There is a Groovement Out There and I Want in on it
Written by Michelle Lindstrom
Photos taken by Steven Csorba & provided by Jill Boychuk
Somewhere mid-2017, I heard about this great new movement (or “groovement” as its founder likes to call it) of athletic wear floating around circles I was slowly becoming more acquainted with—November Project, 5 Peaks, and MEC races. Why did so many people have these fun tights and I didn’t know where they were coming from? I had FOMO.
Clues slowly came in when I saw social media posts by Steven Csorba—local artist, photographer, and overall great human—about his work with EarthGroove and its founder, Jill Boychuk.
Still intrigued by the colourful tights, but also by this partnership, I searched EarthGroove’s website to get a better sense of the company. I thought I couldn’t be any more intrigued until I saw the “Giving Back” tab on the site, indicating how EarthGroove donates 10 per cent of every sale to a mental health initiative.
I knew I had to meet Jill. And so, a coffee date was set up for one evening in November 2017 for Jill and I to chat about how she started up her business and then for me to pick her brain about a girls’ youth empowerment program idea I had. Only scratching the surface of her history and knowledge at that meeting, I requested another in the new year to get to know Jill a little bit better.
“I think about when I pass away and all the things I would have wanted in my life,” Jill says, “and it would be to meet as many people as possible and make the biggest impact on them.”
Jill has worked as dental hygienist for 22 years, and for a periodontist (i.e., gum surgeries and dental implants) for the last 16 years. She’s aware the industries of dentistry and athletic attire are worlds apart, but she says her office work is less about teeth and more about empowerment and making a difference in people’s lives.
Empowerment and inspiring others is something Jill says her mom, an artist and Jill’s biggest fan, taught her about.
Jill’s mother, Connie Gudz, was a great artist but only realized her talent around age 60 when she finally started sharing her work with others. After about a decade of sharing her love and passion for art with Jill and the community, Connie passed away on November 9, 2011, from cancer.
“We spent two weeks at my cabin just her and I,” Jill recalls about the last few months of her mother’s life. By that time, the cancer had gotten into her bones and was very painful. Jill’s goal was to distract her mother from the pain by suggesting they draw pictures by tapping into her mother’s passion and amazing gift. They drew some designs in a book of prints for clothing, tights, flowers, and more.
“She can draw, I can’t,” Jill says. “But it was then I started to visualize [EarthGroove] but not yet believe it.”
Connie gave Jill three things before she passing away: She said, “Don’t regret anything; Don’t hold anger in you; And figure it out.” Jill figured it out and started EarthGroove in May 2012.
The initial glimmer of an idea about EarthGroove started seven years ago at a Boston Marathon as Jill stood waiting in her corral before the race began. “I had boring black sleeves on that rubbed me,” she says. “Then I looked over and a girl had sleeves on and they were kind of cool, but not, and that was my first thought about creating this.”
Jill has 10 marathons under her belt, three of them the infamous Boston Marathon, and then many trail and ultra races, too.
After that Boston Marathon seven years ago, Jill considered working with a Las Vegas company called WHOOHA (Women Having Optimistic Objectives & Healthy Attitudes) Gear that wanted to bring its women’s line, with inspirational words, into Canada. She met with the founders, saw their stuff and thought, “I could do that plus add worth and meaning into the clothing.” So, she decided against partnering with them and went out on her own instead.
“I went into work (dental office) and said, ‘I need a seamstress,’ and a girl at work gave me a business card of a lady who sewed draperies,” Jill recalls, getting the card of her now seamstress, Candie.
When they first met, Jill remembers walking into Candie’s home saying, “I hope you want to go on an adventure because I don’t know what I’m doing, and I need your help.” Candie’s response was simple: “Love to. Let’s go.”
The initial business plan for EarthGroove was to create some cool, unique athletic clothes. That was it. Neat and tidy. But Jill’s first sale at Rocky Mountain Women’s Run in Canmore for Mother’s Day 2012 made her realize it was going to be so much more.
Having fully committed to be a vendor at the Canmore event, Jill faced challenges fulfilling her commitment but decided she would have to get it all together in the five days remaining before race day. Meaning she had to create hundreds of custom headbands and arm sleeves for the race.
“I didn’t how it was going to happen. I didn’t have any machines because my sewing machine order was delayed, but I already paid for my vendor table.” she says.
Her solution was to hire women to sew out of their homes, and have her graphic designer make the headbands in Calgary, where she lived. And it worked.
Jill stood on the mountain that race day Sunday with her headbands and arm sleeves on the EarthGroove vendor table with a mixture of worry and pride. What if people didn’t like her stuff?
But the worry was overpowered by pride: “It was super sunny that day and I bawled my eyes out because I realized, I did it!”
The realization of the company being more than just about clothing made Jill go back to the drawing board regarding her business goals.
“I listened. You’ve got to listen to everyone around you and be open to it. It’s not really yours. You’re just the spark,” she says, relaying her hands-on business learnings. “Yes, it’s your baby but you have to be willing to let it go, too, and let others to contribute. That’s a big one.”
