At the table: A conversation with Candice Best

We talked with Candice Best, the founder of Best PR, which elevates purpose-driven and planet-conscious brands. Some Friends of Jenny might know her from the lady dinner we had before everything shut down—our last night out! Candice helped us organize it and introduced us to Kevin Allwood, whose incredible cafe KASPACE in Toronto was where we had the dinner. It was definitely a magical experience. Candice helped us curate some really interesting guests: ladies in the fashion industry, designers, entrepreneurs, stylists, women in the media—it was an amazing mix and we had some pretty real, honest, and open conversations, because what brought all of us together that night were our shared beliefs. We’re excited to do more of that down the road when we can meet again in real life (and we talk a bit more about that later on in the interview). Read on for our conversation with Candice about living and shopping sustainably, the 15 Percent Pledge which calls on retailers to pledge 15% of their shelf space to Black-owned businesses, starting conversations about racial inequality at home, and the power of community in creating impact.


Beth: Let’s start off with a big question: what sparked your passion for sustainability and social consciousness? 


Candice: It's an evolution. I'm sure you guys can identify with how things shift when you have kids, and for me it was my niece being born. Layla Saad, who wrote Me and White Supremacy, talks about how to be a good ancestor. It’s the idea of the future forward, and what we're leaving behind. I keep thinking about my niece coming to me 10, 15, 20 years and being like, "You knew about climate change. What did you do?" I call her my North Star because she asks me very deep questions already, and when she was born it was a real pivot for me.


Beth: One of those paths that set you on has been becoming plant-based in your eating; what has been the most significant reward from that shift in your lifestyle?


Candice: I originally started down the fully vegan path in 2013. My ‘why’ back then was different (my niece wasn't born) so I would fall off, then go back—but in 2017 I had a real health scare. I'd already started reading about all the benefits of being plant-based on chronic disease, so I shifted back for that reason, and then I got into the environmental side. You take one step, and it leads you to another step, and it leads you to question another thing, and then it just becomes normal to you. And I just feel fully good. I’ve got to tell you, initially it was for vanity reasons and anti-aging… and it’s one thing to increase lifespan, but what about healthspan? So the most rewarding thing holistically is the connectivity; I realized how much these small personal changes actually reverberate into a really big impact. My parents are now vegan, my sister is pretty much there, my niece is almost there. The other day my brother said, "You're like the vegan Jesus." 

  

Beth: What do you suggest as the first step for somebody who's curious about adopting a plant-based lifestyle?


Candice: Start following people who talk about it on social media. Some are doctors and they'll lead you to studies, a lot of which are suppressed by design because big ag and big pharma are such a huge lobbying force. There's also a really good book out now by a gastroenterologist who transitioned to a plant-based lifestyle, with over 600 scientific references all in layman's terms. It's called Fiber-Fueled by Dr. Will Bulsiewicz, and it makes it really easy. 


Ali: You've been connected to the fashion industry for a very long time, and, as you know, there's a shift towards sustainability that's been happening for a bit but has come to the forefront now. Sustainability is something that we continue to work on; it’s a continuous process, but it is very important to us at Friends of Jenny, and I know it is to you as well. What are you most excited about in sustainable and ethical fashion, especially when it comes to the roles of independent designers and small businesses?


Candice: I’m excited about finally giving people options in smaller businesses like yours, as opposed to a multi-store fashion retailer that takes a long time to pivot and doesn't necessarily take chances. You are forging super important relationships. I know you have a strong emphasis on female designers who are lifting people up, paying fair wages to people working in fair conditions, which propels them to be able to do better for themselves and their families. I think the pandemic has been an interesting time with people becoming more judicious around their spending but also having to slow down and pay attention, and I hope we’re going back to this to this “fewer, better” idea: reworking things, wearing things from last season, reinventing them, seeing that what you're wearing carries meaning.


Ali: You've also been a force for spreading the word on the 15 Percent Pledge, a movement started by Aurora James, another fellow Canadian. Could you tell us about some of the challenges that you have been confronted with while trying to help spread the word in Canada, and victories that have come about while you've been on board?


Candice: First I just want to give a big kudos to Mosha Lundström Halbert, who is a fashion multi-hyphenate and really the catalyst in bringing this to Canada and pushing the fashion retail segment into recognizing BIPOC in their buying. She ran numbers with the help of a bunch of journalism students and—wow—the percentage of representation of BIPOC brands across all categories is so poor. The challenge is with some of these major retailers; some are more conservative than others and are a little slow on the uptake. They've got a lot of power and they could move the needle pretty significantly with what seems like small changes, but I do understand the gargantuan effort internally to even switch their mindset. Which is why smaller, more nimble retailers like Friends of Jenny are so key to giving BIPOC designers space and being able to move quickly. Really, you guys are the bellwether for what's to come. The big retailers will follow you. And understandably, some of these BIPOC designers haven't been able to scale up. They didn’t have the funding to be able to go to the trade shows so they're not considered in the buying, and it’s another challenge to help them work in these bigger structures. They were completely shut out, they weren't even invited to the table. But the more you explore, the more you see. It takes a little more creativity in looking for them, but these days social media is such a good channel for exploration.

