MEC's Samantha Kuchmak explains what it means to have a fashion career in social sustainability.
By Meghan McKenna
Date February 21, 2017
Sustainability is fashion’s hottest trend but one we hope will never go out of style. Finally, consumers are demanding that the brands they shop be socially and environmentally responsible, and the fashion industry is taking notice. At outdoor giant Mountain Equipment Co-Op, Samantha Kuchmak is the brand’s social compliance manager. We asked her to talk about her job and share tips on what it takes to make a career out of being a stylish person who is passionate about clothes and the world.
How competitive is it to get a job in your field?
There are a lot of interested and passionate corporate social responsibility people in Canada. As I work with more and more Canadian companies, both in apparel and retail, I am seeing more opportunities around social responsibility.
What’s your best advice to millennials trying to make it in your industry?
Travel! It gives you so much experience and perspective.
Do you have any advice for people who aren’t entirely sure where they want to work or what they want to do?
After university, I felt completely lost when it came to knowing what I wanted to do next. I think this feeling is totally normal. Sometimes we feel like we must be completely certain about the path we’re about to choose. My advice? Be open to new experiences and trust that each experience will open another door. My university professors gave this advice to my graduating class, and I was skeptical. Now that I reflect back on where I’ve been and who I am today, I see that it’s true. But my tips are this: Find a good mentor to learn from, and be honest with yourself in terms of what you’re passionate about and what you’re good at. This can help you decide on your path.
How important is it to network in your field? What’s the best way to go about doing so?
Networking is important as it helps to develop relationships with other brands and retailers in the space of social responsibility. Through my travel to trade shows, conferences and factories, I am constantly meeting people from other brands who hold a similar position. I cannot count the number of times where I have been able to call up another brand (REI, Columbia Sportswear, Patagonia, LL Bean, etc.) to ask them for support on how they worked through an issue or how they developed a program and rolled it out.
Is an internship required in your industry?
Internships are always a great way to gain experience, especially when fresh out of school. In 2008, I applied for an internship through the YMCA for recent university graduates with little work experience in their fields. It’s an excellent way to get a foot in the door and build up your resume.
How did your academic studies prepare you for this job? How did they not?
I studied geography at the University of Western Ontario. It was a fantastic program, as it opened my eyes to so many disciplines under the umbrella of geography: urban planning, geographic information systems, biodiversity and more. Throughout all of my courses and my time at Western, my academics taught me the value of critical thinking, which I use daily in this job. In many of my classes, we focused on world issues, such as looking at global water scarcity, or environmental protection laws and regulations. Geography is a vast subject and is eye-opening on a variety of topics. The global perspective and critical thinking help me in my role today.
What other industries make social compliance a viable career option?
So many. The toy industry, electronics, jewelry—the list goes on and on. Corporate social responsibility and sustainability is being built into more and more companies’ overall strategies and annual reporting.
Why do you think it’s important for brands to have a social compliance manager?
We all have an impact on our global economy. As a retailer and a brand, we purchase materials and products from around the world. We have a responsibility under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. We commit to having traceability within our supply chain and we treat all humans with respect and dignity.
What’s the most rewarding aspect of your job?
Travel has been a huge perk of the job. I love looking through my passport, reflecting on where I have been, the people I have met and the experiences I’ve had.