If Mary Alison Irvine looks familiar it’s because she’s known as “The Magic Maker” at Thrift For Good. A Canadian expat, she is a long-time thrift enthusiast who is passionate about helping others and spreading happiness, which is why we were so excited to sit down with her and talk all about her new venture, The Flip Initiative. Creating designs out of fabrics that can no longer be sold due to stains or tears, Mary Alison has been unleashing her creative side with some beautiful new clothes and toys. We caught up with her to hear all about this new venture…
1. Where did the Flip initiative come from and how do you hope to make a difference?
The Flip Initiative came about through my work with Thrift for Good and seeing how many damaged clothes are donated. I wanted to come up with a creative way to preserve and give new life to these items, making a difference by reducing the number of clothes going to the landfill and having a positive environmental impact, while at the same time, creating something special for adults and children alike. I also wanted to have a philanthropic element to the business, so I support Larchfield Children’s Home in Tanzania with every purchase made. I think the more people who have businesses like these the better!
2. How do you think the conversation is changing around fast fashion and our consumption habits?
I think youth today are much more aware of the damage we are causing to the earth than we were when I was younger. This conversation about fast fashion is one both consumers and producers are having, but I think it will take time to change. Consumers have high frequency buying habits and people need to make a conscious effort to buy less, second hand, or upcycled in order to really make a change. Equally, producers will follow demand in the market, so if consumers spend their money on brands that are producing more ethical products they will potentially force fashion producers to change their production practises. The more we talk about it, the more educated people are, and the more likely it will be that they will make a difference through their buying power.
3. When did you decide to make a change? And what could we all do better at?
I grew up with a mom who brought me to soup kitchens and shopped second hand (with four kids in five years, she needed to.) Also, I had a lot of exposure to charitable efforts being raised in Canada. We have a culture which really promotes fundraising efforts to youth. So, I feel like thinking this way comes very naturally to me and, while now I shop at Thrift for Good for the majority of my clothes, even before then, a lot of my clothes came from clothes swaps with friends that we would organise for charity.
We can all be more conscious of the impact we can have, even if you are just making a minor change. If everyone made an effort to make a small impact it would result in a big change. I always think about the story of the boy on a beach with hundreds of washed up starfish throwing them back into the sea. A man asks a boy why he’s throwing them back in, certainly he can’t make a difference because there are so many washed up. The boy throws one back into the ocean and replies, “It made a difference for that one”.
4. How important is it to you as a business to be ‘women-led’?
It kind of happened by fluke that all my partners are women owned businesses. It wasn’t intentionally done but it is the case. I am proud to see more and more women business owners and it goes to show how women are taking on roles as leaders. I feel it is important to support and encourage the development and education of women internationally. As a mother it is great to know that I’ll serve as an empowered female role model to my children.
5. What’s next for you as an SME?
I’m really just starting out, so I’m trying to figure out how to communicate what I’m doing to the public. The products I’m making are so unique and I feel that people will really love them once they understand the story behind them. My most successful product so far are memory dolls for children made from their old school uniforms. These are personalized to the child and I really enjoy making unique special pieces that carry emotional value to the customer. So expect more personalized options and unique products!
6. And finally… you’re stranded on a desert island. What three things would you take with you and why?
Hahaha, I wasn’t expecting this one. But I would choose multipurpose items. Vaseline because it’s good for healing scrapes and burns, moisturizing skin (I have dry skin), and it’s good for starting fires too. Then some sort of knife or sharp object to be able to use as a tool to eat, defend, hunt, and cut items to be able to build some sort of shelter. Lastly, some sort of netting to be able to catch fish or animals so that I would have some sort of food. Although, I did google this after I settled on my items and a satellite phone to get you off the island was the best answer I saw!
If you're looking for that perfect gift for the little one, look no further than The Flip Initiative.