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Resolution #1
Put together a GREAT press kit

Guest blogger: Susan Langdon
Twitter: susanattfi

Happy Holidays everyone!  The TFI office is closed until Jan 4th and I'm enjoying some time off but  it's hard to keep me away from the computer!

So I thought I'd send you some great tips to help you kick start your New Year's resolutions. Resolution # 1: Successfully sell yourself by putting together a fantastic press kit. Why? Don't you need to promote your product or service so you can make sales? A great press kit will help to promote your brand and differentiate your product.

Check out these great links for DIY tips that you can do:

Resident profiles updated

Guest blogger: Susan Langdon
Twitter: susanattfi

Check out the updated profiles for The Red Carpet Room and Mana M on the TFI Resident profile page here

GREAT images ladies!

TFI New Labels Round 2

Guest blogger: Susan Langdon
Twitpic: susanattfi

Whew! What a crazy & busy day! Photographers, videographers, designers, judges, writers - they were all here to take part in Round 2 of TFI's New Labels Fashion Design Competition.  

The 6 semi-finalists presented their 3 Little Black Dresses inspired by Barbie to the New Labels judges with hopes that they continue to Round 3 of the competition. Five of the six made it; one did not. Most of the remaining designers have some changes to be made to their LBDs so they will be busy over the holidays.

Check out my snapshots on Twitpic for a sneak peek at what happens behind the scenes at New Labels. More behind-the-scenes video coverage will be appearing on ELLE.com in the near future as well as in the April issue of ELLE Canada magazine.

To find out who was eliminated, stay tuned!

New Labels Competition Round 2

Guest blogger: Susan Langdon
Twitter: susanattfi

This Thursday, the 6 New Labels semi-finalists meet the 6 New Labels judges for round 2 of the TFI New Labels/ Little Black Dress fashion design competition. Designers must present 3 LBDs (Little Black Dresses) inspired by Barbie for real-life women.

Will anyone be eliminated in this round of the competition?
Stay tuned & find out!

Staying Alive

Guest blogger: Susan Langdon
Twitter: susanattfi
I'm having a teleconference meeting with  our 6 TFI New Labels semi-finalists on Monday as a face-to-face meeting is technically impossible.  Hayley and Anastasia will be calling in from Montreal, Lindsey from BC and Paris is in China at the moment! 

I'm trying a new teleconference service called www.freeconference.com. It's actually not free, you have to pay long distance charges to dial into a number that's located in Indiana (?!) but there's no admin fee and the site will send an invitation to participants & handle RSVPs.  I'm finding that the RSVP confirmations are not being sent to me immediately which is frustrating. Good thing I followed up directly with everyone so we're all on board.

We will be discussing what the judges will be looking for and why they might eliminate someone in this round. 

There are so many nuances that can affect the judges' decision but here are some that I recall from past years:

• Poor sewing quality of your samples
• Poor fit of your samples (we hire Rachel Bryan from B&M for our New Labels fitting as she is a perfect model size 6)
• Unprofessional presentation (unpressed, soiled samples, poor hangers etc.) - this shows that you don't care about how you present yourself
• Poor interpretation from your sketch to garment (your sample does not look like your drawing i.e. skirt isn't full enough, proportions are off, silhouette is completely different)
• Poor choice of fabric for the design
• Requested changes aren't addressed
• Attitude!  

My advice is to always be grateful and gracious even if you're eliminated. You'll never know when you'll meet these important people again. Be open to their ideas and don't get emotional. If they think that you can't take the heat, they won't have much confidence in your ability to survive in this very competitive field. They want to choose a winner who will survive and thrive after New Labels.

Six New Labels Semi-Finalists!

Guest blogger: Susan Langdon
Twitter: susanattfi
I know I've kept you in suspense but I wanted to wait until most of the applicants had picked up their "results" letter. So here's the news: 6 talented fashion designers from across Canada have been selected to compete in TFI's 2010 New Labels Competition! There are 3 from Toronto, 2 from Montreal and 1 from British Columbia. They are:

Toronto, ON
Paris Li
by Justine Diener & Kristin Poon
House of Groves by Jennifer Waters

Montreal, QC
Birds of North America by Hayley Gibson
Anastasia Lomonova

Nelson, BC
Zen Essentials by Lindsey McTavish-Mint

Stay tuned for competition updates! The next judging session takes place December 17th

Quality of Construction

Guest blogger: Susan Langdon
Twitter: susanattfi

I'm sitting here reviewing the judges' comments for the New Labels applications that weren't selected. Here is a summary of the most common reasons why designers were not chosen this year:
  • The proposed collection is not cohesive; a stronger edit is needed
  • Too many colours and fabrics which makes the line look confused
  • The illustrations were too abstract and hard to "read", particularly since the technical sketches were also very poor
  • Styles are very matronly and not fashion-forward
  • The proposed collection is too costumey and not marketable
  • The quality of the submitted samples were very poor resulting in the judges' lack of confidence in the ability of the designer to execute the proposed designs

For those who were not selected, we appreciate your interest in New Labels and hope that the feedback you receive will help you to develop a winning application next year.

New Labels Review

Guest blogger: Susan Langdon
Twitter: susanattfi

Last Thursday, TFI held the first leg of the New Labels competition with judges: Rita Silvan, ELLE Canada (she's head judge); Derick Chetty, Toronto Star; designer David Dixon; Adriana Gut, Mattel Canada; Jason Morikawa, Holt Renfrew; and stylist Peter Papapetrou.

In total we received 16 New Labels applications from across Canada and it was pretty obvious that some applicants spent a lot of time and thought on their submission and some did not. Some people took advantage of all the tips and advice I've been sharing via our tutorial held November 2nd and also on this blog. Simple tips like these made a huge difference:  "If you can't draw, hire someone who can" and "Don't send your samples on wire dry cleaner coat hangers".

Stay tuned to find out who was chosen as a semi-finalist in TFI's New Labels Fashion Design Competition!  Hint: 3 from Toronto were chosen, 2 from Montreal and 1 from British Columbia.

What is an outfit?

Guest blogger: Susan Langdon
Twitter: susanattfi
A number of you have been sending us questions about the 3 outfits you need to submit with your New Labels application. Here is what you need to know:

1. An outfit is a top AND bottom OR it can be a dress. You cannot send just a jacket as that is not a complete "look".  The reason we ask for"outfits" and not "pieces" is that the judges need to see enough product to formulate an opinion about the consistency and quality of your past work.

2. If you do not have outfits from a previous season, then my suggestion is to make 3 dresses that reflect the LOOK and QUALITY of your brand. Do not send in school projects unless you did an excellent mini-collection in your final year.

3. If you don't have professional hang tags to tag all of the pieces you're submitting, DIY by laser printing some cardstock with your brand label and cut to size.

4. In the fashion industry, the placement of your hang tag is equally important. Usually it's on the side of the garment that faces OUTWARD towards the customer. For example, tag your garments on the LEFT side of each piece. For pants & skirts, pin/ tag your hang tag at the waistband. For garments with sleeves, pin/ tag your hang tag from the underarm. 

Hope this helps,

Louboutin is tickled pink with Barbie

Guest blogger: Susan Langdon
Twitter: susanattfi

Christian Louboutin has created a shoe inspired by Barbie! Check out these babies:

You too can be inspired by Barbie by entering TFI's New Labels Competition. Click here to download the application. Deadline to apply is November 24th by 5pm (Eastern Standard Time).

New Labels gets all dolled up

Guest blogger: Susan Langdon
Twitter: susanattfi

Check out today's Toronto Star http://bit.ly/2PLOgJ

There's a great article about TFI's New Labels competition and the $10,000 cash prize being offered by Mattel Canada. So what are you waiting for? There's only 5 days left to send in your entry (and btw, we've already started to receive submissions!).

What could you do with $10,000?

Get Cracking on your New Labels application

Guest blogger: Susan Langdon
Twitter: susanattfi

So here's the BEST tip I can give you re: putting together a winning New Labels fashion competition application:  Don't procrastinate!  If you want to impress the judges, you'll need time to create a fantastic submission. If you think you can pull an all-nighter and get it done, it won't happen. You'll need to submit a couple of reference letters from people in the industry who will vouch for your credibility, talent and responsibility...and no, I can't write these for you.

Questions? email TFI and we'll do our best to get back to you asap

Atlanta's Fashion Conference

Atlanta is a beautiful city, particularly the Buckhead area where I'm staying. The W Hotel is gorgeousand if you approach somone on staff for help, they ask, "What is your wish?".

I've met some very passionate women who have/are spearheading fashion incubators in their region: Laura from Chicago, Christine from Washington DC, Deirde from Dublin and of course Cynthia from Atlanta.

It's very interesting and perhaps reassuring to know that we and our entrepreneurs share similar challenges, no matter where we live. We're here to brainstorm best practices and to discover opportunities. I'm thrilled that TFI is regarded as the world model!

Prepping your samples for New Labels

Guest blogger: Susan Langdon
Twitter: susanattfi
Whether you're submitting samples for the New Labels competition, showing samples to the media or presenting your line to buyers, there is nothing worse than presenting crumpled, soiled, unbuttoned and "tired" samples.

Imagine being on the receiving end of these garments; it's like picking through someone's dirty laundry!  What results is your reputation and brand being soiled. 

So treat your samples to some TLC and get them cleaned and pressed. For professional pressing, almost everyone in the fashion industry in Toronto uses DMACK.  They're very fast but also very busy so be sure to make an appointment and allow a few days. The number for DMACK is 647.430.4989.

Tell your story chapter by chapter

Guest blogger: Susan Langdon
Twitter: susanattfi
A story board also keeps you focussed on the THEME of your collection. 

Think about an author who writes a book; they've come up with a story line and they develop it chapter by chapter. They don't come up with a story line then stray from it and start writing about something completely random - as a reader, you'd get confused. Well your collection is your story in a visual format. Tell your story piece by piece and stick to the story line; it will help you to develop a coherent and consistent collection.

Developing a Story Board

Guest blogger: Susan Langdon
Twitter: susanattfi

Last night at our free TFI New Labels tutorial, I talked about developing a story for your collection. Why? It's one of the first questions the media ask when they interview you so you've got to be ready. 

The best stories are those with a personal slant. Take a look at this example I found on WGSN.com:  

If I was still designing and this was my story board, I might say that last summer when I visited Berlin, I came across a fantastic vintage store that carried old postcards from bygone eras. I was immediately captivated by the greyed, muted tones and the images which provided a snapshot into the culture of the times.

My title for my story might be "Faded Memories" for example, and I would embellish my board with bits of vintage fabrics, buttons and yarn to give it 3D texture.

Anyway, I think you get the idea. Think about your story; make it personal.

An unbashedly glamorous muse for New Labels

Guest blogger: Susan Langdon
Twitter @susanattfi

Barbie will play muse to designers interested in applying to TFI's New Labels competition this year. Of the 15 proposed Fall/Winter 2010 outfits that a designer must create for the competition,  3 must be Little Black Dresses inspired by Barbie.
If you missed the New Labels tutorial last night, email TFI and ask us to send you my Powerpoint; it will help give you more direction.

Be sure to download the application here http://bit.ly/lxvhN and send it to TFI no later than 5pm Toronto time, November 24, 2009. 

Why enter?  YOU could win a $10,000 cash prize offered by Mattel Canada and a $25,000 prize package offered by ELLE Canada

My Big Fat P&G Beauty Gift Bag

Guest blogger: Susan Langdon
Twitter: @susanattfi

Last night at The Carlu, P&G Beauty held its inaugural P&G Beauty Awards, to recognize Canada's talented editors, writers, photographers, models and artists that bring magazines, newspapers, blogs and website to life. I was very honoured to participate in the Awards from its inception and developmental stage through to being a judge and then as an award presenter. Congratulations to all of the award nominees and winners who included Clin d'oeil, ELLE Canada, Flare, FASHION and new model Addison Gill from Sutherland who won "Best New Face".

It was a bit nerve-wracking being a presenter alongside some very experienced on-air pros like Jeanne Beker from Fashion Television and David Clemmer from Style By Jury. They made it look so effortless! Meanwhile, I had the jitters while waiting for my turn at the podium. Despite all of the public speaking I've done, I still get a bit nervous before I go on stage. When I was younger, I had such terrible stage fright that it put an end to my potential singing career (I studied at the Conservatory of Music - piano and voice).

Anyway, I think I pulled it off okay. We had a 2-hour rehearsal ahead of time from start to finish so that made me feel more at ease. It was my first time using a teleprompter too; such a weird experience but easier to do than expected.

Nia Vardalos, the Academy Award and Golden Globe-nominated actress and writer of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, was emcee and she was AMAZING! What an excellent choice to lead the show. She was funny, charming, professional and very stylish in her black beaded dress with chiffon capelet sleeves. She made everyone feel so much at ease that once I got on stage with her, I was no longer nervous.

So here's what I learned about Nia Vardalos last night:

• While a nerdy teen growing up in Winnipeg, she discovered that thanks to perfume, she didn't have to go around smelling like a feta and bacon sandwich her whole life
• She studied theatre at Ryerson University and then went on to performing at Second City in Toronto & Chicago
• In person she's only a size 6! (Makes me wonder what size women like Oprah and Queen Latifa are in person)
• She is a super nice person! Such a lovely Canadian trait to retain

The whole evening was superb and I applaud P&G Beauty for hosting a fabulous and memorable event. Oh yeah, about the gift bag; it must have weighed 10 lbs! It was laden with tons of goodies from Cover Girl, Pantene, Wrigley's, Cadbury and more.
I feel spoiled. I hope I'm invited again next year!

More photos from TFI's Press & Buyers Breakfast

Guest blogger: Susan Langdon
Twitter: @susanattfi

I just uploaded more images from the TFI Press & Buyers Breakfast on Flickr here

Here's a sampling of some great shots from Verve Photography:

Gorgeous floral corsage from ever thine

This is TFI guest blogger & outreach member Jennifer Borgh on the right with her model wearing some pieces from Jennifer's bridal jewellery line

And here's Toronto's Mayor David Miller being interviewed by the media

Photos from TFI's Press & Buyers Breakfast

Guest blogger: Susan Langdon

Here are some great photos from the TFI's Press & Buyers Breakfast. It was held on October 16/09 and previewed the spring 2010 collections from 19 TFI members. 
Photography by Verve http://www.vervephotoco.com/blog/

Check out Mayor David Miller! He looked dashing in his purple shirt & tie as he provided the welcoming remarks. Many thanks to our fabulous event sponsors: The City of Toronto Economic Development, P&G Beauty, Amazing Food, Wrigley's and Rowenta.

