Alumni Profile: Irina McKenzie - Circular Economy Fashionista

Meet Irina Mckenzie, a Groundswell alumni who has channeled her love of fashion and dislike of waste into a suite of ventures since she participated in Groundswell’s first cohort back in 2013.

Irina is the founder of FABCYCLE, Frameworq Education Society, and the Vancouver Sustainable Fashion Designers (VSFD). She’s an active alumni as well as a Groundswell board member, and is a leader in the local textile and fashion industry as well as Groundswell’s community, bringing together many other fans of upcycling and design through her work.


Tell us a bit about where you’re from

I was born in Ukraine and my family and I moved to Israel when I was seven. I grew up in Israel and studied law before coming to Canada when I was 26.

Tell us about your Groundswell journey

I got into the Groundswell program because the timing was right and I didn’t want to pass on the opportunity. At that time back in 2013, I got laid off and was hungry to start my own venture. I didn't know exactly what kind of business I wanted to develop but what was beyond certainty was that I was fully committed to start the transformation into the world of entrepreneurship.

My previous boss was friends with Groundswell’s co-founder Gilad, and it was following that connection that I made the leap of faith into this new Social Entrepreneurship program.

Coming from a corporate world, I had no idea what a social enterprise was. But I knew that I definitely needed support to start my own venture, and the timing was perfect because of my work situation, so that is why I joined Groundswell in its first year, as part of the first cohort.

The structure of the program was different then than it is now, but the core of it remains the same. It was the first time I was made to think about who I am way before even thinking about what kind of business I want to build. It was thanks to this foundational internal work, guided by Groundswell [in what is now the Explore program] that established clarity of my own beliefs and gave me a solid foundation. This still keeps me going every day and helps me overcome the many challenges of entrepreneurship.

When I was going through the program, I remember having a sense of uncertainty mixed with  excitement about what was to come.

Today I can look back and say confidently that Groundswell was fundamental in my transformation of becoming an entrepreneur. It set my life and career on a new path. It was truly life-changing.

That is why I am still involved with Groundswell as an active alumni, board member, ambassador and cheerleader!

Tell us about your venture, or ventures in this case!

My original business idea with Groundswell was Frameworq. I envisioned a store and a studio for clothing that are upcycled, reused and repurposed.  But that was the “How”. The underlying purpose of Frameworq was connecting fashion designers, consumers and retailers to promote sustainable practices and encourage the circular economy model in the textile and fashion industry.

That specific "How" of opening up a physical location didn't work for various reasons, but it has evolved: although I haven't opened that store and studio, I did succeed in delivering the core purpose of my original vision through other ventures that I've started since then.

FABCYCLE, is one of those ventures. It’s a business that addresses the problem of textile waste. We work with fashion designers and factories to collect their textile waste and reuse or recycle it.

fabcycle.jpg

I also started the Vancouver Sustainable Fashion Designers (VSFD) group. We connect the many independent designers in the city to each other which has created a truly remarkable community of eco-conscious fashion entrepreneurs in the region.

Frameworq has evolved into Frameworq Education Society. It is a non-profit organization with the mission to counter throwaway culture, bring back repair skills, and divert textile waste from the landfill. We’ve delivered over 60 successful, on demand Clothing Fix-it events in libraries and other community centres since 2016 with over 600 people, and we have exciting plans to bring more repair activities to Metro Vancouver in 2019.

I started as a scared but full-of-dreams individual. But today, thanks to the many hours of advice, mentorship, support and the incredible community of Groundswell, I am confident to say that I am a social entrepreneur and a leader in my community. Thank you for always having my back, Groundswell.


Hear more from Irina and other Groundswell alumni about what it’s like at Groundswell: