Why I Decided to Start a Sustainable Accessory Brand

Deanna Cook Founder of LIYA Collective

I've always been torn between the business and nonprofit sectors⁠—I went to a Canadian university to get a business degree, but ended taking half of my classes in international development and foreign languages.

During school, I also had the opportunity to study abroad in Barcelona, Spain, which was when I first realized: I had to explore more of the world.

So a few months after graduation, I packed up my bags and moved to Kaohsiung, a massive port city in southern Taiwan, to teach English for a few years.

As much as I loved Asia and was passionate about education, I felt pulled to shift my focus toward the social sector—which was how I ended up next spending two years working on marketing and fundraising with a school and nonprofit in Bagamoyo, Tanzania.

My time in Tanzania was incredibly transformative, but like everything, it came to an end, and I moved on to Bangkok, Thailand, where I completed a 6-month contract with an international development organization working in education and employability.

That brought me to Costa Rica, where I worked from my laptop to help nonprofits, social enterprises, and sustainable businesses with strategies to amplify their impact, as well as focused on building a brand of my own.

I recognize the extreme amount of privilege that's enabled me to make these choices and to lead this kind of life, and I'm so grateful for all the experiences that have shaped who I am today.

Throughout my travels, I've also learned a lot about our impact on each other and on the world, and over the past few years have slowly been trying to shift to a more conscious lifestyle.

From the skincare products I use to the food I eat, I've been trying to find better, more ethical alternatives to just about everything—including what I wear.

But besides the fact that fast fashion is destroying the planet, the other major problem I have with the fashion industry is that trends tend to come and go faster than you can get out of last year's leopard print.

And while I never thought that I would do anything in fashion, I used to follow a lot more trends and try to "fit in" with the way I dressed.

Now though? I mostly stick to simple outfits and neutral palettes, and when I do buy something, I look for pieces that will last me for years to come, and not just the following season.

So with LIYA, I wanted to build a brand that creates minimalist, timeless accessories that are sustainably made in some of the international communities in which I've worked.

Each collection is being developed in partnership with small, often family-owned businesses in a way that honours the traditional goods and skillsets of the region and supports the local economy.

I constantly struggle with the fact that we don't need any more "stuff"—but I do think there's a massive opportunity here to drive systemic change, both in the fashion industry and beyond.

I definitely don't have all the answers, but I at least want to be part of the conversation... and LIYA is my small step toward that.

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Wow, Deanna! Very thoughtful and inspiring. Thank you for sharing with us.


Well written Sweetie. Keep up the great work!


Hi Deanna
Happy to be reading your story! I really believe it’s having an impact even on my generation. Jane handed me a gift card for some time together in the winter having a pedicure or similar, specifically commenting on how she’s mindful of how much stuff we all have. Thank you for sharing! I’ll stay tuned. I know my Waterloo ladies are intrigued and honestly I can’t wait to gift them one of your scarves, then whatever comes next!?@

Denise Cook

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