Saint La Vie, based in Mexico, is founded by female social entrepreneur Jennifer Olson. This accessories company connects the skills and craft of local Mexican artisans to the global market place. Through principles of collaboration, fair trade and sustainability, Olson is using fashion commerce as a vehicle to enable communities to rise above poverty and achieve economic stability. Discover more about Olson and her people-first company below:
Tell me more about Saint La Vie. What inspired you to start your own label?
I live in Cancun, Mexico and my husband and I are connected to the local Mayan communities. I started to notice that was most needed is jobs. So I began working with them and selling products on Etsy. I ended up working a lot with an organization that weaves plastic bags. After a year, I was able to find a manufacturer that would make recycled plastic strips. I was so excited about this.
So now our handbags are made out of 95% recycled woven plastic and we employ over 200 artisans.
What would you describe the label’s aesthetic?
We are definitely a fun, adventurous, vacation lifestyle brand. Our products are very colorful.
What were you doing before you founded Saint La Vie?
I used to sell timeshares in Cancun, Mexico for many years.
When did you first become interested in sustainability?
Living on the ocean and near the jungle makes you very in tune with nature. When I go into the reserve near Tulum I see so much plastic from all over the world on the beaches. I also started noticing the temperature of the water is getting noticeably warmer and warmer.
When I started my company, I really wanted to make sure that we would be helping the environment, not damaging it.
What has your journey been like as a designer – from both an aesthetic and social responsibility standpoint?
We have changed a lot. I started off designing basic items with artisans and now I follow all of the runway shows. We take into consideration the colors and the trends of each season.
Can you describe What’s a typical day for you IS like?
I wake up at 5:45 am. Have coffee, make breakfast and lunch boxes for my kids. Get them out the door at 6:50 am. My amazing husband takes them to school everyday. Then I usually meditate for 15 minutes and do some form of exercise. I am really into spinning classes right now. I love to rollerblade or paddle board and try to hit the gym twice a week for strength training. Then I’m off to work at 9ish and I work until 2 pm.
Then I pick the kids up from school and we have lunch, do homework and then we do fun things around the house in the afternoon. My kids are really into doing experiments right now. Then in the evening we read together before they go to bed. Then I check emails and finish up a little work so I can hang out with my husband.
What is the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received?
Stay true to yourself.
Do you feel like marketing yourself as sustainable has helped or hindered you?
I honestly don’t know yet. We started off as marketing just the artisan part of the business and I have just started marketing the sustainable part. I feel like people are just beginning to notice that they have to change their habits in order for the world to change. I hope people figure this out sooner than later.
What are your thoughts on today’s fashion cycle?
Since I live in Mexico, I feel like people buy a lot less. You buy what you need and that’s it. Maybe that is also because you don’t have so many options of what to buy and how to buy it, whether it be online or in a store.
But I do notice that when I go to the US, the entire economy is focused on “what are you going to buy next”.
It’s like you have to have what they are selling you because 1) The marketing is so good in the US, it makes you want it, even if you don’t need it and 2) It is so accessible. So you can get whatever you want when you want it.
I am pretty new to the fashion world as a designer and also a consumer. I’m not a big shopper. But I am shocked at how quickly the fashion world changes seasons. That is why I love companies that are changing the fashion world like Everlane. They stick to basic pieces that you can wear for a long time. I just hope that people are becoming more educated about how products are produced, so when they do buy their next item, they know where it came from and how it was made.
How do you believe the fast fashion industry can begin to fix itself?
The consumers are the ones that will have to put pressure on the fashion industry to change. I went to a talk at Project Women’s in Las Vegas and a lot of the major companies in fashion are starting to use fabric that is made from recycled water bottles. Patagonia led the way, but many companies are following. So that is a good sign.
How can brands manage their waste?
For our new jewelry line, we asked the manufacturer to please not put each earring in a plastic bag. Our jewelry arrives wrapped in recycled paper and then we put it into our cloth baggies. Our paper tags are also made out of recycled paper. You just have to look at your entire company and see where you can cut waste.
What brands do you look up to?
Everlane, Tribe Alive, Noonday, Repreve.
What advice do you have for other designers interested in sustainability?
Just being sustainable will not make your business work. You have to have a great product, great design and it has to be cost effective. You cannot expect someone to pay too much more for your product just because it is sustainable.
And now for some fun stuff. If you weren’t a designer, what would you be?
I would be a professional traveler.
What do you do for fun?
Skiing, paddle boarding, going on fun weekend trips in this area, which are endless, going on boat rides to Isla Mujeres, going to the spa… I have too much fun!
What is something nobody knows about you?
That is a hard question. I think my husband knows everything about me. I’m not that mysterious…hahaha
Who would you love to see in your label?
Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Garner, Mila Kunis, Olivia Munn.
Where do you like to shop?
Everlane, I buy my kids clothes at Volcom, they use Repreve fabric.
What is your most favorite thing to wear?
I have some beautiful earrings that my dad bought me in Chile.
How do you wear your values?
I take my kids into the jungle a lot with the Mayan communities. I also take them to the low income school that we partner with so they get to see the neighborhood and how other kids go to school. Just putting them in these situations causes them to ask a million questions and they learn for themselves as opposed to you preaching to them. They learn that people are different, people have different incomes and access. That you have to be nice to ALL kinds of people, that you have to include people that feel out of place.
We also do beach clean ups. So they see the garbage in our oceans. It makes them very aware of buying water bottles and even the clothes we wear. We have rescued countless birds with fish hooks in them. Just last weekend I grabbed a seagull on the pier that had a hook in his wing with a long fishing line hanging from it. I grabbed the fishing line, pulled him down and my kids helped me get the hook out. My kids know how to be respectful and care for their environment and they are 5 and 7.
You can follow Saint La Vie on instagram: @shopsaintlavie
Photos: Saint La Vie