Not a great way to spend Saturday night

Guest blogger: Susan Langdon

I had to miss Friday of LG Fashion Week as I had way too much work to complete but I was looking forward to seeing Joeffer Caoc's spring 2010 collection on Saturday night to wrap up the week.

The invitation said 9pm but I was told to get there early. After over an hour's wait, my friend and I had to leave for another event. I felt badly for leaving, but I wish I had known what time the show was really scheduled for. We could have gone to the other event first (it started at 8pm) and then to Joe's.

LG Fashion Week
Hot shows and fillers

Guest blogger: Susan Langdon

It's Friday and the last day of fashion shows at LG Fashion Week. I regret not being able to attend all of the shows I had hoped to see but work comes first.  But it was good to get out and away from my computer; met some fellow Tweeters for the first time, @brasandranties and @suleymani, as well as many TFI members.

There were a lot of great shows this week: David Dixon, LOVAS Pink Tartan, Sears & NADA to name a few.  

LOVAS is by Wesley Badanjak, David Dixon's full-time assistant. Where on earth Wesley found the time to create 33 great looks is beyond me! The guy probably didn't sleep for a month! Anyway, this new designer shows a lot of promise. His clothes fit well, showed interesting seaming and were very well made. I'm guessing that he's learned a lot from working with David. He also picked some fantastic music for his show. I sat beside Vanja Vasic, founder of Alternative Fashion Week, who was really into it; stomping, and jumping very enthusiastically! Vanja explained to me that it was Serbian music and both she and Wesley share that cultural background.

NADA's show was spectacular and I was very impressed that it was as equally strong as her Fall 2009 collection (which was outstanding). I think she's finally fine-tuned her groove; deftly mixing leather and chains with lace, pearls and very defined shoulders. She's always favoured that aesthetic even back when she did New Labels (2005 - when our show was held at BMW). But now, her style is refined, confident and consistent. It's such a pleasure to see someone who has gone through New Labels and Residency at TFI to progress and become successful. I can't take credit; Nada has worked very hard to get to where she is today. All I can say is that I gave her a chance and always believed in her potential when maybe others didn't.

I also have to say that NADA's styling was the best I've seen this week. Anyone who knows me, knows I love big chunky necklaces and I lusted over the pieces in the show  designed by Shay Lowe. Shay: call me! I'll place an order today!

But there were also some shows that weren't so hot. I mean, don't send a pair of plain beige pants and a cream tank top down the runway; we all know this is a filler.  A "filler" is an outfit that's sent down the runway to simply buy time. Sometimes a filler is a bland outfit, sometimes it's a duplicate of something else in a different colour, sometimes it's a transitional piece that bridges one story to the next. Anyway you cut it, no one is going to write about that outfit. People: you can't fool us. We can spot a filler the second it hits the runway, or showroom for that matter.

The worst part is when a filler is used as the show finale - ugh, bad idea. At one show on Thursday, someone near me exclaimed incredulously, "That couldn't be the finale piece?!", which elicted a number sympathetic nods.

Well, today should be interesting. Three Project Runway Canada finalists are showing: Brandon Dwyer (he, who didn't know who Yves Saint Laurent was), Jessica Biffi and Lucian Matis. Call it the real life battle of the reality stars; wonder who will come out shining on top?


Guest blogger: Jennifer Borgh
Twitter: @jenniferborgh

From personal experience, I have decided that actors, models and designers are three of the top careers that have to deal with rejection on a regular basis.   One day you are rejected, and the next day several stores may pick up your line.  

To be a viable business you need to have the product/service market ready, work hard, have an amazing marketing plan, as well as have the cash flow but you also need to have thick skin when it comes to rejection.   I don’t even want to think about all the rejection I have had over the years.  I once flew to New York to stand in line for most of the day to have Henri Bendels tell me they thought my jewelry looked similar to something they were already carrying.  I did however meet some friends for life that live in New York and over the years we have shared ideas and suggestions with each other.  

For years I contacted a particular high-end fashion store in Toronto with no avail and then a few years ago they saw me at the TFI Press and Buyers Breakfast and that season they contacted me!  Once you have established the need for your product/service it’s so important to take a traditional sales approach and find ALL possible opportunities and just start working towards them.  It’s also important to listen to feedback.  When 5 stores tell you something, you might not listen, but if 50 stores tell you that white is not the colour they are looking for this season then chances are you are limiting yourself if your entire collection is white.  

Throughout all the rejection, I have had some great success so I know that knocking on as many doors as possible really does work. Never let rejection get you down and quickly move on to the next opportunity.

TFI Press Breakfast

Twitter: @jenniferborgh

I rarely set my alarm since my daughter wakes me up every morning before the sun rises but today I set both my Blackberry alarm and my radio alarm just to make sure I was up on time because today was the TFI Press Breakfast.  I quickly got my daughter ready for school and then headed out the door.  Because I moved quite far north this summer it was still pitch dark when I left the house.  My car was jammed full of display items, my jewelry and my press kits.  Most people have their morning rituals and mine are as unique as I am.  I always eat chocolate and blast some good music before meeting with clients so I did the same this morning.  It just seems to start the day off right.

Since I have done many shows and this is my third year doing the Press Breakfast my set up (although different every year) was pretty quick.  I make sure to plan the display at my office (a.k.a. my dinning room table) to make sure it fits on the space provided.

TFI the provided us with a quick breakfast and coffee (catered by Zimbel's Café) to get all of the designers on a positive note before the guests arrive.  

Not only were all the designers ready to go early, but as they do every year the doors also opened 10 minutes early.  To me this is so shocking at a fashion event.  Over the years, I have discovered that most fashion events run late.  Some fashion shows even run hours late.  As a person who is on-time 99.9% of the time, it’s something I have never been able to get used to.  

By 9:30am the venue was filled with guests.  This year’s attendees included Glow Magazine, Chatelaine Magazine, The National Post, Elle Magazine, and Fashion Magazine.  Also in attendance was Mayor David Miller (in a stylish purple shirt and tie) who spoke of the importance of amazing designers continuing to put Toronto on the map.  Executive director of TFI, Susan Langdon, also spoke of the amazing designers and the partnerships and sponsors that make an organization such as TFI able to nurture and support new designers. Among the sponsors for the event were P & G Beauty, The City of Toronto and Rowenta.  

By 12 noon the event is over and is being wrapped up.   Designers also got a P & G gift bag with Cover Girl™ Lash Volume Mascara, Pantene Pro V ™Style hairspray, Olay™ Quench body lotion, Gillette™ Style Precision Putty and other sponsors such as Wrigley’s ™ included Gum and Zimbel’s Café who gave a homemade brownie.  One lucky designer won a Rowenta Steamer (Ohhhh how I was hoping to win so I could put it to good use for my wedding day steaming emergencies).

It was a pleasure to be included in a show with 18 other talented designers. I can’t wait until the stories and articles featuring these designers start popping up all over magazines, TV, radio, newspapers, and internet. So exciting!

19 Talented Designers Featured at TFI Buyers and Press Breakfast

Guest blogger: Jennifer Borgh

This year 19 designers were featured at the TFI Buyers and Press Breakfast, each of them bringing a unique product to show the top media and buyers in the GTA.  Be prepared to hear a lot of talk about each of these talented designers.  Each Canadian designer is at a different stage of their business, some more established then others and some are very new.  Look for their Spring 2010 Collection.  To familiarize yourself with these up-and-coming designers please check out their websites or contact them directly.

Label: Bora Birs            
Designer: Szilvia Bora            
Website: www.borabirs.com
Category: Women’s wear
2010 Inspiration: The feeling of beautiful Cape Cod
Interesting fact: Szilvia Bora worked with Canadian Designer Joeffer Caoc

Label and Designer: Brook Alviano            
Website: www.brookalviano.com
Category: Handbags
2010 Inspiration: Adventurous city dweller
Interesting fact: Brook spent a year in Korea teaching English

Label: Carina Black   
Designers: Lizann Grupalo and Bridget Reid
Category: Handbags
Website: www.carinablack.com
Interesting fact: Carina Black donates funds from the sale of every handbag to support initiatives that directly improve the lives of women and children.

Label: Ever Thine      
Designer: Mikki Rizvi              
Website: www.everthine.ca
Category: Accessories
2010 Inspiration: Beauty of nature
Interesting fact: Her collection is handmade from her mother's vintage Indian saris and textile remnants from her aunt's fashion house.

Label: Faren     
Designer: Faren Tami            
Website: www.faren.caCategory: Women’s wear
2010 Inspiration: 90’s grunge pop-culture mixed with high-tech digital prints.
Interesting fact: Faren just won the 2009 TFI New Labels Competition

Label: Hip Line            
Designer: Eve Kinizo   
Website: www.hipline.org
Category: Clothing
2010 Inspiration: Pushing the envelope
Interesting fact: Eve is also a filmmaker

Label: Hortense Salvatore 
Designer: Hortense Salvatore 
Website: www.hortensesalvatore.com
Category: Women’s coats and jackets
2010 Inspiration: Beautiful Spain
Interesting fact: Hortense was born and raised in Lima, Peru

Label: House of Groves   
Designer: Jennifer Waters
Category: Women’s wear
Interesting fact: The designer uses some natural fibres and eco-friendly fabrics.

Label: I.M.I Fashion            
Designer: Imneet Sahota              
Website: www.imifashion.caCategory: Women’s wear
2010 Inspiration: Beauty of nature
Interesting fact: She travels to Paris, Milan, and Dubai to gain inspiration for her collections

Label: Jennifer Borgh Events 
Designer: Jennifer Borgh 
Website: www.jenniferborghevents.com
Category: Fine jewellery
2010 Inspiration: Rich textures from nature
Interesting fact: Jennifer is also a wedding/events planner

Label and Designer: Krista Prendergast            
Category: Active Sportswear
Interesting fact:  Krista is involved in a major sports event in Vancouver( details TBA)

Label: La Garnine             
Designer: Judith Chiasson
Category: Women’s wear
Interesting fact: Her line is environmentally-friendly materials (bamboo and organic cotton)

Label: Micalla            
Designer: Camilla Jorgensen            
Website: www.micalla.com
Category: Jewellery
Interesting fact: Camilla was born in Denmark

Label and Designer: Paris Li            
Website: www.parisli.net
Category: Women’s wear
2010 Inspiration: Asian philosophy of beauty and elegance
Interesting fact: She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Fashion Design from Lu Xun Academy of Fine Arts in China.

Label: Patouche            
Designer: Kessa Laxton            
Website: www.patouche.ca
Category: Children’s wear
2010 Inspiration: Every collection is based on a fairytale and this one is inspired by a trip to Neverland.
Interesting fact: Her background is working as a designer and scenic artist for the theatre world

Label and Designer: Paula Lishman            
Website: www.paulalishmaninternational.com
Category: Accessories
2010 Inspiration: Hybrid fur
Interesting fact: Paula invented knit fur

Label: Savillian Designers: Jas and Jessie Banwait           
Website: www.savilliam.com
Category:  Men’s wear
Interesting fact: Jas and Jessie have no formal training in fashion - Jessie has a degree in computers and Jas has a degree in science.

Label: Starkers! Corsetry                 
Designer: Dianna DiNoble      
Website: www.starkers.com
Category: Women’s and Men’s wear
2010 Inspiration: Retro feel and explores the balance of textures and shades as well as straight lines.
Interesting fact:  There are between 26 and 32 flat steel and spiral steel bones in each corset, depending on the style and size

Label: Therapeutic by Design 
Designers: Jana Asman and Maggie McDowell
Category: Linens
Website: www.therapeuticbydesign.com
Interesting fact: both Jana and Maggie are Registered Massage Therapists

TFI Press Breakfast goals

Jennifer Borgh- Jennifer Borgh Events- TFI BLOG 
Twitter: @jenniferborgh

After years in the fashion industry and now several years of wedding planning under my belt, I have a new found confidence about my business and what I have to offer.  I have a solid product and amazing service that I truly believe in.  I have been published in several magazines, newspapers and TV shows and I already have many contacts that have been built up over the years.  I am always learning but I now consider myself an expert on many topics in both the wedding planning field and jewellery designing field and I have something to offer media.  I can offer them solid content for their articles and I can offer quotes and ideas for upcoming articles.  

I love the media and I owe much of my success to them. The media loves TFI's Press & Buyers Breakfast show as they don’t have to sift through hundreds of press kits to find the top designers as TFI has already spent the time doing that.

Any show is a huge investment in time and money and I always think before I apply:  Why do I want to do this show, does this show portray the image that I want for my brand? What am I going to get out of this show (awareness, sales, contacts)?  Do I have the time and money to maintain my brand both in display and product?

This year my goals for the TFI Breakfast include:

-Introducing my new business name (as I was married in the summer and have taken my husband's last name).  A new name means a new brand and I need to let everyone know.

-Meet new media- some are completely new and a lot of the same people are the same as in previous years but often change jobs.

-Let media and celebrities know that my jewellery is available at The Style Box and also on my website so they can easily borrow or buy pieces of jewellery.

-Introduce my new jewellery line.  As I design both bridal jewellery and a line of one-of-a-kind pieces there is always something new to present.

Getting things done

Guest blogger: Jennifer Borgh- Jennifer Borgh Events
Twitter: @jenniferborgh
All of my weeks seem to be busy these days but this week seems particularity busy.  As a very organized wedding planner and jewellery designer, I always make a to-do list to keep me on track.  My daily list always has many things that I need to-do for my 8-year-old daughter, respond to client inquires immediately, and update my Facebook/Twitter status.  This week's list also includes: Finish press release, confirm details with professional model, design and make new jewellery, take photos of jewellery, update my marketing plan for 2010, attend sales seminar, update website, print press kits, prepare press kits, plan display for TFI Press & Buyers Breakfast (although the ideas are already in my head), write my own BLOG, write the TFI blog, attend the Gemini Fashion night, get ready for Bahamas (I have been invited by the Bahamas tourist board for a tour of destination wedding locations) and pick up my new passport! 
This Friday will be the 3rd time I will be participating in the Toronto Fashion Incubator’s Breakfast event.  I just love this show, as ONLY the top 20 designers that apply get in and they don’t sacrifice the quality of any of the designers to fill the spots.  The designers are Canadian, edgy, creative and market ready.  If designers aren’t ready with their marketing and designs then they are invited to try again next year.  I think of it like the Canadian Idol of designers, except only your press kit deals with the rejection or kudos (you have to submit a kit with your application).  The most exciting part of participating in this show is the high calibre of media and press that attend:  Top magazines, newspapers, TV, and a few Canadian celebrities.  There is even an application for media as they must also meet the requirements and have proper credentials.


