Tell me about yourself! Who is Roberta Lindal?
My name is Roberta Lindal and I am an advocate for girls and women's right to education. I was born and raised in Toronto and went to Western University for Language and Linguistics in London. During my undergrad, I was fortunate enough to spend several stints abroad both as a student, volunteer and an intern in Barcelona, London, UK and Nice, France. These experiences opened my eyes to some of the issues children and girls face in pursuit of their education and inspired me to start this company!
For those who aren't familiar, what is La Petite Écolière and how did it come to be?
La Petite Écolière is an apparel line that launched in September, 2017 with the mission to inspire a dedication for education. For every ten products purchased, we donate essential school supplies and meal programs for one child in a developing country through Plan International Canada. To date, we have been able to help 8 children thanks to our customers, and we plan to help many more! Our products are imagined, designed and Made in Toronto, Canada - and we ship worldwide.
I started La Petite Écolière after having spent several years volunteering and working at charities promoting education and entrepreneurship for youth. It dawned on me that girls here in Canada are being left behind in STEM disciplines at the undergraduate and career level. This is what inspired La Petite Écolière - the idea that if we can spark the interests of girls in science at an early enough age, we can get them interested and engaged in these important disciplines.
What started as a girlswear line is quickly expanding to adult wear, due to great demand from customers. We recently launched a unisex sweatshirt for adults and it is awesome to see the support from both men and women for the company and our mission! And we are hard at work on some new designs for 2018.
Your mission is founded on the belief that education for girls is a right, not a privilege. Why is this important to you?
I was lucky enough to grow up in a country and at a time where girls are allowed to go to school. So much progress has been made in Canada thanks to the women who fought for these rights in the past, and it is easy to think the work is done. But, when you look at the disparity in numbers of women in the C-suite, and in STEM careers, it is clear that we still have a long way to go in removing barriers and biases against women.
On a global scale, it is even more important to continue fighting for rights for girls and women. In many countries, girls face violence and discrimination of all types which hold them back, and even shorten their lifespan. Some barriers include poverty (cost of uniforms and supplies, or need to bring income to the family), stigma surrounding menstruation, long distances to school and child marriage and early pregnancy. Education is not only important for girls to help lift them out of poverty, but it is also important to educate communities and change the attitudes of girls being seen as "less" than boys. A study from UNESCO shows that globally, if all women completed their education, there would be 66% fewer maternal deaths as mothers would be more informed about diseases and preventative measures, and would be more likely to access healthcare services for themselves and their children. Not only that, but investing in girls' education will pay dividends: girls who have an education can better contribute to their communities and countries as leaders and innovators.
You donate school meals, supplies, and teacher training. How do these tools aid in the success of young girls?
For every ten shirts and sweatshirts sold, we donate school essentials for one girl through Plan International Canada. This donation not only helps provide textbooks and pencils, but also goes toward funding meal programs, teacher training, and programs that reduce school violence and improve school hygiene. By providing these tools and creating a safe environment for girls, they are able to attend school regularly and not be distracted by hunger or unsafe conditions.
What message do you hope to send with your merch--especially for any youngsters who might be wearing the empowering apparel?
The message that I want to send to young girls is that education is so important, and that they can achieve anything through learning. And that being a nerd is OK too. So much of the clothing marketed towards young girls are pink and frilly and gendered toys (which is smart marketing for toy companies looking to earn more) can actually harm child development. And while that is okay, and there is a place for that, I think there also needs to be space to let girls know that it is also OK to be interested in science, outer-space and dinosaurs. Those interests shouldn't be reserved for boys. I think much of what we think are natural tendencies for girls to be interested in dolls are acquired through nurture not nature, and the messages we send through the clothing and toys we choose for girls.
How can others help in supporting your mission in our own lives?
Talk to the young girls in your life about education. Ask them what they are learning, ask them what inspires them, encourage resilience and hard work! Children are very sensitive to social cues and by being aware of how we interact with young girls, and the toys and products we choose to give them, we can send more positive messages and values about education and what they are capable of.
Are there any charities or initiatives that you're currently inspired by?
Plan International is the charity that I choose to support through La Petite Écolière. They are a development and humanitarian organization that advances children's rights and equality for girls. Plan operates in 52 developing countries worldwide and drives change in practice and policy at local, national and global levels They empower children, young people and communities to make vital changes that tackle the root causes of discrimination against girls. When it comes to education and getting girls back in the classroom, their Because I Am A Girl initiative works with communities around the world to help keep schools safe for girls, provide school feeding programs, offer incentives to parents to send their daughters in school, educate boys and men about gender equality, and challenging gender roles and stereotypes in communities on the importance of girls' rights and gender equality.
What advice do you have for young women living in this world today?
My advice would be to put yourself out there and take steps toward your dreams. It may sound cheesy, but the old adage "dreams don't work unless you do" is so true. I had been quietly making plans and dreaming about this company for two years before I finally decided to incorporate and launch. The support from friends and people who hear about the company has been incredible. Once I started putting myself out there and reaching out to people and asking for help, I was taken aback by how much people are willing to support the mission!