Olivia Lam, known on Instagram as @inspiringolivia is a local content creator and baker. Over the past two years, she has been making a conscious effort to reduce her environmental footprint, primarily by shopping local. In 2020, Olivia set out to go a full year without purchasing any fast fashion pieces, and instead purchasing vintage, thrifted, locally made, and consigned pieces. We caught up with Olivia to chat about shopping local, omitting fast fashion from our closets, and the joys of second hand shopping!
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OL: So I actually have my own online bakery service. We have my monthly treat boxes that are launched and every month we feature a local maker. Since 2019, or maybe a bit before, I decided to shop local, mostly because I found that it was great, back when we can meet people in person, it was really nice to meet the maker and talk to them and see who they are and make that connection in person and continue the connection online. So that was really nice. The vintage market is very, very big in Ottawa. My goal is to actually reduce the amount of miles on everything that I can consume as best I can. And so that has to do with food and shopping at the farmers market and kind of sourcing local ingredients, as well as shopping, vintage, consignment and thrifted items, all that sort of thing. And if I can't find it locally, which most of the time you can, I try to stay within Canada.
We wanted to chat with you because you are such a great advocate for shopping local - has this always been a value of yours or has the pandemic highlighted it more?
OL: So definitely started a couple years before the pandemic, but the pandemic really showed us that we can get everything locally, kitchen stuff and food. [In light of the pandemic], a lot more people are trying to support the local economy and have their dollar flow back into their community. And so that's where I think the big move was last year. And I think it's continuing this year as well. You see people kind of popping up, whether it's because they have a hobby or because they want to start something new and have revenue. So they started their own businesses. What's nice about Ottawa is a lot of shops have a variety of items. They're happy to feature local makers, like coffee, tea, scrunchies, all that stuff. So it's really nice to see that as well.
So tell me a little bit about your decision to omit fast fashion from your closet and what led you to that decision.
OL: So it's been a long time coming. But I think every garment that was made, I don't know, like 20, 30 years ago and further back, were made well and they were made to last. I found that I think between 2010 and 2015 I bought a lot of things from fast fashion brands and they have not lasted me the amount of time that the vintage items or the good quality items have lasted. A lot of the local makers and Canadian makers put a lot of time and effort into curating products and designs that will last and so I think that is great as well. I've met a few local designers and they put a lot of time and effort and love into their products that they make. The other thing is the fast fashion industry is a terrible industry. I mean there's a lot going on there and it's very controversial but a lot of it has to do with underpaid employees, the sourcing of materials, and just waste in general.
Who are some of your favourite local clothing makers?
OL: Blondie Apparel is based out of Almonte and they make these very comfortable pieces. That's one of my favourites and everything they do is great and they're very, very friendly folk. I also really enjoy Sew Much Love. She makes scrunchies and she started making silk scrunchies recently. Before I was buying them from Toronto, but now because she offers them in Ottawa I just go to her. Rebecca Rowe from Capsule Creator, is a local designer, very, very skilled in sewing and design. But she also advocates for pieces that fit an athletic build and not just fit, like the standard sizing because often, like people with different body types have different fits. And so it's kind of encouraging to hear that you don't need to fit into one of those, like standardized sizes. Maximalist - she makes masks and scrunchies. She also repurposes vintage items.
That's a really great way to make vintage items more approachable. Like if you're not looking for vintage style, but want to reduce your carbon footprint, it sounds like she makes modern pieces with vintage fabrics - that's so cool.
OL: Yeah, she definitely does.
So what challenges have you faced since omitting fast fashion from your shopping habits?
OL: I think the hardest part would be undergarments and socks and stuff like that. Because typically you're not going to buy those used. But I have managed to find a few brands within Canada that offer socks and undergarments. They are definitely a bit more expensive, but they're definitely more durable. And they're better quality for sure. So I am slowly starting to transition my closet over to supporting those makers. The other thing is, you can't always get what you want when you want when you're shopping local and vintage. So you just have to make a list of things that you look for and when it pops up whatever that is throughout the year then that you just have to jump on it and pick up that item.
So like slowly building your repertoire of pieces. And not having that immediate gratification from shopping for something specific.
What is the most versatile piece in your closet?
OL: For me, it's my overalls. They're full length overalls, they're good for summer, they're good for winter, to be honest, you can put a thick sweater underneath. So they're like a baggy fit overall. They're good for all seasons, you can run errands in them. They're very comfortable, they're not fitted so you can work from home with them on. They add a little bit of fun to your outfit.
What is the best secondhand piece you've ever scored?
OL: The best secondhand piece I’ve ever scored is from another local vintage shop. It's called WithNini Shop. She repurposes fabrics into pillowcases and scrunchies. But I bought this wide button down vintage denim skirt. It goes to about my ankles. And it's more like an A line. So it's very structured, but it's elastic waisted and it has pockets. So that's probably my favourite because I wear all the time. It's good for all seasons. It's 100% cotton.
It sounds like your kind of desire to support local comes from a sustainability standpoint, is that fair to say?
OL: Yeah, that's fair to say. My background is in environmental science. That's what I went to school for environmental science and business, a very strange combination. But so that's kind of where it stems from. I've always been kind of passionate about environmental science and just sustainability and reducing waste. But I find that it comes and goes, where people are more into it and listen to it. And so right now, because we're at home, it is easier to reduce your waste, because you're not packing lunch to go, like, you're not getting coffee cups to go, you're most likely at home. And so it's a lot easier in that sense. And I think people are willing to learn more, because they have more time being at home.
You say it's a weird combo, but environmental science and business should go hand in hand. I'm a huge advocate for the B Corp community who are using business as a force for good. protecting the environment and living sustainably is our biggest calling right now. So I love how you apply both of those areas of expertise. And I think the world needs more of that.
How can people keep up with you?
People can follow along with me on Instagram. I have a blog, Facebook, Pinterest, all those great things, but you can find them all on my Instagram. So that's probably the easiest way for people to get in contact with me or follow along.
In case you missed it, Olivia mentions these awesome local makers: