Gabriela Larenas-Acton is the director of Strategy and Business Development for Me to We Style, a company that provides socially conscious and ethically created apparel without sacrificing design. 50% of the profits from their buttery-soft tops, accessories, pants, and dresses (bamboo, baby!) go to Free the Children. Me to We products are manufactured in Canadian factories by adult workers who make a fair wage, and are able to provide for their families. Wouldn’t it be nice if that statement wasn’t such an anomaly?
What does a typical Thursday look like for you, starting from when you wake up – to heading to bed?
I wake up at 7:00 am and press the snooze button at least three times before I actually get out of bed. Get ready, kiss my husband goodbye and leave by 8:15 am. I am very lucky as I get to walk to work and I use those 15 minutes to disconnect, listen to some music and actually wake up, essential as I don’t drink coffee. I usually get to the office about one hour before most of my team which is great because it gives me time to prep and answer some emails. I cherish my mornings because that is usually the only time I have to myself all day. On Thursdays we have our directors’ meetings – this is a weekly meeting with each department head, where we review the strategic priorities of the company, share news and successes and plan ahead. In a small company such as ours, understanding the crossover between each department is crucial for growth. After the meeting, my afternoon can really vary depending on the time of year. This past Thursday I reviewed our final lookbook for our Junos apparel line (very excited!), confirmed inventory for our upcoming tradeshow and finalized a project management schedule for a client’s custom order. We have an open door policy and, thankfully, a very involved team, so my office is always full of people.
I try to leave the office around 6 pm, sometimes unsuccessfully, and get home to my very patient husband. During busy times at work we joke that he has a part-time wife. I quickly make supper, we eat together, relax a bit, and laugh at the day - that time together is very important to me. I also try to exercise. Currently I am training for the WWF CN Tower stair climb, so this involves me going up the 30 floors of my building a few of times before heading to the shower, maybe watching some Netflix, and then falling asleep in 30 seconds flat.
What was your first job out of school?
I have been working steadily since I was 16 years old and I held 3 jobs simultaneously during university, so really there was not much of a transition when I graduated. My first job out of school was as a special events coordinator for the Telfer School of Management at the University of Ottawa. It was a great experience from which I took 3 key things: a) project management is a transferable key skill b) I hate coordinating events but I like working with people c) coworkers and clients can become life friends
What are the 3 skills you require most to do your job well?
1. Listening and empathizing – whether it is clients or staff most people just want to know they are genuinely being heard and treated with respect.
2. Understanding that perception is reality – whether you are right or wrong is irrelevant if everyone else perceives it differently. Understanding other people’s viewpoints will also help you pick your battles
3. Being organized – you can’t have too many spreadsheets
What do you love most about your career?
Whether it means I oversee a marketing campaign, create a sales plan or understand production logistics, I love that I get to participate in all aspects of the business and keep learning along the way. I am especially grateful that I currently work for a company that:
a) Has a social purpose embedded in its DNA
b) Gives me the freedom to be innovative and bring projects to life without going through soul sucking red tape.
As well, I get to travel quite a bit. While at times exhausting, it is a pretty great perk as I have had the chance to visit places I would have not been able to otherwise.
Do you have any warnings?
Balance is the key to sanity – although not always achievable you actually have to make an active effort to take care of yourself. It is really easy to get lost in your work (especially if you like it), but don’t let your health/relationships suffer. You can’t be as successful or as happy as you could be if you are sick or have sacrificed loved ones along the way.
If you could try a different career on for a year, what would it be?
I would be a great lion tamer; I already have many of the skills! All jokes aside, I like learning, so I could pretty much enjoy most new experiences. Maybe my top two would be:
a) Professional Ballroom Dancer – I love dancing (I am originally form Ecuador) and the idea of just getting lost in hours of a physically demanding rehearsal sounds amazing to me.
b) Artist management/consulting- I think there is an opportunity to turn the music industry on its head and this would be challenging and innovative work (bonus, I could work with my husband who is in that line of work).