About the Startup Women Advocacy Network (SWAN)
There is a lack of awareness and storytelling of early-stage, woman-identifying entrepreneurs in Canada. Staying true to our core values and role as a national convener, Startup Canada wants to connect entrepreneurs with the support they need to help tackle this gap.
Thus, we have created the Startup Women Advocacy Network (SWAN) – a network of 13 early-stage, woman-identifying entrepreneurs from each province and territory to champion the needs of women entrepreneurship throughout the whole year. SWAN members can amplify their business through our platforms and are given exclusive opportunities to have a seat at vital government roundtables and other events that are crucial to creating real change.
This is just the beginning. The hope behind SWAN is to create an ever-growing network of champions across Canada to ultimately increase the visibility and voice of women-identifying founders, and the instrumental role they play in improving the country’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Meet Jad Robitaille, SWAN representative from Québec
In the spirit of amplifying women entrepreneurs, we will be sitting down with each of our SWAN members to learn more about their founding journeys. Introducing our second member Jad Robitaille, Founder of Mini-Cycle out of Montréal, Québec.
Jad Robitaille, Founder of Mini-Cycle, is challenging the status-quo of fast fashion one garment at a time. She set out to create the innovative venture after having her second daughter and being alarmed by the constant need to buy new clothing for her growing daughters. Mini-Cycle offers durable, sustainable clothing for children ages 0 to 14 through two main avenues – their pre-loved collection, as well as their assortment of responsible secondary brands such as Bobo, Organic Zoo, and Tinycottons.
Starting the business from the spare bedroom of her Montréal apartment, Jad and her team are on a mission to help parents save money and shop sustainably, all while eliminating fashion waste from our planet. Today Mini-Cycle employs 15 people, offers hundreds of high-quality sustainable brands, and serves thousands of clients across North America. Turns out little feet really can make a massive impact.
We’d love to learn a little bit about your entrepreneurial journey towards founding Mini-Cycle.
Mini-Cycle is a Montréal-based company that specializes in circular economy for kids’ fashion. It offers new and preloved clothes for kids aged 0 to 14 years old and guarantees to buy back everything once the kids outgrow their clothes. All new items sold on the platform are chosen for their durability, so that they can come back in the cycle at least 4-5 times to cancel out their ecological footprint.
After completing a Bachelor of Commerce at McGill University and working at Bombardier Transportation in Bangkok, Thailand as a project manager for metro systems throughout Asia, I decided to focus my career on the welfare of society and the environment. I came back to Canada and completed a master’s degree in Environmental Studies from Queen’s University while having my first daughter. Looking into a work-life balance and furthering my career in sustainability, I started teaching Strategies in Sustainability at McGill University right after having my second daughter. It was during my time teaching at McGill that I studied more and more about the circular economy. I honed in on the impact fast fashion was having on the planet, and quickly realized kids fashion is particularly detrimental given the lifespan that garments have on our fast-growing children. While I tried to achieve sustainability in every sphere of my life, the hardest part was the clothes I purchased for my kids. This is what sparked the idea for Mini-Cycle, which I launched back in 2019.
What has been the most challenging obstacle for you in starting your business? And how did you overcome it?
When I started Mini-Cycle, one of the main challenges was the stigma of purchasing second-hand. The biggest misconception we are seeing is that second-hand clothes are either out of fashion or dirty. From day one, our goal has been to break down that stigma, starting by offering an easy, elevated experience for our customers – both in store and online, and supplying an assortment of high-quality brands. That’s why we have always put our purpose at the forefront of everything we do – from storytelling to everyday activities and business decisions – and at every step of the shopping journey.
Ironically, one of our biggest challenges now is the fact that there is such a growing demand in the space. Sometimes it can be difficult for us to process as many pieces as we’d like to. We’re doing everything we can to keep increasing our Re-Cycle offering to help meet the demand.
What brings you the most joy or excitement in working in your business?
I love the work that we do at Mini-Cycle. Despite the challenges we are facing, I feel that our team is truly making a difference and sparking positive change – both within the fashion industry and with our customers. We’ve always been driven by our ambition to make sustainable fashion choices accessible to as many families as possible. More and more people are joining the cycle, and our community keeps on growing.
