Emily Crowder’s passion for sustainability and her love for Muskoka led to the launch of a sustainable swimwear business, Muskoka Alter Eco.
“I think it’s important for anyone with a dream to do whatever they need to do to make it happen, especially young people,” says the entrepreneur, who is in her 20s. “Often when you’re young, you’re encouraged to take the more secure, less risky route. However, if you find something that you’re passionate about, the biggest risk you could take is not going for it and potentially living with regrets.”
After graduating from the University of Guelph in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in environmental management with a certificate in environmental conservation, Crowder went on to earn a master of environmental sciences degree from the University of Guelph.
“My time in school opened my eyes to exactly how inextricably linked the environment is to every facet of life. I enjoyed my time at school, but by the time it came to an end, I was itching to get out there and actually do something to help,” she says. Crowder knew her next step was to move back home to Muskoka and open her own business, using her drive and passion for the environment to fuel it.
“Sustainability doesn’t just refer to the environment—it refers to human health, says Crowder. “We are living in an age of technology and instant gratification. This philosophy has opened some wonderful doors for creation and progress, but it has also fostered an environment where fast fashion thrives. Fast fashion is ruled by industry giants who produce products at a low cost in high volume. This presents a myriad of issues, including poor working conditions, below minimum wage pay, no health benefits, child labour, excess CO2 emissions, pollution, and overall unsustainable and unethical practices.”
To provide sustainable swimwear at an affordable cost, something Crowder says is a top priority for her, Muskoka Alter Eco’s swimsuits are made from a recycled nylon fabric called EcoNyl. This material is made from waste that has been collected from beaches and oceans across the world, including fishing nets, plastic bottles, fabric scraps, and carpet flooring, which is then regenerated into nylon fabric fibres.
Initially, Crowder was unable to find a Canadian manufacturer so her company’s first swimsuits were made internationally. However, she recently partnered with a Toronto-based company and all suits will be manufactured in Canada going forward.
In addition to using eco-conscious fabrics, Muskoka Alter Eco uses 100 per cent recyclable materials for their packaging and has a zero-plastic policy. A portion of sales is donated to the R.O.L.E. (Rivers, Oceans, Lands and Ecology) Foundation, a zero-waste organization which runs programs and projects for waste management, sustainable businesses, and women’s business education and development.
Inclusive sizing is also important to Crowder—Muskoka Alter Eco swimsuits range in size from XS to XXL.
“Seeing as we are just starting up, it is difficult to accrue inventory that provides options for everyone, but it is a priority to try our best,” she says. “In the future, I would love to do a line geared toward the curvy ladies in our lives. I know so many women struggle with finding swimwear options that make them feel comfortable and confident, and so this is a priority for us moving forward. I don’t ever want someone to visit our site and leave feeling like there was no option for them.”
Each suit is named after places in Muskoka that are close to Crowder’s heart such as Dorset, Milford Bay, Lake Muskoka, and Honey Harbour.
When Crowder was referred to photographer Evelyn Barkey, she knew she’d be the perfect match for Muskoka Alter Eco.
“Evelyn made me and the rest of the girls modelling the suits feel so comfortable, and gave us the guidance and encouragement to put ourselves out there. None of us are professional models—I know, shocking, right?—so having a photographer who could make us feel comfortable was so important,” she says.
All of the women modelling the suits are Crowder’s close Muskoka-based girlfriends, and represent a variety of body types.
Without any employees—yet—Crowder is doing almost everything herself: creating the swimwear line, maintaining a relationship with her manufacturer, developing social media content, marketing, budgeting, maintaining inventory, and packaging and delivering orders. Her sister Bree has been an amazing help with marketing and proofreading as she has a master’s degree in creative writing and critical thinking.
“Starting a business takes an unbelievable amount of research, guts, and determination,” says Crowder. “It was something that always seemed a little daunting to me, in all honesty. However, when the pandemic began, I realized that life is short. I decided to take a leap of faith and hope that people care as much as I do about sustainable options. So far, this gamble has paid off and it has been so fun bringing this idea to life.”
She encourages other young people to take the leap into entrepreneurship.
“Young people today have opportunities like never before, where resources and information are readily available online, and the community of small business owners are able to support each other through social media, says Crowder. “I have received some amazing advice and encouragement from fellow business owners that made all the difference. This is a tradition I hope to be able to continue.”
Muskoka Alter Eco launched on March 26 with a variety of one-piece and two-piece swimsuits, with lines for men and curvy women a future goal.
“If at the end of the day we are able to provide awareness to consumers and grow sustainable consumerism, I will have accomplished my goal,” says Crowder. “I would also really like to get to the point where we can help support environmental groups in Muskoka.”
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