Why This Model Started A Sustainable Clothing Company (And How You Can Too!)
Posted by Shiffon Co. on
This feature is part of our series on women who inspire us. From entrepreneurs, stylists, and consultants starting their own businesses to executives changing the game at the highest levels, we’re lucky to be able to learn from these incredible women.
In that vein, half the profits from our Duet Pinky Rings fund seed grants for entrepreneurs around the world. Each ring is a symbol of a pinky pledge to pay it forward to support women & a connection between each member of our community. Make your own pinky pledge here.
Photographed by Shoji Van Kuzumi
Britt Bergmeister is a model with a mission. After a few years in the modeling industry, she began to be disheartened by the message she was sending to younger girls about beauty standards. Inspired by fellow #girlgang member Cameron Russell’s determination to use her platform and voice to promote what she was passionate about, sustainability and women’s rights, Britt decided to do the same. With her mom, also a former model, she founded Off Duty Model/On Duty Citizen, an online site curating sustainable and ethical clothing basics for the perfect “off duty model” look. It has since blossomed into a platform and community promoting sustainable habits, travel hacks, health and wellness, and more. Read on to find out about the challenges of starting a company, what her sustainable life hacks are, and why she says “jewelry is like a scent!”
"I wanted to model ever since I was 13 years old, but my mother agent didn’t end up signing me until I was 18. I was defeated, impatient and heartbroken at the time but waiting until I had finished high school was probably the best decision anyone had ever made for me. This industry is tough enough on me at 25 years old, I can only imagine how horribly my 13-year-old self would have taken constant rejection…
Fast forward five years of modeling full time in New York, it’s been an incredible journey of hard work and amazing opportunities. I love what I do more than anything I’ve ever done but there were aspects of modeling that I began to feel a bit defeated about.
I get a lot of messages from young girls who want to model. They ask what I eat, what workouts I do, and the like and I began to feel bad about it because I didn’t want these girls to look up to me for what they have been told is considered “beauty”. It wasn’t a message I wanted to promote.
Around this time, when I started to feel disheartened about the messages I was potentially sending, I met a group of models called the “model mafia” which was a group started by supermodel Cameron Russell, who wanted to create a safe community for models who could all get together and talk about our issues, our goals in life, and any projects we had that we could cross-collaborate on. At the first meeting, Cameron talked about how we needed to use our platforms as models with thousands of followers to promote the stuff we are most passionate about. For her it was the environment and women’s rights. She talked a bit about how wasteful the fashion industry was and it was at that point I decided instead of leaving the industry that I was beginning to get a bit fed up with, I would use my connections I had made, modeling over five years in NYC and make a company that would have an impact!
ODM/ODC (Off Duty Model, On Duty Citizen), was created as a platform to inspire women how to live sustainably. We sell looks from sustainable and ethical companies that have the “off duty” model look; the stylish basics that never go off trend. In addition, we blog about health and wellness, travel hacks, and all other facets of the off duty model life.
It’s given me a purpose that I’m proud to promote and now I have tons of younger kids messaging me about how inspired they are to live a little more sustainably. That’s something I’m proud of and I’m happy I’m now able to use my platform as a model to promote something good.
What were some of the challenges you faced in building ODM/ODC?
The hardest thing to date is balancing modeling and ODM/ODC. Modeling gives me the needs to fund my passion project but for now it’s hard to do both 100%. I don’t put too much pressure on myself though. I model when anything comes my way and when it’s slow I’ll work on ODM/ODC.
Other things like figuring out trademark names, working with lawyers and whatnot was a bit tricky at first. Luckily I have the most incredible mum who has a background in fashion and business who’s taking on this side of the company. We complement each other really nicely.
In terms of manufacturers and distribution, I took an incredible start up course in sustainability before we officially launched. Factory45 was started by Shannon Whitehead, who had an incredibly successful sustainable brand and then after a couple years sold her share and used all she had learned about starting a sustainable company to create her own sustainable course. She shared everything she learned from the best sustainable manufacturers in North America to places that sold second hand fastenings, who to work with who uses non-toxic dyes, the best means of shipping your product, tips about starting your own website, business cards, etc! Absolutely anything you need to know about starting your own company I learned in this course. I can’t recommend it enough! A lot of manufacturers are highly unlikely to take on new small startups, and to find one who will manufacture your goods sustainably or ethically is even harder. She did all the digging and provided us with all the resources.