The Glass is overflowing

Guest blogger: TFI member Jennifer Borgh


As a commitment to my business I am constantly improving myself by trying new ideas, going to seminars and conferences and reading books.  To be a jewellery designer, clothing designer, or wedding planner, post-secondary education and a degree are not necessary, but any successful entrepreneur knows that ongoing education is one of the most important investments you can make in your business.
A few weeks ago, I attended the Wedding MBA conference in Las Vegas.  As with most conferences, some of the seminars aren’t very helpful to established businesses but are still a great opportunity to network. There were several outstanding seminars and a few others had information that I already knew and yet they were a nice reminder of ideas forgotten or words of inspiration.  For the past few years, I have made a conscious decision to surround myself with positive people and only focus on the positive aspects of life.  I am human so it’s definitely challenging some days but most days I am full speed ahead and focused.  When I hear or read positive words, I get so excited about my own business and just love the attitude that some entrepreneurs have.  I think that it’s great that no matter what your business is, the same positive attitude can help you and your business reach great heights.
Here are a few of the key points about staying positive I took away from the Wedding MBA.  I hope that they inspire you to be positive about your business.
  • Don’t get caught up in anything that doesn’t improve your business.  (Eg: bad talking or gossiping about a competitor)
  • Don’t focus on the negative.  Always consider the glass (your business) overflowing and not just half empty or half full.
  •  If things aren’t working change them.  Expand your business, downsize your business, add another service/product, or take away a service/product. Re-visit your business plan and make changes if you aren’t happy with the outcome.
  •  If you have a good product/service that the market has a need for, then the rest of your business is in your hands.  If you are genuinely positive about your business then others will also be positive about your business.


Guest blogger: Susan Langdon

Knew it! Forgot some more fave fashion Twitterati -

@benbarryagency - Ben is a fashion entrepreneurial dynamo; just try to keep up with him!
@EcoLuxRules - Susan from Syka Textiles reports on happenings in Vancouver and in the world of eco-friendly textiles
@NathAt - I love Nathalie Atkinson's musings from the National Post; she's a very strong supporter of local talent

And from the world of Toronto politics -

@mayormiller & @Adam_Giambrone - these two gentlemen are huge supporters of TFI and they understand the economic benefits and enormous potential of Toronto's creative industries ; who wouldn't love them for that?

The Fashion Twitterati

Guest blogger: Susan Langdon

I like Twitter because when you don't have a lot of time, it's fast & easy to do. Just 140 characters per post and you're done. The only thing I don't like is that there's no spellcheck!  Tweets are posted immediately - typos and all. Thank goodness I've seen typos in almost everyone's posts and not just mine - they seem inevitable given that almost all of us are using our Blackberries to make entries (hard to type when the screen is only so big and the characters are even tinier).

Follow me @susanattfi! Here are some of my favourite fashion Twitterati. I like to read them because they post lots of entries and they're authentic. Nothing worse than reading a fake post but these are great because you get to see some of the personality behind the personality if you know what I mean:

@LisaTant - Flare's editor-in-chief is hilarious with her biting wit
@Jeanne_Beker - her Paris Fashion Week posts were fabulous; felt like I was there (sadly I was not)
@finalfashion, @geekigirl - local fashion bloggers with a pulse on what's happening
@gailmcinnes, @jasbanwait - TFI residents who know how to use social media well

If i've forgotten you, send me a DM @susanattfi

TFI Press and Buyers Breakfast RSVPs

Guest blogger: Susan Langdon

Getting really hyped about our upcoming TFI Press & Buyers Breakfast this Friday. Some fantastic RSVPs have arrived:  3 buyers from Holt Renfrew, buyers from Chasse Gardee, Coco & Lowe, Model Citizen, Fashion Crimes, all of the newspapers, fashion magazines and of course, Mayor David Miller.  Catering provided by Zimbel's Cafe (Adelaide & Spadina) will be super yummy and gift bags from P&G Beauty - am looking forward to a fantastic day!

TFI Press and Buyers Breakfast RSVPs

Guest blogger: Susan Langdon

Getting really hyped about our upcoming TFI Press & Buyers Breakfast this Friday. Some fantastic RSVPs have arrived:  3 buyers from Holt Renfrew, buyers from Chasse Gardee, Coco & Lowe, Model Citizen, Fashion Crimes, all of the newspapers, fashion magazines and of course, Mayor David Miller.  Catering provided by Zimbel's Cafe (Adelaide & Spadina) will be super yummy and gift bags from P&G Beauty - am looking forward to a fantastic day!

TFI Social Media Research
We'd love to hear from you

Guest blogger: Kim MacGregor

Are you wondering how to leverage the ever-growing popularity of social media to build your fashion brand and grow your business? Maybe you want to know which sites you should have a presence on?  How best to use Twitter, Facebook or Flickr? How to create a blog?  How to create successful brand alignment? Or, How to convert followers and friends to paying customers?

Whatever your social media questions are, we want to know them!

Email your questions by October 12th to Kim at  kim@beawoman.org with TFI Social Media Question in the subject line.  Questions will be put before a panel of social media experts for an upcoming discussion about using social media to grow your fashion business.

Thanks, we look forward to hearing from you!

McQueen online show Oct 6th

Alexander McQueen will stream his spring fashionshowlive from the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy on Oct 6th. Check out www.alexandermcqueenlive.showstudio.com at 20:15 Paris time.

New Labels prize now $10,000!

Guest blogger: Susan Langdon

I can't tell you much, at least until Nov 2nd. But all you need to know right now is that we've upped the ante and the New Labels prize package will include $10,000 CASH plus $25,000 in media exposure and business support. Be the first to get the scoop by attending a New Labels tutorial on Nov 2nd at TFI.

TFI Welcomes Evelyn Reynolds
Volunteer TFI Mentor/Consultant

Guest blogger: Susan Langdon

With a career spanning over 30 years in wholesale and retail operations in the UK, Canada and the US, Evelyn Reynolds' passion for the fashion industry is as strong today as when she started and this drive is a prime factor in becoming a TFI mentor.

Evelyn is highly accomplished in business management and merchandising.  She has worked closely with partners to create innovative marketing plans, develop sourcing/ production strategies and retail operations.  Her business plans and entrepreneurial vision have resulted in growing both brands and companies in terms of annual volume and profitability.

3 key areas where she can assist TFI members:
  • Practical assessment of a business model to establish opportunities and implement retail strategies

  • Helping start up businesses understand the needs of retailers
  • Review and development of commercial merchandising strategies to build relevant offerings, without losing the fashion essence of a new brand

Contact TFI to set up a consultation with Evelyn today!

Andy Hall

Guest blogger: Susan Langdon

Check out TFI's newest Resident, a new design duo whose company is called Andy Hall. http://tinyurl.com/andy-hall-tfi

Friends of TFI

Guest blogger: Susan Langdon

Another busy day!  Spent the whole morning trying to figure out how to hook up my laptop to the large tv screen in TFI's new meeting room.  Gave up after 2 hours.

At 10am, I tuned in to 680 News to hear Mayor David Miller announce that he isn't planning to run for Mayor for third term next year. Sad news :(  He is a huge supporter of TFI and Toronto's fashion industry. 

Later that afternoon, two of our fabulous volunteer mentors, Mary Jo Looby and Wanda Ho, hosted an intimate gathering at Wanda's Yorkville home for about 40 of their close friends.  They wanted to let them know all about TFI and the upcoming ELLE Canada benefit fundraiser for TFI that will be held on Sat, April 24, 2010 at The Carlu (SAVE the DATE).  Some of the ladies brought their daughters as they listened to our featured guest speaker, Jacqueline Howe, publisher of ELLE Canada magazine. Jacqueline explained what a publisher does and what she's responsible for. Thanks Mary Jo & Wanda for a lovely event and for the Prosecco & yummy treats!

Dashed back to work by 5pm and finally got the laptop/tv hookup working after several calls to Future Shop (where I bought everything a month ago).  So we're good to go with our free WGSN demo on Monday at 3pm. If you haven't signed up yet, better call 416-971-7117 x 21 asap. There are only a few seats left.

Cashmere BT Collection

Guest blogger: Susan Langdon

Busy day today; after the AGO & ROM media preview it was off to the White Cashmere Collection 2009. For those of you who may not know what this is, it's a collection of one-of-a-kind designs created by Canada's top fashion designers, crafted from bathroom tissue!  I was fortunate to have curated last year's collection and through that process, I gained an even greater appreciation for the talent we have in this amazing country of ours. The designers are given huge bolts of single-ply bathroom tissue that are 72" wide - talk about being very delicate. They must incorporate both white and pink colours into their creations and can only use a limited amount of "foundation" fabric underneath.

This year's collection was curated by the very talented stylist, Peter Papapetrou, and featured fabulous pieces from 15 outstanding designers. I was very impressed with Tavan & Mitto's puffy coat, Greta Constantine's fierce jacket and Sunny Fong's butterfly-inspired gown (below). You can't really see it from this shot, but from the side, the skirt's panels are cut out and shaped like the wings of a Monarch butterfly. The bodice is "wrapped" with the wings of the Monarch too. Beautiful and expertly crafted. More images can be found at www.cashmere.ca.

More Art & Glamour

Guest blogger: Susan Langdon

Here's an image from Art & Glamour that appears in the ROM's exhibit.  Steichen captures a very pensive Katherine Hepburn - LOVE it.

Art & Glamour

Guest blogger: Susan Langdon

The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) and Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) are co-presenting an extraordinary photographic exhibit called Art & Glamour. The exhibit features rare and vintage celebrity portraits that have appeared in the magazine for over nine decades.  My personal favourites are the images taken in the 1920's and 30's by Edward Steichen, Vanity Fair's chief photographer from 1923 - 1937.  This selection of photographs appears at the AGO.

If you're looking for inspiration, check out the bias-cut details in the many fashion photographs on display. You just don't see patternmaking like that anymore!  And who doesn't love glamorous images of celebrities and swells putting on the Ritz? Count me in!

Bring in the Guests

I don't think you know how bad I feel by neglecting you and this blog! Summer brought so many opportunities, but none of them were fashion-related. It seems as though I am destined to work in film and television, which is quite fantastic since I love fashion, film, and pop culture equally. So it only makes sense that I accepted a job at the CBC on "The Hour" with George Stroumboulopoulos (www.cbc.ca/thehour/index.html). If you see any fashion-related stuff on the show or the web, you'll know I snuck it in there just for you!

Unfortunately, this means I no longer have the time to bring you information on how to start a fashion business. I will do my best, but in the meantime, the TFI will bring you guest bloggers. I'll pop in from time to time to say hello and share any information I find.

In the meantime, please read through the archives. If you're thinking of starting a clothing company or already have one, I hope it will help you out. And don't forget to join TFI - it's been an invaluable resource for me and countless others, not to mention a fantastic non-profit.

It’s Been a While…

I know, I know. You’ve been checking in to see what’s happening on the TFI blog all summer long, but you haven’t seen anything! I feel bad for that, but I’ve been so busy with a writing project and a few film production opportunities that I have neglected my fashion duties. Can you believe it? Neither can I!

But this week, I worked on a fashion event: The Style Box (www.stylebox.ca) launch party and show. I was the show coordinator and have some new production tips for you:

* Communication is key: ensure everyone knows what’s happening, from show organizers to models, hair and makeup artists to dressers. 

* Be flexible: our venue double-booked a room, so we had to work as hard as possible to finish backstage prep an hour ahead of schedule. It was a bit difficult, somewhat stressful, but we did it.

* Remember the little things: keep volunteers and crew happy by keeping them hydrated and fed. Contrary to popular opinion, models do eat.

* Be organized: arm yourself with a day timeline, crew names and numbers, and pre- and post-show outfit/accessory lists.

* Do a rehearsal: you’ll have a better show if your models and dressers are familiar with the clothes, runway, music, choreography, and timing. The show organizer(s) should watch the rehearsal from the audience and then offer direction to the models and crew while they finalize hair and makeup after the rehearsal.

I missed my fashion stuff! I do think there will be more events coming up and I really will try to make time to report on them in a way that helps your fashion business.

FRIDAY, MAY 29, 2009
Q&A: Event Planning with Meagan from WORN Fashion Journal

WORN Fashion Journal (www.wornjournal.com) is one of my favourite publications, covering fashion from a DIY perspective. The website is fun and excellent, and WORN even plans the coolest events. There’s one at the Bata Shoe Museum on June 6 (www.wornjournal.com/html/soled-tickets/), where guests will see 24 pairs of Keds re-interpreted by some of their favourite designers and artists. I’m going to visit the WORN office and interview the team after the event, but thought you’d like to hear some words of wisdom from their event planner, Meagan.

Carolyn: What's your story? How did you become the WORN event planner?
My discovery of WORN was rather fortuitous. I'd just moved here from Stratford after finishing my degree and travelling around Southeast Asia. I came across the publication at Canzine. I devoured three copies back to back, and immediately sent an email to Serah-Marie asking how I could become part of the team. I knew this was something I wanted to be a part of. As it turned out, they needed someone right away to take charge of the Winter Formal Slow Dance, so I jumped at the chance to get involved.

C: You have an event coming up on June 6 at the Bata Shoe Museum. What are you doing  to prepare for it?
Along with the editor Serah-Marie and our great intern Chelsea, I'm trying to keep one step ahead of everything - see the problem before it even arises. Right now, we're really focused on the little details, coordinating the logistics of how the evening is going to run. We're also doing our best to make this event highly visible. It's great because it's a 'triple threat' fundraiser with something for everyone- we can target the arts community, the fashion community and the music scene. Obviously, there's some overlap, but this event really appeals to a broad range of people, similarly to the journal itself.