I’m also very proud of all that we have accomplished since our debut. In 2021, we welcomed 30 rescued brands (consisting of overstock, defective and out of season items bought from original vendors/stores) and 20 new sustainable brands including Summer and Storm, Happymess, Organic Zoo, Caribou, The Simple Folk, Bobo Choses, and Veja. Last summer, we started the process to become B-Corp certified and we hope to get the certification by the end of 2022. Our company has also gone from dropping 150 pieces weekly to more than 400 pieces – that’s more than 1,600 new pieces monthly entering Mini-Cycle’s circular economy platform.
Talk us through Mini-Cycle’s Buy Back Program and anyhow it works. Can you speak on the impact that this program has had since launching (roughly how many clothing items have been bought back and re-sold/repurposed)?
Our Buy Back Program is anchored in a no-waste approach. For us that means that we value every piece we put out in the world, recognizing the manpower and natural resources that went into creating what we use and consume daily.
By guaranteeing to our customers that we will buy back every single item we sell, we make sure our products do not generate waste. We then clean and repair the garments and if it doesn’t work to get pieces into resell condition, we make sure to find a home for them through meaningful donation or turning them into a different item through our Up-Cycling Program. What would otherwise be considered waste becomes a raw resource, which can be used for many more life cycles, avoiding the landfill and harmful impact on our environment.
As part of our Re-Cycle program, we closed out 2021 having recycled 32,000 pieces which translates to 5.3 tons of clothing saved from landfills – resulting in 86 million liters of water saved.
Every month we wash and repair more than 200 pieces – all of which would not have been sold elsewhere if Mini-Cycle had not been involved. This is where the true circular economy concept stands for me. It is much more straightforward to resell new or like new pieces, but to really value every piece and operate as a no-waste platform, there needs to be a thought process as to what needs to be done with the pieces, and what the best course of action is for each one of them.
Ultimately, our hope is that our program creates a fully closed-loop cycle (a mini-cycle) where only high quality, durable kids’ clothes are purchased and reused. The key to a sustainable future is the ownership of what we decide to create and put out into the world so that we can stop extracting so many raw materials from our limited world supply.
What does being a part of the Startup Women Advocacy Network mean to you?
I find it so inspiring to be part of a network that puts a premium on elevating and celebrating female entrepreneurs across the country. Starting a business is never an easy task, but having access to a platform where you can share your experience and learn from others through a like-minded community has been key in my entrepreneurial journey.
As Mini-Cycle grows, I am positive that we can have a concrete impact on consumption habits and I truly believe we’re poised to become a benefactor to society and an advocate for the environment. However, reaching such ambitious goals requires support and guidance and I’m thankful for the Startup Women Advocacy Network for assisting me at every step.
In the spirit of advocacy, is there a woman-identifying, early-stage entrepreneur in Québec that you admire or are following along their entrepreneurial journey?
A Montréal-based e-commerce company, Simplitude, has an incredible mission: making people feel happy about what they consume. At the moment, the two entrepreneurs offer more than 1000 local and mindful products to their customers at an advantageous price (especially if you become a member). Started just over a year ago, this women-led business has made a lot of progress, created a lot of partnerships with great local suppliers, and have designed an inspiring website. I am looking forward to seeing where this journey leads them!
A lot of the time when founders talk about their journey and their business, they talk about their “why” – why they do what they do. So, we’re interested to know – what is your “why”?
From the get-go, my mission has always been to develop a concept that would help put a stop to fast fashion by making it easy and accessible for parents to adopt – but also play an active role – in curbing the burden that fashion has on our environment and society. The fashion industry makes up 10% of global carbon emissions, it dries up water sources, and pollutes rivers and streams around the world. On top of that, 85% of all textiles end up in landfills every year. For this reason, I wanted to create a different kind of business; an inclusive marketplace built on a circular economy concept that focuses on ethical and sustainable fashion for kids.
Is there anything else we haven’t touched on that you would like to share with our community?
We covered it all!
If someone wants to get in touch with you or connect with you, where is the best place for them to go?
You can either send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, chat with us on our website mini-cycle.com, give us a call at 514-934-0006, or stop by to meet our team in our showroom and atelier located in Montréal at 5524-C Saint-Patrick St, Suite 491.
You can learn more about our 2022 Startup Women Advocacy Network at https://www.startupcan.ca/startup-women-advocacy-network-2022/