Julia Grieve: Fashioning Sustainability, One Stitch at a Time

in Apr 27, 2024

Global Recycling Day, celebrated on March 18 every year, is a recycling initiative that encourages us to look at our trash in a new light.  It falls on the heels of International Women's Day, so who better to feature this month than Julia Grieve?

Julia has diverted over 1 million pieces of clothing from potential landfills since she founded her company, Preloved, over 26 years ago. She calls herself an "accidental environmentalist" because the notion of making old clothes into something new was initially a matter of aesthetics and novelty rather than an eco-friendly initiative.

Julia embodies the entrepreneurial spirit of recognizing opportunity and innovating to meet a market niche. Her journey has led her to evolve Preloved over the years to incorporate various ways to reduce landfill, like using deadstock and recycled fabrics. She has successfully grown her business, partnering with larger distributors like Anthropologie, ROOTS, and Urban Outfitters, which also magnifies her efforts' impact.

Sustainability continues to be a driving force in her winning mix. Her latest adventure, juliagrieve.ca, is "an interactive, daily guide to living a healthy, spirited and sustainable lifestyle ." She does the homework for us, researching and identifying products that put our purchasing power to work for positive change. She also provides personally-tested tips on everything from cleaning a washing machine with natural products, to making a face mask out of items from our kitchen, not to mention the amazing recipes.

Q&A with Julia Grieve

E - Like Preloved, my business partner Susanne Langlois and I started our own label, Eza Wear, in the early '90s. I remember our "Aha" moment when we suddenly appreciated that we could earn some cash with just a little bit of fabric and my mom's old sewing machine. We had started making our own sarongs, and one day Sue sold one to someone who had stopped her on the street to ask where she got the one she was wearing.

Do you remember your "Aha" moment when you realized upcycling could be a business opportunity? 

JULIA - I remember the first transaction the day we opened our store...it was the"little blonde girl with the chequebook".  Of course, it was our intention to sell our creations, but this is when it hit me that we were really in business. 

Another pivotal milestone came a few years later when we were approached to run the line, "ROOTS by Preloved". We were brought in to teach and work with their design team and we upcycled hundreds of thousands of sweaters. Not only was I euphoric about working with the iconic Canadian label I had grown up admiring, but it also proved that my business was scalable.

E  - Your new platform embodies the powerful notion that many people making small changes can create a more significant impact. How have you witnessed this firsthand over the last 26 years while working in the sustainable space?


JULIA - The most meaningful transition has been observing the shift in societal attitudes towards sustainable clothing. When Preloved first opened, I would often find myself defending the practise of upcycling. The response was usually 'EW- this is used clothing .'Now, the tide has changed, and people are excited about supporting, wearing and seeking out clothing that has been upcycled and/or uses recycled fibres.


E- Your track record in the business world is all that more remarkable when you consider everything else you have managed to accomplish throughout your journey: You are a mother of three, a wife, and a regular guest on Cityline, just to name a few. You seem to have endless energy driven by a passion for what you do. What are your goals for JuliaGrieve.ca, and where do you see it headed?


Julia - When it comes to being an environmentalist, people fear that they may be hypocritical if everything they do is not governed by sustainable guidelines.  I want to demonstrate that it can be easy and that you don't need a Ph.D. in Environmental Studies to do little things in our everyday lives that can have an impact. If what we do makes sense, we all have it in us to be "accidental" environmentalists.


E - I love this quote from a recent Globe and Mail article, "Reinvention after 50 – How to start a business in midlife", by Radhika Panjwani when talking about some of the words of wisdom from women entrepreneurs over 50:

"Less fear, more ambition. Less apology, more confidence."

Does this resonate with how you are feeling right now?

Absolutely! We have to push ourselves and create goals outside of our comfort zones. I recently entered my first body-building competition and my trainer told me the fastest-growing category is women 50+. The rewards of upping my fitness level have been tangible as I've been able to surf and ski double black diamond with my teenagers! Recently a post comparing the Golden Girls to the Sex and City Reboot went viral because of the contrast in how women over 50 are perceived now vs. then. 

Women are killing it!  I'm all about going for it at this age.

Go, Julia, Go!!

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