C: What are your main concerns before an event?
I always have a small panic that no one is going to show up, but I think that's just my dramatic imagination. WORN is really lucky to have a loyal, supportive readership, in both Toronto and Montreal. There's always a great response to our events. Aside from attendance, I like to confirm everyone who has agreed to contribute party supplies or their time. There's nothing worse than having someone back out at the last minute, or finding out you don't have access to something you were counting on! Also, I have no clue what I'm going to wear.

C: Each event is different, but typically, what do you do the day of an event?
I treat myself to brunch and try to visualize how the party is going to go. It sounds cheesy, but it helps so much to picture it in my head how I want everything to go.  I like to create a timeline of exactly what needs to happen when, from noon to midnight. There's usually a big list of things that need to be picked up and delivered to the site, and last minute details that have to be taken care of.

C: Do you have any advice for a fashion business owner who wants to plan an event on a  budget?
One thing I've learned is the beauty of the old-fashioned barter system. We're really grateful to have collaborated with people who are willing to make trades with us. As an indie publication, WORN doesn't have a huge budget, but there are things like ad space, web promotions, tickets to events, subscriptions etc. that we can offer in exchange.You have to evaluate your resources, and make them work to your advantage.

THURSDAY, MAY 28, 2009
Did You Hear About Mercy and Diane Von Furstenberg?
A Copyright Q&A with Jennifer and Richard from Mercy

Last month, National Post columnist Nathalie Atkinson uncovered a major fashion scandal: Diane Von Furstenberg ripped off a design from Toronto label, Mercy (www.mercystudio.com). Her article (http://network.nationalpost.com/np/blogs/theampersand/archive/2009/04/23/copycat-style.aspx) was picked up on sites such as Jezebel, Black Book, Vogue Australia, and Counterfeit Chic (www.counterfeitchic.com/2009/04/dvf_does_the_right_thing.php) and made news around the world. It was a huge deal because Diane Von Furstenberg is the President of the Council of Fashion Designers of America and personally active in addressing the U.S. government on fashion design copyright protection. Nathalie posted an update (http://network.nationalpost.com/np/blogs/theampersand/archive/2009/05/13/copycats-a-tale-of-two-jackets-part-deux.aspx) and I highly recommend reading both. Here is Nathalie’s exhibit of the jackets in question. Diane Von Furstenberg’s is on the left and Mercy’s is on the right:

I spoke with designers Jennifer Halchuk and Richard Lyle at their studio (176 John Street, Suite 501) about their adventures in copyright law:

Carolyn: What did this experience teach you about design copyright?
This experience has definitely been a quick study in copyright law, and intellectual property. I actually got quite involved in the inestigative process, as there was a lot of information on the internet regarding not only our case, but other copyright law issues. We were represented by a large New York law firm, which we felt was necessary for the New York jurisdiction, as well as for the high profile of the company involved.
One of the most important things we learned was the difference between current copyright law, and the proposed laws in the Anti-Piracy Prohibition Act. A few lawyers at our NY law firm were ctually part of the first draft of this bill, and had strong opinions regarding its pros and cons.
C: When should a fashion business owner copyright designs? In other words, is the investment in time and money worthwhile for a small business owner?
A business owner should consider copyrighting or protecting a design when:
  • It has been investigated and proven to be a unique design
  • It is financially viable to maintain the annual copyright fees, and to police the copright regions
  • The copyrighted business can afford to take legal action against copiers.
C: Will this experience affect your business practices?
While we would like to protect/copyright a few of our unique techniques, it is always a financial factor that is the decision maker.

It also takes a lot of time away from new designing.

I would like to be able to do this, but as we sell to the U.S., Canada and Japan, and soon Europe, it would be very expensive at this point in time, as each area would need its own copyrights. As we have been so focused on protecting our design ideas during this settlement with DVF, I feel it creates an unhealthy  environment to be constantly wondering who is copying our ideas. While we learned a lot from this experience, it is important to move forward in a positive direction.
We did enjoy a great amount of press, and it will help us in the future as we grow in new markets. Every situation can have a positive outcome.

Have a Passion for Fashion? Check out the TFI’s Newest Program!

At a press conference today, the Province of Ontario announced its investment in aspiring fashion entrepreneurs ( http://tinyurl.com/fashionincubator)! Under the Youth Entrepreneurship Partnerships (YEP) program, Youth Employment Services is partnering with the TFI to provide training and workshops on fashion entrepreneurship for youth aged 16 to 29.

The TFI is holding two Passion for Fashion information sessions at TFI offices on June 16th and 22nd. If you’re interested, check it out here: http://tinyurl.com/passionforfashion.

Above, 2nd from left, Ontario's Minister of Small Business & Consumer Services Harinder Takhar cutting a pattern at the press conference. He's joined by designer David Dixon (far right), Gabrielle Zilkha from YES beside David and a fashion fan beside the Minister

TUESDAY, MAY 26, 2009
Q&A with Faren Tami, New Labels Competition Winner

I was lucky enough to grab a few moments with TFI New Labels Competition winner, Faren Tami, who started her own company, FAREN (www.faren.ca). She was busy planning a launch party at her store, Freedom Clothing Collective at 939 Bloor Street.

Carolyn: What's your story?
It’s hard to say what exactly it was that sparked my interest in fashion, but I like to think it was an innate ability I couldn’t deny. At a young age, I knew that fashion was going to be my career. Fashion was in my blood; most of my relatives are from an Italian background and have a connection with the fashion industry.
Over the years my persistence and love for the industry grew; I eventually ended up at Ryerson University to pursue fashion design. I graduated the 4 year program in 2005 and landed a career as the assistant designer at NuMode Apparel. I have had the privilege of working with a rotating roster of New York designers, and more recently, David Dixon. I cherish the experience I have gained while working in the industry and over the past few years I have been developing my ideas and my skills, I think the competition was just a step in the right direction in making those ideas a reality. Becoming the winner was such an honor - I am so fortunate to be where I am right now.
C: Why did you apply for the TFI New Labels Competition?
The TFI New Labels is a highly recognized event for young designers and I felt the competition to be a great avenue to develop my name as a designer.   

C: What did you learn from the TFI New Labels Competition?
I honestly don’t know how I worked a full-time job and develop this collection - it definitely challenged my strength and passion for this industry. This competition has taught me you NEED to love it! And I do!

C: What are your future plans?
As for the future, I am taking one day at a time; however, I do plan on continuing the “FAREN” label and eventually branching off into a children’s wear line. Traveling is also in my near future, I hope to live and learn in Florence , Italy .

C: Do you have any advice for anyone starting a new fashion business?
If you are planning on starting a business fresh out of school – don’t. It’s better to learn on someone else’s money by making contacts, networking and learning production methods while getting paid! Once you feel confident in your skills and ready to get out there to start a business remember the 3 P’s: patience, passion, and persistence. These are key qualities in starting and sustaining a business of any kind.

FRIDAY, MAY 22, 2009
Interview: Sunny Fong a Month After Winning Project Runway Canada

Sunny Fong (www.vawk.ca) stood out in the Project Runway Canada competition. His infectious smile, positive outlook, impeccable construction, and impressive final collection won over judges and the show’s audience. It’s been over a month since the finale show aired and revealed Sunny’s triumph, so I thought it was a good time to catch up with him.

Carolyn: Congratulations on your Project Runway win. How has your life changed since the finale?
Thanks! Well there was a career change; I had to slowly ease my responsibilities as a graphic designer to becoming a full-time fashion designer.

Right now it’s more business development, in regards to starting up the line, once that is settled, I’m going to start designing my Spring/Summer 2010 collection.

C: What business lessons did you learn on the show?
I guess the business lesson I learned was that there is no fashion without business….and fashion is a business, it has to be considered as seriously as the design. Listening and understanding the client/market is important to be successful.

C: Would you recommend the experience to other designers?
I really enjoyed the experience - I love stress. The show is a competition between designers and to compete in that environment really is a true test of skill and talent. Though it’s not a realistic situation, it really is a test. It’s about endurance. I would totally recommend it.

C: What are your future plans?
My plan is to get the line launched in Canada first and really look into markets outside Canada. I do want to establish my line internationally. It’s going to be a lot of work, but that’s the goal.

C: Do you have any advice for someone who wants to start a fashion business?
I guess my advice is really plan out what you want to do in the industry and go for it. If it’s to start up your own line, don’t forget about the business aspect; that’s what is going to keep the line afloat, and if it’s not your strength, find someone who can do that. Look outside yourself, network, call, and connect with people in the industry. There are a lot of people who are willing to help, or can give advice. Plan out everything…you don’t want to be catching up season after season.

THURSDAY, MAY 21, 2009
Carolyn’s Film Club: “Fashion in Film”

While browsing titles at my local movie rental shop, I saw one about two of my favourite things: fashion and film. Knowing nothing about the documentary “Fashion in Film”, I picked it up and was not surprised by what I watched. If you’re a fashion aficionado, you won’t be surprised either, but it would be a great documentary for a high school Home-Ec class or anyone considering a costume design or styling career.

The movie interviewed actors from fashion-y films such as Jennifer Beales (“Flashdance”!), Malin Akerman (“27 Dresses”), costume designers, stylists, models, and clothing designers. They addressed iconic movie wardrobes, how film influences fashion, and the partnerships between designers and actors on the red carpet.  Overall, it wasn’t a bad little movie, but I think the subject was too broad. It could have been split into several shows.

There's an entire festival devoted to fashion film. It’s called the Fashion in Film Festival (www.fashioninfilm.com), which began in London and will travel to New York in 2010. Hmmm…I think I see a New York trip in my future next year.

More Late Breaking News: Toronto Alternative Arts and Fashion Week

[FAT] organizes designers, artists, dancers, and bands according to themes and I experienced Planet and Gutter.

The April 22 date for Planet was a great way to celebrate Earth Day. The fashion varied from experimental art to comfortable streetwear, but the main message was that eco-fashion is progressing. I was especially impressed with the Deadly Nightshades (http://nightshadesbikecrew.blogspot.com/) premiere collection, complete with introductory film. Speaking from show production experience, incorporating multi-media in a show can be tricky, but these girls pulled it off with a great video. I absolutely loved that the members of this  bike gang/design collective modeled their own clothes. I hope they continue that tradition in future seasons because it gave future clients and fans a connection to the designers, their vision, and their personalities. It was a perfect example of how to use non-professional models of all shapes and sizes.

Gutter night provided extreme, political, and raw art. Some presentations worked, others didn’t.

Kirsty McKenzie (KirstyMcKenzie.etsy.com) got it right by presenting a cohesive collection and models who worked the clothes. I like the designer/model relationship she has with Lena Love (www.myspace.com/misslenalove), who modeled in Kirsty’s collection photos and brought personality to Kirsty’s runway.

Unfortunately, IMAGOzine’s presentation wasn’t as successful. The concept was admirable: I think it was to show as many designers as possible and put on a great show. Though initiative and hard work were clear, the concept was too lofty for the [FAT] format. The IMAGO show was so packed with designers and performers, it was too long, especially since it was the last show on a Thursday night in a group lineup. Group fashion shows should be edited for maximum impact and designer exposure. Speaking of exposure, there were no announcements, programmes, or AV projections informing the audience of the designer. I sat through a 30-minute show without knowing who showed! The clothing and models were interesting and innovative, but suffered in the group show setting.

Overall, I admired the risk, creativity, and rebellion at [FAT]. Even if I didn’t like one artist, another came along shortly. It’s all about exposure to new artists, ideas, and interdisciplinary collaboration. Certainly, there were organizational hiccups since it’s a young event and it is difficult to organize a night of fashion, film, music, photography, and dance, but [FAT] is a necessary alternative.

TUESDAY, MAY 19, 2009
Late Breaking News: TFI New Labels Competition

By now you all know Faren Tami of FAREN (www.faren.ca) won the TFI New Labels competition on April 25 and most news has already been reported, but I just have to tell you about the show. In a word: impressive.

It was the best New Labels show I’ve seen. Four finalists presented professional, well-edited, superbly styled, forward-thinking, entertaining, creative, wearable, and marketable collections.

Since the New Labels competition introduces impending Canadian fashion designers, I am happy to report that environmentalism and sustainability are our future. Faren and Sonja den Elzen of Thieves (www.thieves.ca) both used natural fabrics with design innovation.

Jody McMillan looked to the past for her Jody Leigh (www.jodyleigh.com) collection, inspired by wartime photos of her grandparents. Her presentation illustrated how styling adds to the runway. Accessories were made from buttons on the garments; these details tied the collection together and it was clear that she worked closely with stylist Juliana Schiavinatto.

It was interesting to see Cheryl Gushue’s GushueSwim (www.gushueswim.com) bathing suits on the runway since there aren’t many Canadian swimwear designers. I liked how she used jewellery from her own accessory line to style the looks.

All the collections impressed the audience, so the judges had a difficult task, but it was probably easier since they were judging on the six-month competition process rather than one night of final collections. New Labels participants are indeed judged on performance through the entire competition. It is Project Runway done right by preparing competitors for survival in the fashion business.

MONDAY, MAY 18, 2009
Monday May 18: Long Weekend Special Bonus!
Interview: Adrian Mainella, Fashion Journalist

As mentioned on Saturday, I met Adrian Mainella (www.adrianmainella.com) at the Kol Hope Foundation gala. You probably know him from Fashion File (www.fashionfile.com), but he’s also a contributing editor at FASHION (www.fashionmagazine.com), and Editor-at-Large at Zink (www.zinkmag.com). He was kind enough to chat with me about Canadian fashion.

Carolyn: We’re at a fundraising gala, so I have to ask how you think Canadian designers can work with charities?
Adrian: There are a few things they could do that would be very smart. The first, of course, is…if you have a gown or suit, you can offer it to someone who will be recognized at the event; maybe the host or a number of other people who will promote their piece to a room of five or six hundred people and the media as well.

The second thing they can do which is really smart is they can offer a consultation to build an outfit or design a dress as a charity draw. I think that’s a really smart way to go about it, to offer a hundred-dollar certificate towards one of their gowns.

For young Canadian designers, they have to sell clothes. There’s not a lot of money they have to market or give away free dresses. But if they have a dress that evening where we’re like, “Oooh, I love that dress!” and “Oooh, I’ll get a hundred dollars off if I enter this raffle!” that will further allow them to make that dress and maybe even profit off it and get a new client as well. I know it sounds small, but for Canadian designers, a lot of the time, it’s one client at a time. And it’s a great way to attract clients.

