Merchant

Christal Earle does ecommerce right with sustainable fashion: Brave Soles

March 29, 2022

Hey Christal! Thanks for doing the interview. Please, introduce yourself and what you do!

Christal Earle is the founder and CEO of Brave Soles. Brave Soles is a local Toronto shop focused on designing beautifully handcrafted shoes using up-cycled tire for the soles. All of the Brave Soles accessories use upcycled leather and materials from a variety of sources. Brave Soles believes you can have fashionable items that are both fairly-made and affordable. You can find their products on their Shopify store and in select boutiques across the globe.

We are female owned, ethically produced and globally inspired. We believe in work done with dignity, sustainable fashion and a future that we can all create together.

Christal likes to say that she stumbled into the world of sustainable fashion. She is the co-founder of Canadian charity, Live Different. Christal's experience with Live Differently led to her working with landfill workers around the world, starting in 2005.  In Christal's journey into parenthood, she found herself swapping bi-weekly between living in the Dominican Republic and Toronto from 2010-2020. Her adopted daughter, and only child, was denied a visa to Canada until they were finally able to bring her here in the Spring of 2020.

Christal had to rebuild my life in order to both be with her and still find a way to make a living. She was co-parenting her with her ex-husband, but felt was essentially a single mother, navigating a life between two countries in an effort to provide for her daughter and herself. She took up writing and speaking events, but it was difficult to really get this career off the ground. The personal challenges of her daughter being unable to come to Canada weighed heavily.

One consistent thing throughout these years was her relationship with a community of landfill workers she had made while in the Dominican Republic. The workers made their living through collecting recyclables from the garbage, and Christal would go there to work with them alongside teams of volunteers, labour rights groups, and many others. Her perspective began to shift and one of the most profound realizations was seeing how we were all using, and not using, so much of our resources and possessions.

Hey Christal! Thanks for doing the interview. Let our readers know - how did you come up with the idea of Brave Soles?

I have been a lifelong social entrepreneur. I always have my antennae up for new ideas and ways to create value that can help change things for the better for more people. In particular, tires were what had captured my attention. Tires were piling high in the landfills that I was visiting as part of Live Differently. Tires were also cluttering the ditches and, sadly, much of the waterways in extremely impoverished areas of the Dominican Republic.

What does Brave Soles offer that helps solve the landfill problem?

Currently, we offer leather sandals and accessories that are crafted simply and using as much upcycling as possible. Our designs are classic, minimalist, and very beautifully handcrafted.

How did you decide to start making fashionable goods from used tires?

Well, the honest truth is that I was inspired by two things: the crazy number of tires I saw everywhere in the landfills of Dominican Republic and my neighbour’s new sandals that I thought were cute! I love fashion and I love people so the idea began to emerge about how to create something with a simple process, simple supply chains, and in such a way that we could provide a sustainable business model.

Why is it important to practice sustainability in the fashion industry, both as a business owner and a customer?

Sustainability isn’t a new concept to embrace - it’s actually a return to who we once were. 125 years ago, you would have known who made your shoes and your clothes. You would have chosen carefully and you would have taken great care of them. You would have shopped locally and known who you were doing business with. In many ways, we have allowed ourselves to believe that we aren’t connected to what we own. But we are.

I believe that this connection offers us the opportunity to build a fashion industry that has four key pillars that it upholds: people, planet, a profitable business model and accessible enough that we can all participate in it. For too long, sustainable fashion has been viewed as either something kooky or elite - with very little middle ground. The future for sustainable fashion is to include consumers in it all; to produce and create in such a way that it is accessible to everyone.

I’ve heard this is the impossible question but quick: tell me your favourite piece Brave Soles has created!

Haha….yes, we love all of our creations, don’t we? But, to be honest, the most tried and true item for me is Brave Sole's Jasmine Leather Sandal. It's timelessly classic.

Christal Earle, the founder and CEO of Brave Soles

Brave Soles is also part of the Upside Foundation! Why was pledging 1% of your company to charity important to you?

I am a life that was changed by other people believing in me along the way. As a founder for another charity, I know the incredible value and trust that comes from donors and being able to fulfill your mission through their funding. Our family’s life has been deeply impacted by the ability for my daughter to gain her identity papers. Through the Upside Foundation, we are going to be focusing our pledge on charities that work with undocumented people to help them to build a future of security and find a path out of the vulnerable circumstances.

What’s another local Toronto business you really admire who is sustainable in their practices?

I have SO many that I truly admire and love! My top three are probably:

All of these sustain fashion industry businesses are women-led and give back in so many ways by helping to create better futures for women.

How has the pandemic shaped the sustainable fashion industry?

Surprisingly, I think the pandemic is actually helping to raise awareness. It is encouraging people to begin building a connection to what they own through understanding the power of their choices. The fashion industry as a whole has taken a big hit, but in the sustainable space, there is a different set of values and principles that we are now able to introduce people that they may not have been willing to listen to before. Sustainable fashion is only just getting started as an industry and there is so much room in the space for new ideas and innovations. It is a super exciting time to be in it!

What does your business look like when you’ve achieved all your goals and dreams for it?

I will know we are there when we are operating with small scale and disadvantaged suppliers around the globe, to bring their talents to the world of fashion in such a way that it is also helping to lift them out of vulnerability while cleaning up their local communities and landfills. The small scale suppliers will be the next wave of entrepreneurs and world changers.

I really think that our products and story is so simple that it’s easy for people to build the connection to why their choices matter. The pandemic has given many people the chance to seriously consider their choices, values, and future. In the end, I think this is going to help all of us.

Onto the technical side of starting a company - why did you choose to build your website on Shopify?

In the beginning, it was because of their amazing customer service. I would joke that if Shopify was a human, I would have proposed! 😅 Shopify made building a website so simple to put together and, best of all, they have amazing education opportunities for merchants. Shopify has been a game changer for myself and the team.

How can other people become a leader in sustainable fashion, like you?

The first thing I tell people is to think about the problem that you can help solve. Finding a problem to solve will help you figure out who your customer and brand lovers will be. Sustainable fashion is such a generous community and there is so much we can learn from simply reaching out to others ahead of us and around us to draw on their wisdom and lessons. I truly suggest building with the lean model first: figure out what your core product(s) will be and do it well.

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Thank you to Brave Soles and Christal Earle for this wonderful insight into running a local business in sustainable fashion. Social entrepreneurship and charitable initiatives are great core values for any company to have. Shop Brave Soles' online through their Shopify store. Follow them on Instagram to keep up to date on their local Toronto business as it expands across the globe with its sustainable mission and message!

Samantha Lloyd is a marketing consultant and advisor for Toronto startups. She has a decade of experience building organic growth, brand, and digital marketing for startups and technology companies. Samantha hosts the Float or Founder podcast. In her free time, you can find Sam SCUBA diving, snorkeling, paddleboarding, and jet skiing.

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