Editor's note: This article was published in Grand Traverse Scene magazine's Fall 2021 issue. Pick up a free copy at area hotels, visitor's centers, chambers of commerce or at the Record-Eagle building on Front Street. Click here to read GT Scene in its entirety online.
Belinda Belanger is always on the move, and looks for clothing that will work to support her active and busy lifestyle.
As the physical education teacher at The Pathfinder School in Traverse City, Belanger spends her days moving alongside her students in an effort to encourage lifelong activity.
“As a teacher, I want kids to find things that they’re passionate about,” Belanger says. “Not everyone is going to be a sports player, but what are some skills I can teach them that they will take along in their life?”
Belanger encourages kayaking, running, and yoga. She also partners with local nonprofit Norte to encourage active-for-life values through bicycling, beginning with balance bikes in preschool.
The active nature of Belanger’s profession means that practicality is of the utmost importance during the school year.
That leads her to rely on casual and functional staples.
“So much of my wardrobe is race T-shirts and Traverse City Track Club gear,” she says. “Adidas joggers are my normal work attire.”
Belanger names Running Fit as one of her favorite places to shop for activewear.
When she’s not in school, Belanger describes being a little bit more exploratory with her style.
“I lean more towards minimalist fashion, with the occasional boho pieces thrown in,” she says. “I do have favorite places to shop for the non-practical clothing that I get to wear.”
In addition to teaching P.E., Belanger exercises her artistic side as a founder of Southern State of Minds, a vintage paper goods-focused small business which she runs with her husband.
“Everything that I’m more drawn to is repurposed and vintage, with more of an eclectic appeal,” she says. She sells vintage maps and more at Traverse City’s West Bay Handmade, as well as local craft shows.
Belanger shops at West Bay Handmade frequently to support her friend and business partner Catherine O’Connor. “[O’Connor] has so many different things that she brings in. She has some super comfortable sweatshirts that I absolutely love buying,” Belanger says.
Both in the school year and in the summer, being on-the-go and active means Belanger is always looking for simple staples. She names Toms slip-on shoes as a favorite for a cute and comfortable look.
Belanger describes her style as down-to-earth, which she lives out quite literally by putting a large emphasis on sustainability when she shops. She frequents the area’s consignment stores in an effort to reduce her consumption, and names Zany Consignment as a favorite stop.
“One easy way to help the planet is utilizing our consignment stores, and Zany is, like, the cutest store ever,” she says. “There are so many neat things in that store — the [West] location is super convenient, and its setup in the old house is super cool.”
Additionally, for new goods, Belanger frequents local shops who she knows hold strong values on environmental and social ethics.
“At Poppy Things out in Suttons Bay, [owner Chelsey Skowronski] does an awesome job to make sure the clothing she carries is environmentally friendly,” Belanger says.
Shopping locally and buying from people she knows is an easy way for Belanger to know her purchases were made ethically. “It’s really nice, with our local stores, that they do some of the leg work for you. You can go and shop without having to worry about, ‘Was this made in a sweatshop?’ ‘Were people being paid proper wages?’”
Belanger also finds that shopping locally has had positive impacts on her family’s health. After reading the ingredients in large soap brands, she began buying instead from Traverse City’s Lake Soap Company.
“The ingredients that are in it are things that actually I trust on my body, and with my kids,” she says. “It’s made a huge difference. My skin started to not be dry all the time when I switched.”
For the health of the community, the planet, and its individuals, Belanger advocates all around for shopping locally, and says the impact makes up for the differences in price. She also adds that shopping locally can be more inexpensive than people realize. “A lot of people are like, ‘You can’t beat the Amazon price,’ and I’m like, ‘It’s a dollar difference,’” she teases.
Lastly, as a maker herself, she realizes the importance of supporting neighbors’ business ventures.
“I would much rather have my dollar go to somebody where that person is going to use it to pay for their child to do dance class,” she says. “Shopping locally just helps build your community.”