C: Given your travels around the world, do you have advice for Canadian designers who aim for international business?
It depends on the platform they are going to use. If they are going to the Canadian fashion weeks, be it Vancouver, Montreal, or Toronto, I would say the biggest advice I could give them  - and I would like to give to them – is: edit your collections. It’s a fear they have that people aren’t going to see everything they’ve done and unfortunately it doesn’t translate to a fashion show. You always want people wanting more and you want to give people a feeling of your collection, not the entire showroom.

The second thing they can do is build small. I think there’s this great hope with designers is that they’re going to become the next Galliano, and I hope they do, but it’s not a bad thing if they build an atelier where they build a great living and get recognition. Look at Brian Bailey, for instance. They should look at that model about how to service their clientele, whether it be under a retail boutique or through one-of-a-kind dresses outside of that big picture of grand manufacturing. There’s a lot of money to be made there, unless, of course, you’re selling a lot of garments.

C: How can Canadian designers get your attention?
Be savvy and network. It’s unfortunate, and you have to be a good designer first. A lot of artists don’t have that svengali quality to network, but it’s important they get out there and network because eventually someone will see them and say you should meet an editor of a magazine, a host of a fashion show, all those things. Networking is surely the way to get things done. [At events they should] introduce themselves and try to really put their clothing out there where the right people are going to be.

I’d like to tell Canadian designers: Don’t waste money on a four-year program if you’re going to be a designer. Get out there. Work two summers, save your money, go to London, go to New York, maybe even Toronto, Montreal, or Vancouver, to a designer you really love. Intern for them and it will be brutal. They will treat you badly, but the skills you will acquire at a big house are essential to being a great designer. That’s the greatest advice I could give. The schools are going to kill me, but I think that’s the honest truth.

SATURDAY, MAY 16, 2009

Give it Away: A Branding Lesson from the Kol Hope Foundation Blue Sapphire Gala

I had not heard about the Kol Hope Foundation (www.kolhope.com) before my friend Jeff Rustia invited me to its Blue Sapphire Gala on Saturday May 2. Jeff is the producer and host of Club Fashion (www.clubfashion.tv), who happens to be the gala organizer and father to the foundation’s namesake. You have to hear this little boy’s story:

Kol, who was born with Trisomy 13, a genetic syndrome, and was diagnosed to live three months. Against all odds, Kol turns 12 this year. Though he lives day by day, and is on life support, breathes through oxygen, feeds through a g-tube, cannot walk nor talk, his smile and his will to live has become the source of hope and love for other children like him and their families. Join us in our mission to provide care and research for kids with disabilities in Canada and around the world.

After reading that, I wanted to attend, but like many of you, I didn’t have a lot of spare money to spend on a gala event. Jeff was kind enough to offer a media pass to attend but I wasn’t sure how I would be able to integrate the Kol Hope Foundation into this blog about starting a fashion business.

Nevertheless, I accepted and arrived, snooping for a story. How would I turn something as serious as fundraising for children with genetic disorders into something about frivolous fashion? Obviously, since it was a gala, guests dressed up and looked fantastic in sapphire blue attire. But this isn’t a style blog; it’s about starting fashion businesses. While wondering what to write about, I ran into jewellery designer Susie Love, there to present her custom-made award for the evening’s best outfit. That’s when I realized I had something important to share: you can build your brand by giving to the community.

In the past, I recommended donating auction items, but completely overlooked gala opportunities. Perhaps it was because I’m not part of the gala circuit, but at the Kol Hope event, I realized they are excellent networking events. You sit at dinner tables with complete strangers, so you are almost forced to talk to new people. You never know whom you might meet, but it could be a potential client. Voila! You’re making business connections while donating to a good cause.

Susie received a lot of promotion for making a product specifically for the event. At the end of the meal, she and four other judges chose five best-dressed finalists. Jeff introduced her as a jewellery designer, interviewed her about the piece, and must have mentioned her name at least five times. It was great exposure to an audience of hundreds. People would definitely remember her name. Susie is also an excellent self-promoter, which is why I interviewed her last year. She always wears a ton of her pieces and is always willing to sell on the spot. I’m sure her participation at this gala translated into a few sales.

Above, Judging Panel: Notice all the cameras!

Susie awarding the Best Dressed guest with custom brooch.

On the judging panel with Susie was Jefre Nicholls (www.jefrenicholls.com), stylist and writer for magazines such as Fabric (www.fabric-mag.com) and Cheek (www.cheekmagazine.com). After the judging, I asked him why new designers should get involved fundraising events and he said:

“I think Susie is a key example. The best Canadian designers rise to the top. It’s like cream, you know. Susie and other fantastic Canadian designers are known by the people who love fashion. Tonight, just like it’s a night for charity and a night for celebration, it’s a night for fashion as well. I think this is the first year the Kol Hope Foundation stepped up its game fashion-wise and you can see that there’s quite a few fashion heavy-hitters here. There’s some great fashion. There are some risks being taken and the people who love fashion know the designers from their home town and from their home country. So just be out there, be selling yourself, be fabulous, and I think that people will take notice!”

Jefre Nicholls and Susie Love

Galas can offer chances to meet influential people and celebrities in a relaxed setting (giving you the chance to use tips from the TFI Styling the Stars seminar!). For instance, I met Adrian Mainella (www.adrianmainella.com), whom I’ve seen at many fashion events, but looking too busy to interrupt. The gala offered a nice atmosphere for an introduction. It went so well, he agreed to an interview, which I will post another day since this entry is long and I have more to say.

I met Chanel Beckenlehner (www.chanelbeckenlehner.com), because she was wearing a gorgeous gown I had to ask about. It turned out that Chanel was a contestant running for Miss Universe Canada, representing the GTA for the contest. Her dress was designed by her sponsor, Antoinette Catenacci (www.antoniettecatenacci.com/). The Ascot Room in Belfountain Ontario also sponsors her and planned to outfit her in some Canadian designers, which Chanel said, “is fantastic, because ultimately we are going for the title of Miss Universe Canada, and it would be excellent to promote our local talent.”

Chanel Beckenlehner

I must admit I never considered fashion business promotion through pageants, but Chanel informed me of more fashion opportunities beyond swimwear and evening gowns. She said:

“We have a ten-day period called Competition Week where we move into the hotel (on May 9) and we are the host city this year, so we show the girls from all across Canada different hot spots around Toronto and the GTA. During that time period, we have activities during the day, so we have casual wear, cocktail wear, and very formal wear. It’s a fantastic opportunity for young, upcoming, or Canadian designers to get involved.”

If that sounds suitable to your brand, you may want to check out www.beautiesofcanada.com and speak with the National Director.

I met many more interesting people at the gala and realized that new business owners should include charity and networking events into marketing and PR budgets. It was a successful night for me and I didn’t even have a business to promote! I was happy to go for a cause and leave with a story.

FRIDAY, MAY 15, 2009
TFI Seminar Review: Styling the Stars

At many TFI Members Meetings, people ask how to get products to celebrities. Some designers have the connections and abilities to make it happen. Others don’t know where to start, so the TFI held a seminar about it last night called Styling the Stars.

The panel was fun, lively, beautiful, and all wearing Canadian designers!

You know actress Tara Spencer-Nairn (www.imdb.com/name/nm0818166/) as RCMP officer Karen Pelly on Corner Gas. Some of you may remember her frilly panty flash while wearing a Damzels in this Dress frock for the Heart Truth fashion show. She also wore a Farley Chatto gown for the TFI 20th Anniversay show, Ultimate Platinum. The girl is a proud supporter of Canadian fashion.

Linda Gaylard (www.lindagaylard.com) is Canada’s premiere celebrity stylist, though many people might not know it. Her quiet and sophisticated approach to styling is a contrast to some American stylists who turned cameras on themselves, but her support of Canadian artists is strong.

I first saw actress Amanda Brugel (www.amandabrugel.com) in one of my favourite shows, MVP: The Secret Lives of Hockey Wives and then met her at various fashion events through her friend and panel moderator…

...Gail McInnes (www.gailmcinnes.com), who has twelve years of experience in the fashion industry as a model and stylist agent. She also worked at the TFI and is now Managing Editor of the TFI News. Her latest endeavor is The Style Box, a business she is starting with Amanda that will introduce Canadian fashion designers to celebrities. Watch for its August launch.

Doesn’t that sound like a fun group? Just their introductions alone are interesting.

The seminar began with Linda’s explanation of a celebrity stylist’s job. Not many people realize how much work goes into:

1    sourcing new designers and developing good working relationships with them;
2    developing good relationships with celebrities and knowing their styles;
3    monitoring who wore what and when;
4    finding photo-friendly clothing;
5    creating looks that will get photographed.

She stressed the difficulty of finding Canadian red carpet gowns and recommended that designers include at least one in each collection. Designers should also be open to creating custom gowns and sometimes they might be required in less than a week. Celebrities usually don’t know if they will be attending an event or presenting until a few days before, so a designer has to be flexible. On the other hand, they usually know about movie premieres months in advance.

While it is great to have celebrities in your designs for such events, Tara mentioned the importance of branding for designer and celebrity. Both have images to maintain and some events may not be worth a designer’s time. For instance, you may not want to have an actress wear your show-stopping gown to a restaurant opening that may get a photo on a blog or society page. You want the show-stopper at a media-heavy event.

On the other hand, Amanda said that since she always goes out, there’s always a PR opportunity. With media such as HELLO! Canada, eTalk, and ET Canada, she believes it is easy for designers and artists to work together. They always want Canadian content and you can provide it with an interesting story. So if a designer is working with a celebrity for a special event, pitch it to them as a story idea. If you don’t have the connections, you can likely find producer or editor contact information on the website. Chances are, though, that the celebrity or the stylist has the connections.

Everyone involved in the discussion agreed that Canadian artists from all disciplines want to support each other. Actors, for example, are eager to wear Canadian designers. Designers are eager for actors to wear their clothes. They just need to meet up and work on building a designer-artist relationship. A stylist such as Linda can help with that and The Style Box will provide the introductions.

Something tells me we’ll be seeing more Canadian designs on red carpets this year!

THURSDAY, MAY 14, 2009
Developing Creative Partnerships: Rosemarie Umetsu, Caitlin Cronenberg, and Canadian Artists

I’ve posted about Rosemarie Umetsu's (www.facebook.com/people/Rosemarie-Umetsu/628355662) creative business approach, but I’d like to revisit and illustrate it with an excellent example of marketing, branding, promotion, and partnership.

Rosemarie worked with photographer Caitlin Cronenberg (www.caitlincronenberg.com) to create an exhibition for the CONTACT Photography Festival called Iconic Beauty (www.contactphoto.com/view.php?eventid=1537). Together, they created portraits of Canada’s leading female artists, styled and dressed by Rosemarie.

Not only did Rosemarie and Caitlin develop a creative partnership, but they developed partnerships with the artists, who are tastemakers and Rosemarie’s target market. In some cases, the portraits were of existing clients, but in other cases, the photo shoots served as introductions to Rosemarie’s clothing and personalized design and sales approach. The partnership even extended to the makeup. Artists and cosmetic company owner Daniel Thompson (www.danielthompsonbeauty.com), worked on some of the shoots. Rosemarie happens to sell his makeup in her atelier.

Okay, sure, it was a good partnership for those three, but what about for the artists involved?

Obviously, they end up with a beautiful portrait, but what did they get for time spent for the shoot? That’s easy: promotion. The launch event was packed with notable guests in fashion, photography, film, television, music, and media. In my opinion, the event was a more interesting media story than some red carpet at a club. Everyone involved received a bit of recognition.

With the exhibition, Rosemarie is marketing and branding her company as artistic, cutting-edge, and in tune with culture. I suspect it had more impact on her target market than if she would have spent the same time, energy, and money on traditional advertising.

Iconic Beauty was more than a photo exhibition; it was a resourceful business move.

TFI Seminar Review: Developing an Online Presence

Last night, TFI Executive Director Susan Langdon moderated a discussion with Sweetspot.ca (www.sweetspot.ca) Publisher and Founder, Joanna Track, and Stylefly.ca (www.stylefly.ca) Owner, Patricia Angyal. They talked about what every small business owner needs to know: how to develop an online presence.

Since Sweetspot tells you about cool stuff and Stylefly is where you can buy cool stuff, Joanna and Patricia offered two website perspectives, but both agreed on the importance of research before starting your business and website. There’s a lot to do, from identifying a gap in the market to creating a business plan and considering future growth. Even something as simple as giving your company a name requires research.

What’s in a name? Your brand identity! Once you decide on a name, make sure nobody has it. Google and Domain Name Search sites will do the searching for you. Then consider whether you want to be a .com or .ca, but Joanna and Patricia recommended buying both extensions. If you envision future business growth, consider possible names for such an expansion. For instance, Sweetspot now has Sweetmama and Sweethome, but Joanna mentioned that a name with back-to-back letters such as Sweettravel could cause confusion.

Once you’re set up, you want to sell and promote. Designers sell Sweetspot a story and a product to Stylefly, but you get their attention through similar means. Both sites encourage e-mail introductions with press kits, lookbooks, and links to your website. They think your marketing money is better spent on those things and discourage cutesy gimmicks.

Unfortunately I had to leave the seminar as audience questions began (stupid condo flood – yes, another one – is keeping me busy), but I was happy I attended, even if I didn’t get all the information. I enjoyed hearing how these two women began their successful businesses and learned a few new things.

TUESDAY, MAY 12, 2009
Hey Everyone!

I'm so sorry for being so quiet lately. I do have a ton of things to tell you about, but I just haven't had time to write them all down. I promise to get back on track this week, so stay tuned for:

  • My thoughts on Alternative Fashion Week
  • A discussion on how attending Galas can affect your fashionbusiness (through the example of the Saphire Gala for theKol Hope Foundation)
  • A chat with Adrian Mainella
  • An interview about fashion broadcasting with producer Jeff Rustia
  • An event review and talk about Rosemarie Umetsu's creative partnership with Caitlin Cronenberg and Canadian artists for the Contact Photography Festival
  • Reviews on recent TFI seminars: Developing an Online Presence and Styling The Stars
  • What happened at the TFI New Labels Competition at the ELLE Canada benefit for TFI on April 25th

And much more!

Really, I do apologize for my inability to sit down and write for you over the past month. I'll have a lot for you to read soon!

