Local business of the week: Muskoka Alter Eco

Muskoka Alter Eco Photo by Evelyn Barkey

Here at Cottage Life, we realize how hard the COVID-19 pandemic has hit local businesses. To do our part, we’ll be highlighting the stories of different businesses in cottage country. This week, we spoke with Emily Crowder who runs Muskoka Alter Eco out of Bracebridge, Ont.

What is Muskoka Alter Eco?

We provide high quality, low impact, environmentally sustainable swimwear to those who enjoy Muskoka. This is our first season, so right now we’re completely online.

How did the business get started?

I’ve grown up in a time where environmental awareness and our changing climate has always been at the forefront of conversation. When I finished high school in 2014, I knew I wanted to pursue a field in the environment. So, I went to the University of Guelph where I completed an undergraduate degree in environmental management. Then I went on to complete a master’s degree in environmental sciences.

My time in school really opened my eyes to how inextricably linked the environment is to every facet of life and how we as humans have damaged it. By the time I graduated, I was itching to get out there and do something to help. I knew I wanted to move back home and live in Muskoka, so it became a question of how can I provide an environmentally conscious option to those who love Muskoka as much as I do?

We’re also living in a time of technology and instant gratification that opens doors for creation and progress, but also fosters an environment for fast fashion. The fast fashion industry is ruled by industry giants who produce products that have a low cost and high volume, which presents a myriad of issues, including poor work conditions, below minimum wage pay, lack of health benefits, child labour, pollution, and overall unsustainable and unethical practices.

So, I asked myself, if fast fashion is so bad in so many ways, why is it so successful? The short answer is cost, but I think the more accurate answer is lack of awareness and a lack of choice. So, I wanted to provide the people of Muskoka and those who love to visit Muskoka with the option to choose sustainability. And this is a market that’s largely untouched in our area. So, that’s where the idea to start Muskoka Alter Eco came from.

Muskoka Alter Eco
Photo by Evelyn Barkey

How long have you been in business?

I started the business just over a year ago, right as the pandemic was coming to be. But it’s been in the works for a while now. I had a pre-sale event that took place over a long weekend about a month ago, and am just about to launch our first season within the next few weeks.

What inspired the name?

It’s a play on words of alter ego because, basically, we’re providing swimwear alternatives to what you would see in traditional stores.

What kind of swimwear do you sell?

I sell women’s swimwear, which includes one piece and two-piece suits. Each piece is inspired by a place in Muskoka and is named accordingly. The same goes for colour options. For example, one of our suits is named the Honey Harbour Matching Set, which is offered in the colours coniferous and summer fling. So, it’s all very Muskoka and summer inspired.

Our most popular suit right now, based off of presale numbers, is probably the Lake of Bays one piece, which we offer in the colours summer fling and midnight dip.

What is the swimwear made of?

Our swimwear is made from a fabric called EcoNyl, which is a recycled nylon fabric. This fabric is made from waste that is collected from beaches and oceans around the world. That includes fishing nets, plastic bottles, fabric scraps, carpet, flooring, things like that, which is then regenerated into nylon fabric fibres. So, it’s an alternative to traditional fabrics that you would see, and just overall an eco-friendly option.

I did a lot of research to find a supplier that uses this fabric. I work with the supplier to design the swimwear. I’d love to get more into the design component as I progress and move on and learn in this business, but right now it’s a collaborative effort.

Muskoka Alter Eco
Photo by Evelyn Barkey

How has the pandemic affected your business?

Starting a new business comes with a lot of uncertainty and variables, which you try to prepare for as best you can, but the pandemic threw a huge curveball, which I of course didn’t see coming. Nobody did. Initially, it definitely added a layer of stress to the process. But I’ve come to think of it as less of an obstacle and more of an adjustment.

One of the biggest changes the pandemic has brought with it is the increase in virtual life. I’d always planned for our first season to be online only, and the pandemic has actually introduced more people to the internet. People are more comfortable with the internet now, they use it more, and it’s also enhanced how often people access the internet. So, in that sense, I think the pandemic has actually been a bit of a blessing. Don’t get me wrong, I will be happy to see the pandemic end, but I think that if we can have a successful launch during a pandemic, hopefully we’ll be able to find long-term success.

Muskoka Alter Eco
Photo by Evelyn Barkey

What does the future look like for Muskoka Alter Eco?

Right now, we are only offering women’s swimwear, but I would love to expand our collection to men and children, and I’d love to offer more inclusive sizing options for all shapes and sizes. Since this is our first season, I had to scale back to women only, but I think the future possibilities are endless.

I do also want to note that a portion of our sales go towards the ROLE Foundation, which stands for river, ocean, land, and ecology foundation. That is a zero-waste organization that runs programs and projects for waste management, sustainable businesses, and women’s business education and development. I think that’s a really big part of what we’re doing.

Moving forward, I would love to find local initiatives that we can donate to right here in Muskoka. I think a big part of this is empowering women. This is a female-run business. All of our models are real women. They’re all my friends. Everybody was born and raised here and calls Muskoka home. So, this is really a locally owned and run business.

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