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Meet Naomi Blackman & Mikayla Wujec, Co-Founders of Alder Apparel.

2021 Ones to Watch Award Recipients.

Founded by National Geographic Explorer Mikayla Wujec and fashion marketing leader Naomi Blackman, alder apparel was created in Toronto, Canada. Naomi and Mikayla met as childhood friends and shared similar frustrations with outdoor clothing options for women. With their combined backgrounds, they decided to take a chance at making something better. They offer inclusive sizing, community-informed design, sustainable and ethical production, and a playful brand that starkly contrasts with the performance-driven, hard-core athletic brands that currently dominate the outdoor space.

My first job ever was…

For Naomi: working at a neighbourhood sandwich counter/bakery. I was fired after less than a month for switching a shift so I could have the day off to celebrate my mom’s birthday. It took me years to admit that I was fired because I was so embarrassed. I can now see the influence that (and many other work horror stories) had on my philosophy around building a better workplace. 

For Mikayla: Working at Soft Moc shoes in Toronto during high school. It instilled in me a) a true love for comfortable shoes and b) a deep respect for retail workers. Being in the retail business now, I recognize how that early experience taught me the value of excellent customer service and the reward of helping people find products that will improve their everyday life!

I decided to be an entrepreneur because…

For: Naomi: I wanted to be part of building something from the ground up. I’ve worked for a lot of big brands in my past and I was always excited by new initiatives and the possibilities of designing and growing something from scratch. 

For Mikayla: I believed in the purpose of alder and knew that time spent chasing a dream of getting more people outdoors was time well spent, regardless of the outcome. I’ve always been attracted to having the independence and autonomy of being your own boss, to succeed and to fail on your own plan of action and to the challenges of learning on your feet.

My proudest accomplishment is…

For Naomi: seeing alder in MEC stores. While we are still primarily direct to consumer, MEC was always a special place growing up and it was almost surreal to see alder merchandised in-store!

For Mikayla: Starting the non-profit Riparia with two fellow National Geographic Explorers, Andrea Reid and Dalal Hana. Through Riparia we run free canoe-camping trips & day camps on rivers and lakes in Canada to steward a love for science, learning and fresh waters in young women aged 13-18. Working with young women to build their confidence in the outdoors, expose them to exciting scientific tools and methods like underwater drones and portable microscopes and watching lasting friendships emerge between them has been so unbelievably rewarding. That age is such a difficult time for so many and the difference a week in woods and on the water with supportive women around you can be truly transformative.

My boldest move to date was…

For Naomi: quitting my well-paying, full-time job when alder was just an idea! I quit my job at Joe Fresh in September of 2018 and we launched alder in September 2019. It was most likely a bit premature, but I was so excited about the idea of alder and was so confident in our vision for the brand that it felt like the right decision. 

For Mikayla: Other than starting an e-commence apparel business with zero business and fashion background or experience? I would say quitting my job, giving up my apartment and booking a one-way ticket to the Solomon Islands to work on marine conversation project for National Geographic in my mid-20’s. The professor’s, scientists and researchers thatmet with my co-researcher and I before we left laughed in our faces and said there was absolutely no way two women could do research there solo. Look who’s laughing now!

I surprise people when I tell them…

For Naomi: that I’m a registered Canadian amateur boxer.*

*I did a charity boxing match during my advertising days and would 100% still lose in a fight. 

For Mikayla: I’m an advanced SCUBA diver with over 500 dives! Being in the water is one of my favourite ways to spend time in the outdoors and scuba diving is such a spectacular way to see underwater environments. Swimming with bull sharks in the south pacific is one of my top scared-as-all-hell but exhilarated-beyond-belief experiences to date. 

I knew it was time to launch my business when…

For Naomi: it just felt right. I’ve had ideas for businesses in the past, but there was always an excuse not to go for it. When Mikayla and I started talking about alder, everything just clicked into place.

For Mikayla: My cofounder Naomi and I decided to do it together. Our skillset was perfectly matched with her background in marketing and apparel and mine in sustainability and the outdoors. We became absolutely captivated by the idea of launching an outdoor brand that centred belonging in the outdoors instead of performance and building products that were versatile enough for adventures + everyday life. We talked about it non-stop, researched our eyes red and were full to bursting with excitement about building it together. Within months we quit our jobs, got a small loan from Business Development Canada and didn’t look back. 

My best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is…

For Naomi: find a group of likeminded entrepreneurs and be vulnerable together. It WILL get tough and the attitude of going it alone or pretending everything is great when it isn’t won’t help you. Commiserating and celebrating with entrepreneurs who are either in our stage or a little bit ahead of us has been unbelievably transformative for my mental health and for our business.

For Mikayla: My top three tips would be: 

1.There truly is no perfect time to start, just get going.
2. Done is often better than perfect.
3. You don’t have to learn and know everything yourself. Outsource competencies you don’t have, ask for advice and hire people who are better than you!  

My best advice from a mentor was…

For Naomi:” You’re probably putting tough expectations on yourself that no one else has for you.”

When the going gets tough, I tell myself…

For Naomi: to be grateful for what these past few years have given me. It can be tough, but the engagement with work, mental challenge and flexibility of running alder has made my life so much more rewarding than I could have imagined. 

For Mikayla: How stoked would 8-year-old Mikayla be to be living my life. How proud will 80-year-old me be to look back at it? I find I feel the lowest when I’m focusing on specific challenges and frustrations and taking a step back to view the larger landscape of things gives me so much gratitude.

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would…

For Naomi: sleep. We underestimate the power and importance of rest, particularly in the entrepreneur community. I love my full nights and sleep ins and don’t think I could do this if I burned myself out with 3-4 hour sleeps. 

For Mikayla: Write more terrible poetry. I’ve always dreamed of being a writer and before I write some good stuff I know I have to write a lot of bad stuff. I’m firmly in bad-stuff-stage but writing uses such a different part of my mind and takes me completely into another world. It’s a wonderful break from work and fuels creativity in other areas of life. 

I stay inspired by…

For Naomi: listening to podcasts and reading articles about other founders’ stories and fantasizing about the future of alder. Sometimes when I’m stressed out, I go for a walk and play my favourite music and just daydream about what it will feel like to open alder’s first store or hire our 100th employee. 

The future excites me because…

For Naomi: of our team. We’ve been so fortunate with our team so far and I’m excited to continue growing it! One of the more motivating and exciting parts of owning a business for me is the ability to structure a work environment that I’ve always wanted to have. We work hard at alder, but both Mikayla and I wanted to create an environment that recognizes there’s life to be lived outside of work. We also wanted to build a workplace that feels both supportive and exciting while also providing opportunities for growth and ownership within the company. We started alder from the beginning with work hour flexibility, work from anywhere and a 4-day work week so that our employees can structure their work around their lives and not the other way around. We also decided early on that our employee happiness is the most important thing and to us, that meant focusing on lots of touch points, feedback and communication to make sure our employees feel heard and supported. 

My next step is…

For Naomi: raising funds! Mikayla and I are gearing up for our Seed Round this Fall. We’ve had amazing success to date and have some big plans for 2022 and beyond.