My next Fashion Week feature is Azura Bay. This Canadian company is an online curated collection of lingerie, pjs, and loungewear from ethical brands, using eco fabrics and production processes. Today I’m interviewing Ashley McIntosh, Azura Bay’s founder.
Could you please briefly introduce yourself and your work, with whatever details you would like to include?
I’m Ashley, owner of Azura Bay, a Canadian-based online boutique carrying a carefully curated collection of ethically made and eco-friendly lingerie, loungewear, and pjs. I have a small team of myself plus a part-time team member, and we work out of a super fun space in Winnipeg (we’ve got the loft in a gym), so we are prone to random dance parties!
I discovered the need for better shopping options for people (Canadians especially, but I do ship globally), when I was volunteering at Ten Thousand Villages during university and learned about Fair Trade. I wanted to shop by my values, and after finding it really hard to do so at the time (especially for anything beyond t-shirts) I thought I’d try to solve the problem myself!
Could you tell me a little about your approach to sustainability and slow fashion?
There are a couple different facets through which I approach slow fashion and sustainability at Azura Bay.
The first are the products themselves. I only source products that are ethically made: this means either certified Fair Trade or locally made with transparency around their wages, safety standards, benefits, and expectations of their employees. As much as I can, I only carry products that are made with eco-friendly fabrics, though I carry a few staples that are still extremely difficult to source with eco fabrics (padded/underwire bras with smooth cups are still made with synthetics, though hopefully that’ll change soon!). I want to help my customers who need that support or prefer that style to have at least an ethically made option that will last them a long time in their wardrobe.
The second facet is how sustainably I can operate my business. A product-based business will always have a footprint, so I do everything I can to lower that by:
- Giving back – instead of 1% for the planet, I let you choose out of three options at checkout who you want me to donate to: Because I am a Girl, Nature Conservancy of Canada, or World Wildlife Federation of Canada.
- Focusing on packaging – My outbound packaging consists of: home compostable mailers, and 100% post-consumer recycled and recyclable boxes, tissue paper, stickers, and postcards. This way I barely have to use any tape or virgin packaging, and I keep it as minimal as possible. For inbound packaging, I ask my suppliers to bundle the products as much as possible so that they aren’t individually wrapped in plastic or have them in paper if possible (overseas shipping, our border control, humidity are all factors that make this a tricky change but it is getting better!). Any plastic that does come in is recycled (we even repurpose the bags to use for our own purposes before going to the recycling bin!).
In general, I try to keep low waste top-of-mind whenever we have to do something impactful.
You’re a distributor of brands for the Canadian market. How do you choose the brands you carry? How do you know they’re ethical?
The brands I carry absolutely have to meet the ethical production standard first and foremost. If they aren’t certified Fair Trade, I get them to provide as much information as possible about their policies around paying their staff, safety regulations, hours required to work, benefits, if they have a representative at the factory if it’s not local, etc., and I’ve even visited several of the brands’ factories that I’ve worked with. Getting Fair Trade certification is expensive, so many indie brands respect the rules but aren’t able to go through certification at this stage of their business.
Next, it’s vital to me that the products are great! They need to be comfortable and stylish, and fit well. No matter how amazing an item is for the workers or the earth, it doesn’t matter if it’s not being worn!
Finally, as I previously explained, I try to source eco-friendly fabrics for the products as much as possible and I’m proud to have industry-leading fabrics like: Tencel, hemp, organic cotton, recycled lace, recycled wool, organic bamboo, and more.
How can consumers make the best purchasing decisions possible? Could you give us some action items?
This is tricky because everyone is in a different position depending on income, geographical location, etc. but generally to simplify I think this “Buyerarchy of needs” graphic is great. If you really need something and have the time to thrift or host a clothing swap with your friends, try to go used first (a lot easier for something like sweaters than undies obviously, but I’m here for you for that! haha), and then if you’re shopping here are a few tips:
1) Buying secondhand
There are lots of ways to make thrifting easier these days, with Poshmark and Thredup entering Canada. I personally can’t resist hunting for Reformation dresses, and you can set up alerts to be notified when someone is selling an item in a brand you love in your size! That really saves someone like me time when you either don’t like thrifting or don’t have the time to sort through things!
2) Buying new – how do you choose ethical?
There are so many options now and wonderful bloggers are making it easier by sharing what they know.
If you stumble upon something that looks good but you aren’t sure if they are ethical, look for information on where the items are made (a lot of posers will put “Designed in Canada” which means they are likely using low cost, offshore labour. If you don’t see any proof (long descriptions, preferably photos or logos of Fair Trade, Fair Wear, or other labour certifications), you could reach out to them for an explanation but likely they are being misleading.
- Ask the owner! A lot of boutiques now are trying to support local and would be happy to show you options.
- Check the tags for where the item was made, or what the fabric content is.
- Malls are generally sketchy but some bigger box stores like MEC and other sports stores may have brands like Patagonia, Prana, etc. in stock.
What else would you like readers to know?
You don’t have to be perfect to make a difference! Choose what matters most to you and start by making small changes when you’re thinking about what you really need for your wardrobe.
Photos courtesy of Ashley McIntosh.