FRIDAY, APRIL 03, 2009
Alternative Fashion Week [FAT]
Designer Spotlight: Wesley Badanjak for LOVAS

Wesley Badanjak for LOVAS
Website: www.lovasfashion.com
Fashion Show Date: April 24 at 7:30 pm
(Distillery District - 55 Mill St. Building 6)

Carolyn: What's your story?
My collection was created for the working woman who really wants beautiful options to wear that are fashion forward, yet completely appropriate for her everyday lifestyle. For Autumn/Winter 2009, I took inspiration from clothing in the late 1930s, as well as a gothic element from artists such as Aubrey Beardsley.

C: Why did you decide to participate in [FAT]?
I decided to participate in [FAT] as I feel it is an amazing platform to launch young designers who need an outlet for their expression that focuses on their work and how it intermingles with other local artists. I love the idea of mixing fashion with visual artists and musicians to tie together all these creative fields in Toronto.

C: Why do you think there's a need for an alternative fashion week?
There is a need as many young designers do not have the funds to show at other venues, yet still require a place to display their work to build some press and industry links. It allows the people of Toronto to see other types of designers in their city and from abroad, that they may not be exposed to otherwise.

C: What have you done to prepare for [FAT]?
Along with producing my collection, I have been busy with creating a well-styled show that is consistent and cohesive from the models, to garments, accessories and music.

C: What is the biggest challenge preparing for a fashion show?
The biggest challenge is making sure the audience sees your collection in the way you envision it, making sure that all the elements pull together to create a great show without detracting from the quality of the garments.

C: Do you have any advice for anyone who wants to start a fashion business?
Have a lot of passion, be ready for many long nights, and don't expect to make it big overnight. It is a slow, uphill climb that will pay dividends in the future if you make sacrifices early on.

Oh, so Sick!

I’ve been hit with the Post-Fashion Week Flu. I’ve been down for a week! I hope none of you got it.

Alternative Fashion Week [FAT]
Designer Spotlight: Elizaveta Yankelovich a.k.a Kameleon

I love Alternative Fashion Week (www.getfat.ca), also known as [FAT]. This year, I’ve been speaking with Michelle Reagan, a Ryerson student working on [FAT] PR, and we decided to bring you weekly spotlights on designers who will be showing April 21 to 24.

First up: Elizaveta Yankelovich.
Website: www.elizavetaakakameleon.com
Fashion Show Date: April 22 at 10:30pm
(Distillery District 55 Mill Street Building 6)  

Carolyn: What's your story?
I am a creative person who needs to be creative to emotionally survive in this universe. My jewellery/art has emerged from my passion for fashion/art photography. During my wardrobe styling days, I began accessorizing my models with creations that were inspired by the concepts, sets, and environments that we shot. Now that I have taken a hiatus from styling, my palate for creating eccentric large necklaces has taken on a life of its own. The joy that I derive from my accessories makes me create more. Each necklace challenges people to look outside the box and hopefully expands each own individuals concept of reality and evokes memories of childhood and whimsy.

I am enamored with the idea of ordinary objects transformed into art.  I think the idea of turning recycled, repurposed found objects into marvelous pieces of art, that provoke thought, joy and emotion, is an amazing ecologically sound process.

C: Why did you decide to participate in [FAT]?
[Fat] to me = Art, Fashion, Music, Photography

I love all the above.

C: Why do you think there's a need for an alternative fashion week?
I love alternatives to everything....I think the world would be pretty boring if we only had one kind of everything....

Imagine if there was only one kind of ice cream flavour?

C: What have you done to prepare for [FAT]?
Working on my collection & presentation.

C: What is the biggest challenge preparing for a fashion show?
This is my first runway show ...so far the challenge is to wait ...I can't wait!!!

C: Do you have any advice for anyone who wants to start a fashion business?
Do what you love.

Interview with Crystal Rickard, Fashion Crimes Manager

After speaking with Pam Chorley, Fashion Crimes owner and designer, I thought it would be fun to hear from store manager, Crystal Rickard. Crystal and met each other during my first year in Toronto. We first worked together at a retail store, discovered our shared love of fashion, and then I recruited her as a Fashion Week volunteer. We’ve been friends ever since and she has so much retail experience, that you can learn a lot from her. Not only is Crystal the manager, she is behind the store’s blog as well. You should check it out at http://fashioncrimestoronto.blogspot.com/.

Crystal became the manager after admiring Fashion Crimes from afar and doing research about the store. The more she learned about its great reputation, and finding out that owner/designer Pam Chorley did everything, Crystal thought the store matched her fashion career aspirations.

The problem was with a reputation so good, employment positions were in high demand. Crystal kept submitting resumes without success, until a mutual friend arranged a meeting with Pam. The rest is history. Crystal started in part-time sales, then was given the opportunity to tinker with merchandising, and then she started buying with Pam for the business.

From sales to buying! That’s a dream job, isn’t it? It’s all about traveling to glamorous locations and spending other people’s money on fabulous items! Isn’t it? Turns out there are some challenges to being a buyer.

Crystal told me it’s difficult to make buying choices for an independent boutique because you’re minimized while looking at the sales rep merchandising. For example, they take one day to shop a three-day show such as the Mode Show. There, the reps with a large budget who get your attention tend to be ones representing goods made abroad; trends knocked off from previous years. If you’re a local business, you’re buying for a niche that you want to be affordable, but with the merchandising, you’re buying into somebody else’s vision. So you must be careful because at a trade show, you can be drawn to the lines shown by people who know how to merchandise, but so is every other consumer who’s walking through the show.

Since a buyer is responsible for business profits, I asked if it is a stressful job. Crystal told me:
“The only stressful thing is you really need to decide if you are looking at these collections that you are considering investing into from your perspective…or from the perspective of the business and the store and the vision and your client. You really need to know your client.”

Furthermore, “It’s all intuitive,” said Crystal. That’s the best thing I have learned from Pam,”

Not only does Crystal and the Fashion Crimes staff visit trade shows for merchandise, but they visit showrooms throughout a season and they also welcome introductions to new designers and artists.

What’s a way to get your attention? Crystal gave me some recommendations for designers wanting to approach stores:

“Do not just walk in without an appointment. If that happens, it’s a big turn-off. In most cases, we won’t meet them again. The protocol that is my ideal - in a really fast-paced store where we are not only buying, we are managing staff, we are doing the merchandising, we are producing a line, we are dealing with the whole big picture – is when somebody drops me a line, and they’re like, ‘I know about your store,’…and they drop a few points about some research that they’ve done into the store to show that they are taking that initiative.”

Keep an introductory note short and sweet. Say, “This is my line, take a peek at it, let me know if I can come and meet you.”

At that point, if Crystal likes the introduction, she’ll look at the website. If she discovers unique products, she will ask for price points, and book an appointment down at the store.

What about advice for people wanting to open a store rather than sell to stores? Crystal said:

“Know your niche, know your market. Definitely be willing to take some risks. Combine the moral aspect of it and combine the creative business elements of it. You can fill your store with everything you love and you can fill your store with all kinds of great, trendy pieces, but you need to be doing something that’s going to work for you and your passion as well. If you have a desire to help people, then you’re a big step ahead.”

As a store manager, Crystal faces several challenges, but also receives many rewards. She enjoys that work is different every single day. Her tasks include merchandising, working on window displays, receiving merchandise, and tagging it.

She told me, “We don’t have people who just come in and tag the merchandise for us. We’re not like a big corporation where it comes from head office somewhere. That opens it up a whole stream of vendor returns, things that come broken; orders that weren’t placed properly; we might only get bathing suit tops and the bottoms come a month later.”

With challenges like that, rewards include inspiring coworkers. Crystal told me:

“We probably have the most passionate women I’ve heard of. And I’m so lucky to work with that kind of enthusiasm because that keeps me going every day. I think they’re incredible. That’s who I want to be around every single day. They’re so motivating. Right now there are 14. There are a few managers, so we’re managing the staff, we’re training the staff, we’re constantly evolving the staff, we’re thinking of the next step, how to push the next limit. We have a design technician who works at the studio who does the liaison between the store and the studio. We have an Assistant Manager who does all of the stock and all of the receiving and most of the accounting. We also have 4 stylists who overlook all of the merchandising in the store and all of our styling for all the VIP event goers.”

“Beyond that, the most important thing is the customer. When I first started managing, we had 2 or 3 girls on a day during the week. Now we don’t have any less than 5 or 6 a day. It’s a destination. Clients come for that experience.”

How does Fashion Crimes plan for heavy demand seasons such as prom, their busiest season? It lasts for 5 months, from mid-January to Mid-June. Crystal said that it takes a different set of skills for each season. Usually, Fashion Crimes staff spend 45 minutes “choosing the dresses, assessing exactly what they want, assessing they’re style, assessing what they’re drawn to aesthetically, what they aren’t, how they want to feel in the dress, who they’re going to be around. We already know all of that with the prom girls. We know the prom girls want to be unique, want to be trendy. We also know the prom girls don’t know themselves as well as the women coming in the other seasons, so we’re not just helping them find their dress, we’re helping them discover themselves for this monumental experience they’re always going to be looking back on.”

The Fashion Crimes strength lies in creating this experience and prom customers translate to formalwear customers, who then become lifelong customers. I kind of wish there was a Fashion Crimes store in Calgary for my high school graduation, but then I may not have ended up with a gold lamé dress.

MONDAY, MARCH 23, 2009
Q&A: Pam Chorley from Fashion Crimes

I’ve mentioned Fashion Crimes (www.fashioncrimes.ca) before, praising the store windows as brilliant marketing and merchandising. Well, the store and the designs go well beyond that. Just walking into the store an experience so memorable that people keep going back. They’ve been returning for 25 years, so I thought it was about time to ask designer and company owner Pam Chorley some of her secrets to owning a successful business.

Carolyn: What's your story? How did you become a successful fashion designer and store owner?
I can’t remember ever not thinking about fashion and desiring to create it. I am self-taught and began when I was about 10! After university I fell into it when approached by Le Chateau on the street to design their accessory line. They liked my head to toe look (clothing and accessories) I designed. Thus began me being my own best advertising. I have never advertised yet in over 25 years. I opened the accessories studio door to the public, upstairs at Queen and John, then as I outgrew the space, later moved to street level. Never had a plan…just evolved gradually. I’ve always just designed what I would be excited to wear. Very selfish motivation, but to this day I can’t wait to get to work!

C: Can you describe a typical workday?
The best part of my day is getting dressed!  Then, getting to work to design clothing that other people can also get just as excited about !

C: How do you balance designing and producing a line with buying items for and managing a store?
It is all fun. Hard work, lots of discipline, but I am so passionate about what I do, I love every minute.  Designing…I just can’t help it.  The shop, with the displays and the merchandising, is the theatre of it all, so that is a blast too. Finally, getting the oohs and aahs and squeals from elated girls of all ages, is the icing on the cake.
C: What is the best thing about owning a clothing store?
No two days are ever the same.

C: What is the most challenging thing about owning a clothing store?
It is a business, serious business which is lots of number crunching and stress. Finding great people to represent you with the same passion is very difficult, but I have been lucky in that respect.

C: Do you have advice for anyone wanting to start a formalwear line?
Do it for the love, not the glory or the money!!

FRIDAY, MARCH 20, 2009
LG Fashion Week Day Five: Carlie Wong

After only a couple of seasons showing in Toronto, Carlie Wong (www.carliewong.com) is known for her strong vision and signature cocktail looks. That has to be admired.

Unfortunately, this time around, the models stumbled down the runway in ill-fitting shoes. If there’s one thing to learn from this show, it is: organize your shoes well in advance of the runway show. If possible, have the shoes at your model casting. Let models have the chance to get comfortable in the shoes. If you want them in stockings, make sure they don’t slip out of the shoes. Another great idea is to ask models to bring their own heels in case of an un-walkable shoe emergency.

Carlie’s clothes were lovely as usual, but the wobbly models were distracting.

LG Fashion Week Day Five: Evan Biddell
Biddell (www.evanbiddell.ca) is mastering in hype levels equivalent to Mimran and Hewson/Promislow. The day before the show, I heard him on CBC Radio Q, basking in his bad-boy reputation. It was great. We really do need a fashion shake-up in Canada and with Biddell’s interview personality, we’re getting some excitement. I’m happy to see that he’s making good use of the skills and connections he fostered from Project Runway Canada.

LG Fashion Week Day Five: Lucian Matis
Lucian Matis (www.lucianmatis.com) is a designer who keeps improving. You can tell he carefully listens to constructive criticism and uses it to improve his collections.

I loved everything about this show: mature direction, professional construction, and creative staging. As the models walked the runway, each stayed on rather than going backstage. This way, we were able to examine the garments in greater detail and evaluate the collection as a whole. Bravo, Lucian!

LG Fashion Week: Wrap-Up
For some reason, I found this week underwhelming. Perhaps it was because designers are going through a transition, trying to balance visions with budgets.  Perhaps it was because the venue was poorly designed and overcrowded, making me unbelievably grumpy. Whatever the reason, the week left me with a great anticipation for what is to come.

LG Fashion Week Day Four: NADA

I always admire Nada’s (www.nadadesigns.com) ability to be organized enough to produce high-quality line sheets and lookbooks in time for her shows. I encourage line sheets that list outfits and materials because they’re great references for when I write, but they’re helpful for buyers.

The only problem with providing these sheets is that people can get critical or confused if an outfit is presented out of order, but really, it’s not a major disaster if that happens.

This was the first collection where I strongly felt Nada’s personality and I look forward to her future collections.

LG Fashion Week Day Four: Women X Women
Women X Women (www.womenxwomen.com) is an exhibition of fashion photographs by women featuring women. It sounds great!

Too bad the line was so long to get in and I was so cold I couldn’t wait.

There’s another lesson to be learned about event planning: how to find the exact number of people to invite. That’s a tough thing to do. When I plan something, I usually invite twice as many people as I want to come. That’s a good, basic rule, but let me know if you have any tricks to share.

LG Fashion Week Day Four: Fashion Takes Action Eco Auction
Fashion Takes Action (www.fashiontakesaction.com) is the organization behind the Green Gala and the Sustainable Style Show. On Earth Day (April 22), it will launch as a “members-based organization whose mission is to have a socially and environmentally positive impact on the fashion industry.”

This week, it is auctioning Green Gala gowns online (www.fashiontakesaction.com/auction) and tonight we were able to check them out at the Drake Hotel. It was a great event; just the right size on the rooftop patio, quick entrance, and most important, the auction items were well set-up and easy to see.

