An Interview with Léonie Daignault-Leclerc of Gaia & Dubos

Tell us about yourself – familial/personal story, education, and prior work.

I always knew I wanted to be a fashion designer. I began my career at the age of 12, where I learned how to draft patterns and sew for myself. Then, I started my own business at 15 years old, designing made-to-measure garments for customers and people around me.

I decided to pursue my dream and study fashion in order to get as much knowledge as possible. I have a College Diploma in Fashion Design, a Bachelor in Fashion Merchandising and a Master of Arts in Fashion, where I specialized in sustainable fashion. Internships in Paris, Madrid and Toronto really helped me forge my identity as an entrepreneur and designer and my approach towards the fashion industry.

Léonie Daignault-Leclerc

How did you get interested in ethical and sustainable fashion?

People and the environment were always very important to me. I always knew I wanted to make a difference in the world, and I chose to do it through fashion. It is unconceivable to me to create garments that don’t make a difference. It just seems nonsense to me!

How did your educational/professional experience inform fashion work?

The most influential part of my path was definitely my master degree, in which I was able to focus on sustainable fashion and research every possible way of making ethical and ecological garments.

What is the importance of ethical and sustainable fashion designers and companies?

It is primordial! I still don’t understand how some fashion brands decide to exploit other human beings and pollute our wonderful planet. I hope that some day, we won’t even have to mention that a brand is sustainable. I wish it will just be a given.

Who is a personal hero or heroine within the ethical and sustainable fashion world for you?

Kate Fletcher is definitely one of my favorites! She is the pioneer of slow fashion and she is a great activist and researcher.

What is Gaia & Dubos?

Gaia & Dubos is a sustainable fashion brand that designs, produces and sells high-end ecological and ethical clothing for women. We also offer online sewing courses to allow everyone to learn the basics of clothing and accessories repair, and we act as an informant by posting videos and articles on sustainable fashion in order to educate the public.

Our mission is to change the face of the fashion industry by offering products and services resulting from sustainable development. We also want to give the power back to consumers by giving them an education on ecological and ethical fashion.

What are some of its feature products?

We are currently working on our first clothing collection, which will be launched next spring. We are developing high quality everyday and professional garments for women, and they all comprise transformable or customizable options in order to deepen customers’ emotional attachment and increase versatility. We only use eco-friendly materials and all of our products are ethical handcrafted in Quebec, Canada.

Gaia & Dubos also offers online mending courses in order to teach people how to fix their clothes and accessories. People can subscribe and download the course videos directly to their computer!

What is your customer base – the demographics?

Our target audience is women aged 35 to 55 who demonstrate an interest for sustainable clothing. They prioritize quality and classic styles and are willing to pay for a product that is entirely ethical and ecological.

There have been large tragedies such as the Rana Plaza collapse, which was the largest garment factory accident in history with over 1,000 dead and more than 2,500 injured. Others were the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire (1911) and the Pakistan Garment Factory Fires (2012). What are the importance of human rights and worker rights in this new movement, and to the garment industry?

Human and worker rights should always be a priority when hiring people. It is unconceivable to me to offer such horrific working conditions to the people who work for you and make it possible for you to make a living.

The problem is highly complex, but I think we should bring fashion brands, governments, manufacturers and customers together to find tangible solutions.

I believe it is the responsibility of fashion brands to ensure they ask for decent deadlines and pay enough money to the manufacturers they do business with. This way, the manufacturers will be able to offer more decent conditions to their employees.

I also think we should all work together toward the right to unionize. In most garment factories, it is strictly forbidden to form a union, which doesn’t help them get better working conditions…

Gaia & Dubos ethically made clothing

Women and children are the majority of the exploited and violated work forces. What is the importance of the status of women’s and children’s rights in the ethical and sustainable fashion world too?

