dressy Sweatpants.’ Think of them as your comfiest shorts YET, and a way to keep that work-from-home comfort going in the summer heat!
Any last words of wisdom? What would you tell your teenage self if you were to meet them today?
You are enough.
Also, don’t pluck your eyebrows 🙂