LG Fashion Week Day Three: Comrags

A Comrags (www.comrags.com) show always demonstrates organization and vision.

They had a front door team looking so Comrags-y that an un-fashion-y policeman saw me walking with an invitation and told me who to see about seat assignment; I didn’t even ask him! The Comrags team supplemented the Fashion Week team, allowing for quick entrance into the venue. Way to go, Comrags!

Now, about the Comrags vision. At this point in their career, designers Judy Cornish and Joyce Gunhouse have such a strong design vision that it is easy to anticipate what will be shown. But the great thing is, designs are just different enough to keep clients and journalists interested every season. Joyce and Judy stay on-brand without being repetitive, and offer a selection of designs, from office to special occasion. This is probably a big reason why Comrags has stayed in business for so long.

LG Fashion Week Day Three: Andy Thê-Anh
Andy Thê-Anh (www.andytheanh.com) impressed me with his staging. Three models started the show together, striding onto the runway from the top, near the photo pit. It was a simple change to the norm, but it surprised everyone and set the tone for the show: strong. It was almost like the models clawed through the crowd, only to walk all over them on the runway. Great impact.

Another staging item I loved was the group of 4 models in evening gown finale. Andy did this last season to great effect. It made for excellent photos and television, highlighted collection cohesion, and concluded the show with strength and excitement. As long as he designs gowns, Andy should end shows this way.

LG Fashion Week Day Three: Pink Tartan
A Pink Tartan (www.pinktartan.com) show is all about polish and perfection. In the past, shows started late, perhaps because they added set decorations such as chandeliers and Parisian street lamps to the runway. This show had no props and started promptly. I didn’t miss the set dec at all.

Like Comrags, you know what to expect from Pink Tartan, but this time, there were a few colour and design punches that added a bit of surprise. Still, the show delivered its well-honed branding message well.

I also liked how Pink Tartan showed back-to-back with Joe Fresh. Everyone knows the two companies are related, so it made sense to have clients and guests view the collections on the same night, right after each other. During the time between the two, drinks were served, and everyone was encouraged to stay in the runway room. No standing in another line! Brilliant!

LG Fashion Week Day Three: Joe Fresh
I must admit disappointment last season when most people exclaimed, “Joe Fresh!” when I asked about their favourite show. I wondered about the state of Canadian design when the favoured clothing was mass-produced in other countries.

Then again, Joe Mimran, is an excellent Canadian fashion business owner. Joe Fresh (www.joe.ca) is successful in ways that many Canadian designers never could be.

One thing that amazes me about the Joe Fresh shows is the hype. Everyone wants in! Is it because of the clothes? Maybe it’s because of the mystery guest who might walk the runway. It could also be the glitzy guests, a who’s-who in Canadian fashion and entertainment.

This season, everything justified the hype:

- The clothes were Canadian ski-chalet innovative;
- Irina Lazareanu had fun on the catwalk while showing us just why she’s in demand;
- There were more actors, musicians, TV hosts, and journalists than at any other Fashion Week I’ve seen.

The Joe Fresh show was pretty much perfect, from invitations to entry, seating, theme, models, and clothes. When anyone asks me about my favourite show this season, I may have to exclaim, “Joe Fresh!”

LG Fashion Week Day Two: Joeffer Caoc

Work kept me late at the office, so I walked into the tent just as Joeffer Caoc’s (www.joeffercaoc.com) show began…ON TIME! LG Fashion Week producer Erika Larva (www.monarcheventsgroup.com/about.htm) is particularly gifted, ensuring prompt show start times. When I produced the Damzels in this Dress/Playdead Cult show, Erika’s backstage team was amazing. After last night’s late start, I was happy to see the schedule upheld.

Since I entered the runway room at 6pm sharp, my seat was taken. Lights were dim, the show music started, and a standing room only crowd blocked my runway view. What to do?

Luckily, with LG as a sponsor, televisions were everywhere in the Fashion Environment, so I watched a live show feed on screen. This is where I learned the tip I’ll now share for you: when designing your collection and planning your runway show, consider how the clothes and models will show up on screen and in photos.

Your fashion show is a marketing, branding, and PR tool. You want photos of it everywhere. You want clips of it on Fashion Television. It doesn’t have to be over-the-top, but it does have to look good.

And Joeffer’s clothes looked great. His metallics popped off the screen.

LG Fashion Week Day Two: Lundström
It’s safe to say that everyone in the Canadian fashion industry was sad to hear of design doyenne Linda Lundström’s recent financial and business woes. Then it must be equally as safe to say that everyone was happy to see the re-launch of Linda’s label, re-branded as Lundström (www.lundstrom.ca).

Anyone considering starting a fashion business should study her story (www.thestar.com/article/302154) of international success with innovative design, expansion, bankruptcy, and rebirth. She is now working with clothing manufacturer, Eleventh Floor Apparel, and it seems to be a smart match.

Judging from the soft launch of Spring/Summer and last night’s show, it seems as though Linda has been able to focus on design. I suspect Eleventh Floor looks after production, distribution, and business. This all points to “success”, so I think I’m going to have to bring you a Lundström interview soon.

But I’m getting into too much detail. You want to know what I learned from the show. It was a lesson in styling: be wary of over-styling and over-accessorizing. Large scarves blocked necklines, so we couldn’t see entire designs. The simple solution would have been for models to remove them at top of runway, but they didn’t. On the positive side, this styling decision could drive people to the website for better views of the clothes.

I also learned that owning a fashion business is full of ups and downs. The ups are exciting, rewarding, and encouraging.

LG Fashion Week Day Two: Bustle
Bustle (www.bustleclothing.com) know how to put on a show and how to pack a house. Owners Shawn Hewson and Ruth Promislow must be supremely active networkers who take excellent care of their clients because their shows are packed with a rowdy, Bustle-loving group outnumbering the usual, quiet fashion crowd.

The friends and fans always love the show, but I think the fashion crowd is more critical. For instance, while watching this show, I learned about the importance of fit and model choice. Most garments were too small in the shoulder and crotch areas. I don’t know if this was because Toronto has a shortage of male models or if it was a pattern problem, but it didn’t do justice to the clothes. Shawn is a judge on Project Runway Canada, so I expect an immaculate runway presentation.

Do I say it? Shawn, sometimes in fashion, you just don’t measure up. Or in this case, you just don’t measure.

LG Fashion Week Day Two: Heart Truth
The Heart Truth Fashion Show (www.thehearttruth.ca/2009_fashion_show) is part of The Hearth and Stroke Foundation’s campaign to raise awareness of heart disease among women. Did you know that heart disease and stroke are the leading causes of death in Canadian women? If not, perhaps you should check out the site (www.thehearttruth.ca).

See that? The fashion show did the job. It created awareness. How? By pairing Canadian celebrities with Canadian designers to create a Red Dress, the Heart Truth campaign symbol.

Now to the fashion-biz stuff: The show also created Canadian designer awareness among the celebrities, which is wonderful to see. There are a lot of partnerships that can happen between celebs and designers.

This is the second Canadian Heart Truth show and it is already a press favourite, so even though it’s a charity event for a great cause, it is amazing PR for a clothing company. And even though you may have a million things to do, you should make sure to do your charity work well. Some dresses didn’t fit the celebrity models and others were poorly designed.

Farley Chatto got it right, but without a Red Dress. When his model, Marilyn Denis, entered in a red pantsuit, I thought, “It’s supposed to be a Red Dress show!” (I’m a bit of a stickler for rules). But the more I thought about it, I considered Farley’s expertise as a menswear designer, and the pantsuit made perfect sense. Not only did it represent him, but I discovered that it represented Marilyn as well. She was his client and Farley told me after the show that she asked for pants. He said that you always have to listen to your client and work with him or her. Farley apparently is an excellent listener because Marilyn slid onto the runway, struck a disco pose, and danced down the runway. She was adorable and clearly loved her outfit. Farley and Marilyn also consulted the producer about what music made her feel comfortable and confident.

In conclusion (hee-hee! Sounds like I’m writing an essay. It’s been a while since I’ve done that…), group shows can work for or against your brand. You have limited control over how you are represented, but you can control garment quality and fit. And to some degree, you have control over how your model will look and feel in your clothing. Make sure she feels like a supermodel (not a boring old top model) when she steps onto the runway and you’ll both make headlines.

MONDAY, MARCH 16, 2009
LG Fashion Week Day One: David Dixon & Barbie

The first LG Fashion Week show was another example of a designer starting off with a cranky crowd only to turn it around to a crowd full of love.

Love is this season’s Fashion Week theme and I have to say that everyone loved David Dixon’s designs. How could you not when he presented two complete collections? After waiting over an hour for the show start, we were treated to David’s first collection: Fall/Winter 2009. Titled “brave”, his designs were inspired by the bravery to follow goals, women who change the world, and the exhibition of bravery. He illustrated this with slides of famously strong women such as Mother Theresa, Rosa Parks, Hilary Clinton, and then punctuated the show with slides from Pierre Maraval’s “Mille Femmes” exhibit. Guess whose photo popped up? Mine! I was in a David Dixon show! I kind of loved that. And I loved the clothes. The whole collection was strong and empowering and I think that a David Dixon cape would make me even more strong and empowered.

The second collection was all about love for that 50-year-old fashion icon known as Barbie. I kind of worried all that feeling of empowerment would melt away into a parade of pink Malibu Barbie bathing costumes, but no! David’s Barbie was as strong as all the women who inspired the Fall/Winter collection. Her clothes were designed for her and David’s woman equally. David never lost his design voice or vision.

Everyone left the show impressed at David’s prolific design output, forgetting about the long wait leading up to the show. To make things better, Mattel gave us each our own 50th Anniversary Barbie reissue. I ended up with a reproduction of Superstar Barbie, the very one I used to play with as a kid! It was a fun way to kick off LG Fashion Week. I do hope, though, that the rest of the shows start on time.

SUNDAY, MARCH 15, 2009
Talking Sponsorship with Jen Foster

I first met Jen Foster at TFI Monthly Members Meetings. She was new to fashion, but had business experience; a necessity to succeed in the fashion industry. She started a company called Style for Style and I thought you'd like to learn about what she does.

Carolyn:  What's your story? How did you move from the financial sector to fashion?
Whats my story….good question.  Out of university I got a job working in finance just to have a job and the first day of work I quickly realized while sitting in my cubicle that I had made a wrong move.  I went along with finance for a while thinking that I could make enough $ for afford all the fashion that I would ever want but came to the realization that I needed to actually enjoy and be interested and passionate about my work.  So I started to branch out into the world of fashion in Toronto starting with joinng the Toronto Fashion Incubator.  Shortly after, I began taking vacation days from my job in the finance industry to volunteer with L’Oreal Fashion Week backstage.  People at work probably literally thought I was crazy, but I loved every second of it! Working more and more with designers and through fashion week I discovered the world of sponsorships and the great value that designers have built within their businesses that I saw they would be able to leverage in order to attract corporate partners.  So walking to work one day I decided I had enough, quit and embarked on the world of sponsorship sales and marketing with fashion designers and other lifestyle oriented organizations based out of Toronto through my business Style For Style and haven’t looked back since.

C: Please describe Style for Style and what you do.
At Style For Style we work with corporate partners and organizations to identify sponsorship and partnership opportunities for their businesses that effectively align with their brand and the demographic they are looking to target.  We also work with fashion designers and lifestyle oriented organizations to secure sponsorship and sustainable partnerships with corporate partners and organizations.

C:Your recent successes included securing sponsorship for designers at Fashion Week and other events. How and why should designers approach a sponsor?
Well, I think that designers looking for sponsorship and partnerships with corporations should first talk to me! Haha…First as a designer you should evaluate the value that you have created as a business.  What do you have to offer a corporate partner?  Is it the media value that your runway show will create?  Who is your target market that you design for and attract to your shows?  How many people typically attend your events? What types of experiences can you create for your partner that they can’t find anywhere else? It is only after you have evaluated the value of your business that you can begin to attract corporate partners to leverage that value to increase their brand exposure and sales.

C: What makes a good fashion design/business sectorpartnership?
J :
What makes a good fashion design/business partnership is one where both the brands and target markets align.  You must work to create unique sponsorship activation opportunities beyond typical logo placement that will benefit and create positive results for both parties involved.

C:What are you doing this Fashion Week and what are your job duties as you prepare for an event?
This fashion Week I am concentrating on getting key potential partners out to the runway shows of the designers I work with as there is no better marketing tool than the real thing!  I am also putting together an event at The Historic Burroughes Building penthouse loft to mark the end of fashion week on Saturday March 21st.  We will be fusing fashion design and cutting edge music talent within the city including live performances by Fritz Helder and The Phantoms, Parallels and CFCF to name a few.  We will also be projecting live video of the event inside on the massive exterior wall of The Burroughes facing Queen and Bathurst (very exciting!).  Leading up to an event my duties are everything!  From a sponsorship perspective it is very important that all the deliverables we have agreed to are met leading up to the event, at the event and after the event.  The key is to maximize every aspect of the event for your corporate partner to ensure a unique and effective sponsorship activation.  It is also very important to measure the results of the sponsorship in order to effectively calculate the return on the sponsor’s investment in the event.

Studio Special at TFI

How is the recession affecting you? Did you lose your job, but take it as an opportunity to finally open the fashion business you always wanted? Or did your fashion company take a dip and require downsizing?

Either way, the TFI has a proposal for you: Rent a studio and become a resident!

There’s a new (recession-minded) price structure and EARLY BIRD deal (get 25% off 3 months rent) for new residents. Details can be found here:

A shared studio is as low as $275/month, and you will receive all the benefits of being a TFI resident, including access to resources, business services and mentoring with experienced fashion industry professionals. Added Bonus: Only residents get one-on-one time with TFI’s Executive Director, Susan Langdon, who has over 30 years of fashion industry experience.

Interested? There’s an Open House at TFI on April 2nd so be sure to pre-register at openhouse@fashionincubator.com.

FRIDAY, MARCH 13, 2009
Fashion Week Pre-Show: Greta Constantine

Stephen and Kirk from Greta Constantine decided on a pre-fashion week show, which earned mixed reviews.

