MotherFUNK Shop specializes in creating bespoke handmade items that keep textiles and other materials out of the landfill. All of MotherFUNK’s fun designs are inspired by using vintage, upcycled, or deadstock materials. Jane Smythe is the mastermind creative, curator and designer. MotherFunk emphasizes pillars of sustainability, justice, self-care, self-expression, and joy in all its products. We spoke to Jane Smythe about how she started MotherFUNK Shop.
What is the story behind MotherFunk? What aspects of sustainable thrift are you doing differently than other thrift upcycled brands?
Jane: MotherFUNK Shop is what I would refer to as a slow burn in terms of its development. I have always sewn for fun and went to school for theatre, where I designed costumes for several productions in my time there. It all snowballed from there. Friends would ask me to do little projects or alterations here and there, then those friends would recommend me to their friends who needed little projects done.
The process has all been very natural. Although, I will admit that there have been times where I felt like I had been forcing MotherFUNK to go in a specific direction based on trends or what I think people want. Then I realized that it’s when I have a low-pressure flow and let myself be guided by what makes me happy is when MotherFUNK as a company thrives! The heart and instincts are great tools we all have to work with, and we should use them as much as possible, especially with creative ventures, our philosophy, and how to make your business profitable.
In 2016 I saw this incredible documentary: “The True Cost” presented by a fashion sustainability advocacy group called Fashion Takes Action. This documentary changed my life and my entire perspective on the fast fashion industry. It helped me to re-shape my view as a fashion consumer and later as a designer and maker.
Something unique about MotherFUNK products, is that they are made from materials that used to exist primarily as something else. Some materials must get a ‘second life, not necessarily in what they were used for earlier, but in something else. I am invested in being an active participant in creating a circular economy where there is no shame in reusing items to reduce waste, and I hope that MotherFUNK inspires others to do that.
How did the business struggle through the pandemic?
Jane: Something that is so great about running your own business is that you can transform it into anything you want. Since the beginning of the pandemic, I have been trying to diversify my revenue streams and experiment with doing things I have always wanted to do or make. My newest items are the soy aromatherapy candles. I use reclaimed or upcycled containers like teacups and glasses to be used again after the candle is fully burned.
I am lucky enough to have a studio in my house located at St. Clair and Dufferin area. I have a mixture of curbside pickups, mailings and when there isn’t snow on the ground, I am delivering packages locally on my bike! My primary way of selling has usually been online. I didn’t start vending in person until the summer of 2020. All of the markets I participated in happened outside of Kensington Market. It was a fantastic way to meet new people and new clients. It also gave me a unique opportunity to talk to people about my brand in a very casual setting.
I have worked in the not-for-profit sector and freelanced as an Audio Visual tech while working on MotherFUNK on the side. Since the pandemic onset, I have been laid off from several jobs, but I am inching towards becoming a full-time entrepreneur between MotherFUNK and a few other opportunities and projects I currently have in development.
Thankfully, COVID has offered me the chance to discover and grow in terms of what I have to offer and realign the brand into something more authentic and meaningful to the community. I am lucky to have a strong base of regular clients, and those clients are very generous in spreading the word about MotherFUNK through posting about their purchases in their stories and word of mouth referrals.
What would you say are your top-selling products?
Jane: Right now, my top-selling products are my scrunchies and candles. I am also very grateful to have a steady flow of alterations and custom order clients as well.
How did your personal, academic, or professional background somehow unknowingly lead you to start the brand?
Jane: I attended university for theatre performance, and then I took a production course where I began to learn to make costumes. Normally, student theatre productions have extremely low budgets for costumes, so I was forced to be creative and seek out aesthetic and authentic options and low cost to make and source. I attribute a lot of these experiences to how I created MotherFUNK Shop. These experiences allowed me to see the potential in a material or an object in another form and transform it creatively into something entirely different.
How do you want Motherfunk Shop to inspire people and understand the more profound message, and what is your advice to new entrepreneurs?
I want to inspire others to make extraordinary things and not to be afraid to put it out there (whether it’s on your Instagram or just showing it to your closest friend!). I also want to provide people with the opportunity to live a sustainable lifestyle, whether that is through creating products to support that or by offering tips that I have learned along the way. This is a reminder that you don’t need to be perfect, but there are tiny things that you can do that will make the most significant difference on a global scale.
My most significant piece of advice: Be your own biggest fan. When you are your project’s biggest fan, it makes things so much easier. When you share the joy that something brings you, it allows others to share that joy with you. It is hard to put something you make out into the world, but when you do it, it inspires others to do the same!
What kind of tools and support are needed to help your business flourish?
I am great at telling people about MotherFUNK and what I do, but I need to become a better digital storyteller. My goal for 2021 is to develop a meaningful presence online. That includes creating more informational and educational content that aligns with MotherFUNK’s climate and sustainability justice values.
MotherFUNK Shop is based in Toronto, Kanada, the land of the Missasaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples. MotherFUNK seeks to find new ways to honor this land by sharing and offering ways to live sustainably and participate in community action, supporting the indigenous land’s protection and people. Every product provides for a great purchase, but behind it is a story, a message on how to live and exist in a world sustainably and positively.
Photo credits: Vic Shmik
Visit MotherFUNK Shop online: