Tell us about yourself – family background, personal story, education, and previous professional capacities.
For some years now I have been very interested in sustainability, sustainable agriculture, reducing food waste and healthy nutrition. I try to include sustainability in my everyday life as best as I can. It just happened that for personal reasons I moved from Germany to the Bay Area, where these ideas and concepts have a much broader audience. I got involved with ATOYAK through my sister-in- law who is the founder and CEO. Having a business degree and being passionate about sustainability, and helping other where possible, made me the perfect candidate for helping her with ATOYAK.
Family background: I come from a well-situated German middle class family. I grew up it a rather “protected” environment, or a “bubble” as my husband likes to put it. At 17 I left my family for the first time to study abroad in the US. Since then I have lived, studied and worked in Buenos Aires, Argentina,
Singapore, and now in the Silicon Valley. Through travelling my horizons were broadened and I started questioning things that seemed natural to me. Since my mom implemented this notion of good and healthy food in me, I started my journey into sustainability with food. Through marriage, I have become a part of a Mexican-American family, which is in many ways the very opposite of the family I come from. It has been a never-ending discovery process and introduced me to ethical fashion through ATOYAK.
Education & profession: I hold a B.A in International Business Administration and a M.A in European studies. My B.A was in cooperation with IBM in Germany, where I completed the degree within 3 years while being an employee at IBM and working on 6 different 3 months assignments during that time. I finished my M.A last summer, which coincided with moving to the Bay Area. Here I work for a tech start-up in the network security industry.
What is the importance of sustainable fashion?
We need to use our resources in a smart and sustainable way, and fashion is just one piece of the puzzle.
What about socially conscious fashion and design?
All people behind a product need to be valued. Not only the brand name and designer, but those who actually produce our fashion. If we recognize them and empower them through our products, we give them the tools to delevop themselves, their families, towns, countries.
What is ATOYAK?
ATOYAK was founded with the premise to empower women in small town in Mexico, named Atoyac. This is the town where my husband and his sister grew up in. My sister-in- law, Jackie, had been looking for opportunities to empower the women she knew and found that knitting and crocheting was something most of them knew how to do. Being a designer she came up with a product palette, creating the brand ATOYAK. She wanted to create products that represent her ideas and believes about living sustainable and environmentally friendly.
Its stated mission is to “create sustainable job opportunities that empower women in small towns of Mexico to rise out of poverty and live with dignity.” What are some of the ways that ATOYAK is pursuing this mission?
ATOYAK has given jobs to women who either didn’t have a job, were selling things to make a bit of money, or had other jobs which they could hardly live off. ATOYAK is the best paying employer in town, paying the women wages they would only dream of. It has given them not only economic stability, but also created enthusiasm and hope. Guille, the General Manager was able to send her daughter Fatima, who also works for ATOYAK part time, to finish high school, which otherwise would not have been possible. She also started Zumba classes and was able to spend more time on her health and well-being. But most importantly it gave her the opportunity to go back to school and finish her middle school education.
How can other companies pursue this in general, too?
Every company can weigh the benefits of a bit more profit in its own hands, or investing in society. Because we only become more prosperous in the long run if all of us benefit. Paying fair wages, empowering workers to grow personally and professionally, producing in an environmentally friendly way, stop striving for excess, all these are things every company can implement. In today´s world, most thinks are driven by quantity, not quality. If we go back to owning 3 pairs of good quality and sustainably produced jeans, instead of 10 that are not, we are heading in he right direction.
What other work are you involved in at this point in time?
At this moment only ATOYAK and my full-time job.
With regard to ethical and sustainable fashion companies, what’s the importance of them now?
These companies need to show that ethical fashion can be as trendy, modern and as up to date as the leading fashion companies. They will need to educate especially the young generation and make it ‘hip’ to wear sustainable fashion.
Thank you for your time, Selina.