You started this business with your mom. What has it been like to work together? Are there other women in your life that have been particularly influential?
It’s been incredible to work on this with my mom. As I mentioned I work on a lot of the creative stuff, the website, choosing the companies to promote, creating all our own product, business cards, networking and whatnot. But to have someone to share their second opinion on or to fill in whenever I need a little extra help is so special. It’s probably stopped me from quitting so many times. When I feel defeated she either steps in or tells me to take a little break. We’re quite easygoing on each other. It’s also nice to learn about sustainability together. Quite frankly we both didn’t know too much about the sustainable world prior to starting ODM/ODC. It’s nice to learn about it together and I love hearing about new sustainable tips she’s learned about or to see my family start using reusable straws at restaurants or skipping the use of plastic bags is amazing! We’re all in this together! It’s something fun our entire family can work on together.
She also came up with #sustainableissexy which I completely rejected at first. But as I’ve come to know after 25 years, your mum is always right!
Other than her, a lot of my female (and male!) friends have been incredibly supportive of the ODM/ODC journey. My girls, Dani Seitz and Julia Brucculieri are constantly sending me cool new sustainable brands to check out or helping me host cool/like-minded events. They’re the ones who say “you should be doing that!” or “do you need help planning an event for ODM/ODC?” It’s nice having their opinions too because ODM/ODC is really for them! It’s for all women who want to be inspired by sustainable living and so it means a lot to me to have their opinions and support along the way.
Also all of the model mafia crew! I honestly felt quite lost in the model world in terms of finding like-minded friends. I always assumed all models were my competition and I would never create friendships beyond a five-minute chat in the waiting room of a casting. But this group I’ve met, a hundred or so girls of the model mafia community always inspire me. We e-mail each other about cool projects and opportunities that pop up in the city, a lot of them being sustainable themed. We also have meetups every once in a while, and every single girl in that community has been so supportive with ODM/ODC. I feature a lot of these girls on the website because they’re all up to amazing things as well. Check out the off duty model crew here!
Jewelry is like a scent. It takes you back to a specific moment in time that floods you with memories. A lot of my pieces were given to me by special people in my life, my grandma, my stepdad, my fiancé… I love thinking about that person every time I wear it and love reminiscing about the time in which they gave it to me.
My engagement ring was made by one of our really good friends in Toronto with ethically sourced diamonds from Canada. The fact that Josh, my fiancé, knew that ethical jewelry was important to me means the world. Knowing him and our close friend from Kai Jewelry worked together on it puts a smile on my face.
Other pieces I love were given to me by my grandmother, Donna. She gifted me with a matching bracelet and necklace she used to wear. They’re absolutely timeless and in mint condition. We live in different countries so I don’t get to see her too much but when I wear her necklace that sits close to my heart I feel connected with her.
I get a lot of young girls messaging me on Instagram for advice which I never take for granted. As a model, we have the privilege of having a platform that people listen to so I always try and give the best advice I can… Things other than the workouts we do or the food we eat. I want to dig deeper and connect with them on another level. I hope to always inspire them in less superficial ways.
A few things that first come to mind…I would say be confident in who you are, trust your instincts, dream big and never stop learning. I think travel is one of the biggest gifts I ever received at a young age so to get out and explore, whether it be within your own city or to travel abroad is how I learned most of my life’s lessons.
To see how other people live their lives and to witness other people’s customs and beliefs is incredibly important. When my parents moved us to Japan at 12 years old I was furious at first, I didn’t want to leave my friends and life in Toronto. But after only a couple weeks of living in Japan I began to realize how important it was. I learned so much about the Japanese culture which is something I’ll forever be grateful for.
Also to always be empathetic and kind.
I bring reusable cutlery in almost all my purses so I don’t have to use the plastic kind. It doesn’t take up much space. Also living in NYC can get a bit overwhelming. I think getting away for a weekend like taking the train up north along the Hudson is a great way to calm your mind and your soul. There’s nothing like getting a quick hike in, immersing yourself in nature that’ll rejuvenate you just a little bit so you’re ready for the Monday morning grind!
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