In the age of feminist and female empowerment t-shirt slogans on fashion runways an clothing stores being criticized for not taking activism further than a mere aesthetic, this clothing line does the opposite. La Petite Écolière, which translates to The Little Schoolgirl in English, was founded by Canadian entrepreneur Roberta Lindal with the mission to inspire and empower girls to pursue their education and become life long learners.
The brand doesn’t only wear it’s mission on its shirt (literally), it also takes proceeds from sales one step further to benefit girls elsewhere in the world who are at risk of being denied an education. Along with the philanthropic arm of the brand, Roberta says she wants girls across Canada and elsewhere the shirts are sold to be empowered to think of education and learning as the “cool” thing to aspire to, rather than focusing on outward appearances.
With so many awful messages in the mainstream media and society subconsciously teaching females from a young age that their worth and happiness comes from changing their physical appearance to match a narrow standard, we love hearing about brands and designers who are working to change this culture.
The founder also places emphasis on STEM careers, by profiling various women in her community who work in this area, as she sees the need to close the gender gap which still largely exists in most STEM industries. We had an opportunity to speak to Roberta about her clothing line and why education and female empowerment is so important to her. She explained how it all started with a “happily ever after” story, but with a twist…
Tell us how you started La Petite Écolière and the purpose behind it?
I started dreaming up the concept for La Petite Écolière two years ago while working at NEXT Canada, an organization that provides our most promising innovators and entrepreneurs with the tools they need to create impact. My boss at the time would tell her daughter fairy tale stories, but instead of ending with “they both lived happily ever after”, she changed it to “they both got their engineering degrees”.
Having worked at different charities dedicated to education, her story got me thinking about the messages we subconsciously send to girls about what they can and can’t do. I grew up in the 90s era of “Baby” and “Angel” sweatpants – and can’t imagine ever wanting to dress my future daughter in something similar. I decided to start this company as a way to start a conversation with parents and their daughters, uncles and aunts and their nieces, and all adults with their loved ones to encourage them to pick up books, not barbies, and to help them form values and habits to grow up and be world leaders in their respective fields.
How has working at various charities opened your eyes to the issues you care about most?
All of these different experiences impacted me in different ways. I now work at the Ontario Science Centre, which has really gotten me thinking about STEM education and how places like this and programs exposing young people to STEM programming at a young age is crucial to their later interest in science and technology. While it has been incredible to see that more women in Canada are graduating from university than men, the reality is that there remains a major gap in female STEM graduates at the University level and in the workplace.
Working at NEXT Canada was an incredible experience because it exposed me to some very driven young people building businesses that are impacting Canada and the world. It made me think, “hey, I can do that too!” and gave me the entrepreneurial bug. My third employer, Big Change, was crucial in my own development of a growth mindset and also showed me the ability for children (and adults) to blossom when they have the resources they need.
On a more personal note I volunteered at AFEV in France, which is similar to Big Brothers and Sisters, and pairs young people up with young boys and girls to help them reach their potential. My mentee was a young immigrant to France, with parents who were not native speakers of French, and she was two grades behind in school. Her work space was a dark area in her kitchen, where her two younger siblings often played and distracted her. Although I only mentored her for the year that I lived in France, I hope that my impact was profound, in not only showing her alternative places to set up for work, and give her one-on-one attention she needed, but in also showing her that people care about her success.
How does La Petite Écolière empower girls and raise awareness about leadership gaps and the need for more women in STEM jobs?
La Petite Écolière seeks to empower girls by spreading the message that learning and science are cool and fun. We started a website featuring various role models, and we plan to heavily focus on women in STEM. Our first amazing scientist featured is Christina Moro, a Masters student in Robotics Engineering at University of Toronto. By shining the spotlight and sharing stories of women in science, the moment when they decided science was for them, and their journeys getting to where they are, we hope to inspire journeys into STEM. We plan to create a line dedicated exclusively to STEM education and supporting charities supporting girls in STEM in the future!
How does your label raise awareness about issues concerning girls in the developing world?
Right now, La Petite Écolière supports Plan International Canada as they educate girls, and give them the nourishment, healthcare and protection that are their right so they can flourish and go on to improve the lives of those around them. By supporting and championing the work of charities that are elevating the educations and lives of girls, I hope to remind my customers of the great advantages we have living in a society where public education is available to all, regardless of gender. I hope to spark conversations around the work there still is to be done, especially in developing nations where barriers that can be unimaginable to some are commonplace and systematic.
With the brand starting with altered the “happily ever after” story, how do you hope your advocacy and work will allow other girls to have a true “happily ever after” where they are given the best opportunities in life to succeed?
I hope that girls and women are inspired to advocate for their own futures and careers, and to know that they have just as much right to seize opportunities in life as men. I hope that all men will begin treating girls and women, both in the workplace and outside of it, with the same respect that they would give their mother, their sister or their own daughter. And I hope that one day, women and girls are complimented more often for their intelligence, not their looks.
How can more women in positions of leadership and power change the status quo for other women?
Nobody gets to the top without help and guidance for others. My advice to women in senior leadership is to make yourself available to young women trying to build their careers. Give feedback, ask them what their goals are, and see how your position of power can help pave the way for young women behind you. And don’t be afraid to speak out against injustices you see against women in the workplace.
You are very passionate about mentorship. Tell us why more people should care about this also?
Having been a mentor and as an active mentee, both sides of the coin can be life changing. Mentees are the most obvious beneficiaries of a mentorship relationship and can draw on another’s experience to help frame our goals, our hopes, our anxieties, and our plans for the future. An old adage states “when one teaches, two learn”. My own experience mentoring helped remind me what really matters, took my focus off myself, and brought a new level of awareness to the privilege I grew up with.
A final question we like to ask all our interviewees: what makes you a powerful woman?
I have never been afraid of putting myself out there, and I always try to learn and grow from rejection.
To learn more about La Petit Écolière and purchase an item from their store, visit the website.