Being shy and determined, Jill was used to doing things alone and then being focused on “it’s all mine,” but she had to step back and change her thinking.
“I’ve always been a high performer with high expectations and was hard on myself,” she says. “Those are things that didn’t serve me well because I would get burned out and there’d be no potential for growth.”
Since getting out of that mindset, other companies, future ambassadors, and customers have reached out to her because they feel they’re a part of the process. It’s about them, too.
On February 10, 2018, right in Edmonton, Jill will be part of the panel for Blooming Ladies’ Passion to Profit Conference, which empowers women in all avenues of their lives. This is one of many offers for collaboration she’s been offered, with more in the works.
This year, you’ll see Jill’s gear at 5Peaks races and she also plans to launch her mobile store at the end of May with an outdoor community event or race associated to it. Expect it to have her signature “groove” somewhere in the event title.
“Groovement is just about movement: Groovy movement that everyone can be a part of,” Jill explains, regarding her use of the word and its connection to her community that evolved into a company name.
“I always liked the word ‘groove’ because I would say when we were running, ‘Get into your groove’ to everyone, just meaning, ‘Let’s get going.’ And then it translated into ‘We’re on the same path’ and the logo looks like a path. Also, I thought, my feet are on the earth and we’re connected, so I just put the two words together.”
“My ambassadors come back and say ‘We’re putting the Earth back in groove,’ ” she says, explaining they get the clothes really dirty (Earth) during races, but she proudly notes the garments (groove) come clean in the wash afterwards.
Her Past Groove: When Jill’s father was diagnosed with dementia she began EarthGroove’s mental health initiatives. “Dementia is different but it’s still the same [as mental health issues] in that people just don’t understand,” she says, adding that her father now lives in a home.
He’s a different person now, she says, “but then you realize, it’s out of their control and that’s when patience, understanding, and acceptance come in.”
EarthGroove led a mental-health initiative by hosting a fitness fashion show in June 2017 called Stand By Me, which connected community members and raised money for the CASA Foundation. Jill is also very involved with empowering women to reach goals, get out of abusive relationships, and become leaders themselves through her learning from various self-development courses, which she credits a lot for breaking her timid shell apart.
“If you would have met me seven or eight years ago, I was very quiet, and you wouldn’t have known anything about me,” Jill says. “But that’s not me now.”
It’s taken her time to get to this point and thinking back to what she’d say to her younger self, she lists: “It’s a process. Be patient and really have faith in yourself. You do have a voice that needs to be heard.”
It all translates into other areas of life, Jill says, using all her racing as an example. “When I’m running, I say, ‘Stay here, just stay here, keep breathing, you’re okay, relax, just don’t stop, keep going … .’ I keep doing that in races and I perform way better. I never think of the finish. I never think of that and the fear around it because then I won’t complete the race or do it as powerfully [as I can].”
Running taught her to flip her thinking away from her feelings. “Your feelings will say, ‘No, you shouldn’t do that. That’s not going to be good; you’re going to feel pain. I don’t want to keep going. You can’t do that. Why would YOU be the one to do that?’ All those things keep coming up.”
“I qualified for Boston because I had to be in that mindset (flipping her thinking),” she says, and does it within everyday life and her business.
As a mom of a son, 13, and daughter, almost 17, she’s very aware of the example she’s setting for her kids.
She acknowledges that her life is shaken a bit with new opportunities for EarthGroove, but admits, although exciting, it can make her feel very tiny with all of the emotions she’s stepping through in the process.
She faces that tiny, scary feeling by surrounding herself with people who care about her—good coaches, she calls them—and finding real connections with people who call her out on her stuff.
Those type of people are who she’s requested to be EarthGroove’s ambassadors, soon to total 15. She beams when describing them: They are good people with good intentions, who want to make an impact on others.
For Others: Some people have shared what they want in a print for Jill to create and she willingly obliges because she feels EarthGroove is theirs as much as hers—it’s part of a community.
“When I do a print, I want people to think that it means something and that it’s not just about throwing it together,” Jill says. “I sit with it sometimes.”
She sits with it and reminisces of childhood memories growing up in Brandon, Manitoba as the youngest of four: one sister and two brothers. She gets inspiration from nature out at her cabin next to a lake (where she took her mother to draw) and embraces the peace and inspiration it gives her to create activewear prints.
“My most popular prints are the moments like ‘Woods Endurance’ (a print name), which came from looking out from my cabin window at dusk into the trees,” she says. “I think about an image and then either draw it or take a picture of that moment and we (Jill and her graphic designer) recreate it.”
The print ‘Soar’ came from a picture Jill took while running; it’s of the birds in a sky that full of many colours. Her team then artistically enhanced the image “but it’s moments in time that are in my prints.”
The recent feedback she’s gotten including hugs, thank yous, and verbal compliments, are the five-minute interactions she labels “magical moments” because it mattered to both her and the other person.
“It’s why I do it,” she says. “It matters to your mental wellness, otherwise you’re isolated and second-guessing yourself. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing in life—it matters that you have someone saying, ‘You’re doing ok.’ ”