Ali: As soon as we scratched the surface we were finding all these beautiful brands. We’ve also signed the 15 Percent Pledge and are taking actionable steps to bring BIPOC designers into Friends of Jenny. One example is Petit Kouraj out of Brooklyn, who make beautiful fringe crochet bags, and we’re finalizing when they're going to land in the shop.


Beth: There are some Canadian jewelry brands that we're communicating with and trying to get on board as well. The reality, which is wonderful, is that so many of these smaller brands have been overwhelmed with the response, so they need to take their time to navigate all of that new interest. But we’re excited, and our goal is to have these pieces in place by the fall. 


Ali: Along the same lines, you have been a champion of the BIPOC community and the last few months have been an essential connector in Canada and throughout the US. Can you talk a bit about what the power of community means for you?


Candice: For one thing, right now during the pandemic it’s the connection with community that I miss. We're missing the micro interactions which we undervalued or weren't conscious of: going to a dry cleaner or your coffee shop, seeing people you don’t even really know, or maybe you just know their dog’s name, but you happen to show up in the same places at the same times and say hello. That is community, right? It fills you up. It inspires you in all kinds of ways. But again it comes back to this interconnectivity, in that we're all related. As we start to recognize that we live in an ecosystem and pushing for equality is not a zero sum game, everyone actually wins. For example, now you’re going to be able to bring fresh brands into FOJ, bringing their community to your community, and that sets off this whole reverberating impact. I keep saying, “The more you see, the more you see.” You can't unsee inequality. And you just start to wise up to how our implicit bias allows us to contribute to it in a way that breaks you down into tears; I didn't realize where I was contributing. And I go back to my North Star, my niece; I don't want her 15 years from now to be shut out from a job because of the color of her skin. She's so aware—and she has to be. Her parents have had to have those conversations with her already because kids have come to her in junior kindergarten about her skin color, her hair, and she wakes up in the morning saying, “I hate the color of my skin.” And she's 4! So that's why raising our voices and helping the community raise their voice on this helps everybody. Going back to Layla Saad, we can all think about what we are leaving behind, the path that we're setting down for the next generation. We will all be better when women are more equal, when BIPOC are more equal, when people with disabilities are more equal. You start to realize where you've let these things pass with silence, and silence is complicity. I've been so much a part of that, not recognizing it until relatively recently. It's all learning and, quite frankly, a lot of unlearning. It’s jarring to recognize these things in yourself when you think of yourself as not-racist. I have a piece by the amazing artist Harmony Willow with an Angela Davis quote: "In a racist society it is not enough to be not racist, we must be anti-racist." 


Ali: Beth and I, too, have been going through the process of unlearning and learning, doing as much reading and educating as we can, and passing the word as much as we can. With the situation we are in with covid right now, the critical place for us to start the conversations have been at home, with our family members, and especially with our children. 


Candice: That has been the starting point even in my own family, though the context is a bit different coming from the Caribbean where it’s multi-racial and racism plays out in a different way. There you have people of color in positions of power, and yet the centering of whiteness is still very much there. Growing up it was like, "I don't see color"—because we didn't, because there were all colors all around. So unpacking that with my mom and dad, initially they didn't get why that’s problematic, and now they’re championing for other family members and even understanding the movement to defund the police and what that truly means. I took that on as a project with extended family, sharing resources: ”Here's a good book.” “Here's an article.” Anybody can start with their own extended family. Silence is no longer an option. 


Ali: Let’s go back to that community dinner series that you so nicely helped us start. We had hoped it would be the beginning of something that we would do regularly, but right now meeting in person is obviously not something we’re able to do. So we’ve been discussing doing a virtual dinner party or discussion series with you, and hopefully we’ll be able to start that in the near future. If we were sitting in one of those discussions right now, what is something you’re excited about for the future that you would like to highlight for the FOJ community?


Candice: I’m part of a group of about 20 women based between the US and Canada who meet bi-weekly and we're about to launch something in the fall called the One Action Collective. The idea is taking one action per week, which can be under the category of Learn, Do, or Give. And within that we’re broken up into subcommittees: Civic Engagement (some of us are lawyers who have been looking into policy, some of us have been going to city council or working on petitions), Conscious Consumer, Community Development, Children & Family, and Corporate Accountability. I think there is a huge opportunity for relatively small actions that make a really big difference.


Ali: Keep your eyes on @candicebest, there's a lot more to come.