I think everyone should be equal, not matter what. I don’t believe the solution to child labor is to ban it completely, but rather to offer better wages to adults so that children don’t have to work at all. Also, I think that bringing women to higher positions within the industry could help them get better conditions. In developing countries, most lower lever positions are occupied by women, whereas men occupy managing positions.

Children are the most vulnerable population. Women tend to have less status than men in societies including the right to decent working conditions, decent pay, to vote, and so on. What is the relationship between the need to implement women’s rights and children’s rights?

They are directly connected! By offering better conditions to women, they will be able to better care for their children: send them to daycare or school, have more time and energy to be with them, and have enough money to feed them, buy clothes, school supplies, etc. By increasing women’s wages, children might not need to work at all and may be able to attend school and attain higher career goals, ending this poverty cycle once and for all!

An advocate for slow fashion, Gaia & Dubos also has tutorials on how t o mend clothing on their blog!

Child labour and slavery are problems, major ones. These include children throughout the world. Tens of millions of children in the case of child labour and a few million for child slavery. How can individuals get the word out about these other rights violations?

I believe it is the responsibility of fashion brands, designers, bloggers, activists, researchers, etc., to first educate consumers on this topic. This is what we have been doing at Gaia & Dubos and we really see an increase of awareness among our community! By having the knowledge and developing their awareness on the topic, consumers will be able to make sensible decisions when buying and to share what they know with others.

When fashion brands will realize that consumers do care and do vote with their money, they will be obliged to make some changes. Some big ones! They will invest more money and efforts toward ethical working conditions and won’t think of profit the same way: it’s not by cutting expenses that they will make more money; it’s by making their customers happy, trusting, loyal and content with what they offer.

How can individuals, designers, fashion industries, and consumers begin to work to implement those rights so that these vulnerable populations in many countries of the world have better quality of life?

I think I just explained that in the previous questions! J

What topics most interest you?

– Creating a positive impact on the humanity and the planet.
– Empowering customers through education.

Did you have a mentor in this work?

Yes! Dr. Lu Ann Lafrenz, one of my favorite teachers ever! She knows a lot about sustainable fashion and helped me complete a thorough research on this topic for my master essay.

Have you mentored others?

Yes! I am always willing to help people who want to work in the sustainable fashion industry. I offer them advice and guidance in their process since I have a strong background in the field.

What is the importance of mentors in the fashion world for professional, and personal, development?

I would not stress the importance of mentoring per say, but rather of sharing and exploring together. I share openly with many other people involved in the sustainable fashion industry, and even other fields related to the ethical/ecological movement, and it always brings me a lot!

From personal observations, more women than men involve themselves in the fashion industry by a vast margin of difference at all levels. Why?

I think fashion is viewed as more feminine in our society. It is associated with looks and appearance, and I just think more women relate to this topic!

What personal fulfillment comes from this work for you?

Every day, it is an enormous pleasure for me to work on Gaia & Dubos! I am combining my passion for fashion and my desire to make a difference in the world, and I feel incredibly fulfilled by my work!

What other work are you involved in at this point in time?

Raising my baby! Juggling with all the projects we have at Gaia & Dubos and taking care of my beloved son is enough for now! However, I really want to work on a book project in the next year or so. I want to gather all the knowledge I have around sustainable fashion and create a reference book for the consumer who wants to make a change and buy better.

Any recommended authors or fashionistas (or fashionistos)?

Kate Fletcher and Micheal Lavergne for the fashion professionals, and the book Cradle to Cradle, by McDonough and Braungart, for everyone who wants to have a different perspective on how our everyday objects are made and used.

Any recommended means of contacting Gaia & Dubos?

Email is always good for us!

Any feelings or thoughts in conclusion based on the conversation today?

I really wish we are moving towards a better world where respect and equity are at the forefront of every decision we make!

Thank you for your time, Léonie.

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About the Author

Scott Douglas Jacobsen researches and presents independent panels, papers, and posters, and with varied research labs and groups, and part-time in landscaping and gardening, and runs In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal.

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