To start, guests waited in very long lines, outside. Doors were set to open at 7:00pm, show at 7:30. People were still outside at 7:30, averaging wait times of 35 minutes in the freezing cold. When inside, there weren’t enough Runway Room workers to guide guests to seats. It was madness!

The show started at least an hour late, but it was worth the wait. Though the clothes were great, there were a few issues with the setup. The runway was divided into three catwalks, so some guests could only see an outfit once as it passed by. Then I never thought I’d say there was a problem with free drinks, but yes, there was: someone spilled one near the model entrance, so there were a few slips. Now I know why drinks tend to be banned from runway rooms. And there were still a few more issues with skirt hems. Some were too long, causing a few more slips. No falls, though, and the clothes were interesting enough to keep attention away from any slips. It’s too bad that the venue was so packed that people in the back did not get to see the show. Even though I said it’s good to have a packed venue, Greta Constantine has graduated to a larger one since more people deserve to see their excellent work.

Fashion Week Pre-Show: Philip Sparks

I say this every season: Philip Sparks always does everything right. Venue, music, sponsorships, models, accessories, and styling are all on-brand.

He was wise to show offsite at a small, packed venue. There’s no need to rush into a big show if you’re building a small business. It’s always best to pack a house and leave people wanting more rather than showing to a large, empty house.

I also think Philip is leading the pack in developing a strong Canadian design identity. He isn’t scared of designing for Canadian winters while keeping his international clients in mind.

Project Runway Canada Q&A with Jason Meyers and Jessica Biffi

I’m finally happy with an episode of Project Runway Canada! The designers had two days to complete a dress out of Post-It notes.

The challenge reminded me of my first-ever design challenge: design and make an outfit out of garbage bags. That was in Grade 11. I think I had a week to complete it. And I think that’s what got me interested in clothing design. I’m still proud of my garbage bag dress.

But enough about me; let’s talk PRC. I thought this was a reasonable challenge to test a designer’s ability to work with different materials. Sunny blew me away with the way he made Post-Its behave like fabric. He made paper flow! Unfortunately, he created the same corset/long skirt design as he did twice before, so I agreed with the panel’s decision to award first place to Jessica.

I’m impressed with Jessica. We were in Ryerson together (before I became a dropout!) and her designs were always impressive. She is such a skilled designer and sewer, when I saw her stress out in previous episodes, I knew they were intensely demanding. Nevertheless, she’s pulling it together and creating great stuff. I was lucky enough to get to ask her a question about this week’s challenge:

Carolyn: Can you give a design tip you learned from this week's challenge?
Well, seems that I'm all about messing up...and starting over and making it to the win!  Like with the Winners challenge, my first idea did not work out, and I had to change gears. This was the first time that Brian looked at my stuff and said that I might want to take another look. I had been playing with the Post-Its earlier and came up with the rolling effect. I learned that following your first instincts is very important. Also, having a fresh pair of eyes look at your stuff, makes a big difference. Brian's words pushed me to re-focus, and in the end it was the best thing to happen. I was very proud of that piece and it was amazing to have such great and "positive" feedback from the judges.”

Genevieve’s design wasn’t too innovative, but her determination to create a new material out of Post-Its was interesting.

I was sorry Jason went out with the Post-Its, as was he. I don’t think the show did justice to his work. He is a talented designer and I look forward to seeing his clothes (especially cute cocktail dresses) on the runway again soon. He was kind enough to answer some questions:
Carolyn: What was your favourite part of this week's challenge?
I can't really say I had a favourite part for this challenge.  It was a tough one.  Especially the challenges I was having with the glue and adhesives.

C: What was the hardest part of this week's challenge?
Using the glue and adhesives was definitely the hardest part.

C: Do you have one piece of advice for anyone who wants to start a fashion company?
Never stop believing in your dreams and never give up. Perseverance is the key to success. 


Andre 3000 Launches Benjamin Bixby Spring/Summer 2009 at Holt Renfrew

Tonight, Holt Renfrew hosted a cocktail party to celebrate the launch of Andre (3000) Benjamin’s clothing line. You know Mr. Benjamin from OutKast. Yes, the “Hey Ya!” OutKast. (If you need reminding, just think about shaking like a Polaroid picture).

And you know the “Hey Ya!” video: the one where a bunch of Andre 3000s make up one band.

But did you know he designed and made all his clothes in that video? He did! Well, except for the knit polo shirts. How cool is that? He’s like the guy version of Gwen Stefani!

“Whoa!” you’re thinking. “Do we really need another celebrity clothing line?”

Apparently we do, and it’s called Benjamin Bixby.

I’m sold on Andre Benjamin’s approach to owning a clothing company. In his introduction of the collection, he began by saying he has no formal fashion training, but has been drawing, sketching, and making clothes since he was a kid. Friends asked where he got his clothes, so he decided to start this project.

If you’re curious about the name, “Benjamin” is his last name and “Bixby” came from an Ashton Kutcher Punk’d incident. Andre was about to get charged with destroying a very expensive car, but didn’t want to give his name to anybody, so he said the first name that popped into his head: “Bixby”. He put the two together and created this character, Benjamin Bixby, who is inspiration for the designs.

Andre took the time to explain the company’s balloon logo: it represents an adventure. He wanted to create a company that could change every season. The first Spring/Summer season was an American football adventure in 1910/1915. This one is his idea of what Colonial India looks like, even though he said has never been to India and never been in a hot air balloon.

He explained, “I want the customer to be able to get away and have a piece of whatever adventure we’re selling at that time.”

Then he took the audience on an adventure by opening the discussion to questions. Guess who asked one just for you?

Me: What’s been your biggest challenge as a fashion designer?
Well, that’s a great, great one [Thank you, Mr. Benjamin!].

There are different levels of challenges. First, it’s kind of like you’re the new guy at this high school, which is a fashion high school, but you come from another high school, so you have to be kind of accepted in a way. I come from a school where they really don’t want us to come to this school. So it’s one of those things where, to be honest, you know, I’m African-American, I’m not a gay man, and that’s kind of like what I saw going on in the fashion industry! So, I felt like I’m taking a lot of flack because I just didn’t fit, but I had something to say. So that was a major challenge. I just didn’t know how I would be accepted because it is political; it is a club.

And also I had to get over the stigma of I think we kind of set this thing where people look at hip-hop artists and feel like we really just put our names on clothes and sell them. And sometimes we do. That’s true. But I want people to know that I really care about these clothes, that I’ve gone through every piece. I know about every stitch, I’ve picked every button. This is not just throwing 3000 on a t-shirt to throw it out there. I had a lot of offers: do this fragrance line or do this Andre 3000 straight to Target line. I knew it would make a lot of money, hopefully, but I just knew I wouldn’t be happy doing it because I’d done OutKast clothing before and that was kind of a licensing deal. But I knew I wanted to do something really personal.

Another big challenge: I jumped into a business that I had no idea what I was getting into, so I had to learn quickly. So I had to learn in two years. I hopped on planes and I’ve gone to factories in Italy to see our clothes made. I’ve gone to Hong Kong to see our clothes made. My terminology has had to get better because I didn’t know what certain things were called, what certain fabrics were called. I just knew what I liked. So the learning curve and I’m still learning – still an amateur, to be honest, so when you are buying Benjamin Bixby right now, you are watching a growth right now. Even certain things change. We’re making it better. We’re trying to make a better product.  Even our labels right now have gone through great change. You’re kind of on a ride with us.

I appreciated his honesty and was impressed with the collection’s detail, cohesion, and personality. I could tell that Benjamin Bixby is not just another boring, celebrity-licensing deal.

If you’d like to know more, here are all the questions asked at the event. Enjoy. There’s even a music-related question for all you OutKast fans.

Q: What’s your favourite piece in the collection?
I am wearing one of my favourite pieces right now [button-down orange oxford] because it’s a thing I can wear everyday. They come in an assortment of colours. and they will be carried through every season. So every collection, no matter what store, we’re telling them ‘of course you’ll be able to get my over dye button-down oxford’. It actually has contrast stitching; a contrast balloon.

Also, the simple pieces because I know not everybody can’t be the wild, crazy, adventurous person. So I keep in mind there’s some guys who actually want to say ‘I’m doing my own thing’, but d you know, don’t have the balls.

Q: Are you going to do a women’s line?
A women’s line, I would really love to do it, but right now we just have to focus on making sure that our men’s brand is really successful…so when we do make decisions like that, we can break off and people will respect it and it won’t seem like we’re just doing something.

Q: Are you on the new Big Boi album?
It should be out in stores in a month or two. Yes, I am on Big Boi’s album and he will be on mine, which should be out in the beginning of Fall. And hopefully we’ll get together and do another OutKast album.

Just to give you a quick rundown: we’ve been doing it since we were in high school. So for our first album, we were really young and people just didn’t know it. We were growing up. It’s almost like living in the same house with your brother for all these years and you have to get your own house. There’s always love between me and Big Boi. We hang out all the time, but you go in different directions. So hopefully we’ll get back together and do another OutKast album. So I’m kind of understanding  - not to put ourselves on that level – but I’m kind of understanding what the Beatles were going through.

Q: Who do you look up to in the fashion industry?
I’ve got two answers for that: some people in the industry and some people out of it.

When I grew up as a kid in Atlanta, it was all about clothes, girls, music, and cars. In Atlanta, you had this kind of prep thing going on. We had these kind of gangs, like crews, and they would actually battle. In dressing. You had one crew called The Stray Cats, and all they wore was tartan pants. That was one of their things. You had another crew called Down By Law, and they wore Benetton bag tennis rackets and they would use them as weapons. It was almost like our version of weaponry in these gangs. And so you had to DRESS. So a lot of my inspiration comes from that. And the people who were supplying our clothes back then were brands like, of course, Ralph Lauren, Eddie Bauer, LL Bean, Bass, some Brooks Brothers, Bugle Boy back in the day, Guess overalls….

Of course, Armani. More and more. The moves that he made. I’m not really an Armani type of guy, but some of the moves that he made – like changing the way a jacket is made – those things I can respect.

Outside the fashion industry, I love old people. I love old people because I love people that have style that look like they’re not trying to have style. They look like they’re not trying to be stylish. Old people are the best at it because they have this closet full of clothes they have collected. And they just throw it together like they want to and it just looks really, really comfortable. A lot of my ideas come from old people and showing young people how to do it.

MONDAY, MARCH 09, 2009
Learning from Nine West

This summer, I worked with Sherson Group (www.sherson.com), Canada’s importer, wholesaler, and retailer of well-known international brands. One of those is Nine West (www.ninewest.ca).

In the Fall, they held a media event for the Nine West Spring/Summer 09 collection. I’m telling you about this now because at the time, they gave away an invitation to go online and order a pair of shoes. Naturally, I had to try it to see if it would work.

It did! Last week, I received a new pair of shoes and am impressed with the company’s organization and ability to deliver sample product. Shoes are tricky to give away, but they did it right.

As an independent designer, you may not be able to afford to give away samples, but you’re creative, so you can think of innovative ways to keep your company in people’s minds.

In this case, it was successful since I almost forgot about the shoes and the media event, but the shoe arrival put Nine West back on my mind.

FRIDAY, MARCH 06, 2009
LG Fashion Week Invitations: They’re Here

My first fashion week invitations arrived, so I thought I’d take a moment to talk about them.

The only Save-the-Date notice I received was for the Project Runway Canada show. A designer should always send a Save-the-Date notice at least 3 weeks prior to an event. What I liked about the PRC invitation was a spot on the back reserved for Section and Row, which will allow for easy seating at the venue. I can’t wait to see what the PRC contestants will create when given time.

The second invitation came from Comrags (www.comrags.com), designers I always look forward to seeing. This season’s inspiration is “our lovely mess”, as indicated from the hand-taped card. The invitation has everything you need: designer names, label name, season, date, time, location, rsvp information, and sponsors.

I am completely excited about the third invitation: David Dixon (www.daviddixon.ca) collection inspired by Barbie. David is always impeccable when executing his design vision from start to finish. His invitations create a sense of show anticipation and he always follows-through with perfect music, models, audio-visual presentation, and of course, designs. What I liked about this invitation was the creation of a specific website with an RSVP form. It’s a smart way for the show producer to manage the guest list and contact information.

The Artist Project

Tonight, The Artist Project (www.theartistprojecttoronto.com) opened and I went, looking for comparisons to a fashion event. The Artist Project is a juried showcase of independent artists working in painting, sculpture, photography, and other media and it with booths displaying and selling artist work, it reminded me of a fashion trade show, similar to The Clothing Show.

Apart from being impressed by so many artists, there was one thing that impressed me the most: the signage. Okay, that’s kind of lame for me to say, but keep in mind, I was looking for things to learn from this event to bring to you, the aspiring fashion business owner.

At the Artist Project, there were signs at the top of each booth indicating booth number and artist name. Not only that, but artists were excellent at placing their names in noticeable places and legible fonts. I can’t say the same for fashion designers at trade shows. Signage is important in building brand recognition and introducing your name to potential clients.

I recommend any independent designers to check out The Artist Project not only to see the clean booths, but to be inspired by some innovative art.

Project Runway Canada Q&A with Jeff MacKinnon

Great news, guys! I finally got the green light from PRC to interview contestants, so here’s an interview from Jeff MacKinnon (www.jeffreymackinnon.com), who has a line of bridal and eveningwear called Jeffrey James

Carolyn: What was your favourite part of this week's challenge?
I enjoyed thinking outside the box on this one. I wanted to show the judges a different side of me, and that there can be an intelligence to the way I approach design. I thought it was an innovative approach to take a dress from day to evening by making it reversible. I thought it gave the outfit some depth and kept it interesting.

I also loved how sweet Iman was to me. She was so genuine and sincere in her words to me as I left – I’ll carry that moment with me forever.

C: What was the hardest part of this week's challenge?
The hardest part was having to draw on the bloody topstitching! I couldn’t believe marker was the last option available to me, how embarrassing. Throughout the show we had been McGuyvering our outfits together (affectionately referring to the television show where the lead character could make anything work by using the most random things laying about), using tape and glue and pins to get the outfit down the runway.... but marker set a new low. I still cringe thinking about it, but it is kinda funny.

C: Do you have one piece of advice for anyone who wants to start a fashion company?
Fashion is a tough business, at the end of the day all the glamour and excitement is just a small percentage of what you dealing with daily. You’ll need to be very aware of the business end in order to make your company succeed, and if that’s not your thing you’ll either have to learn it or hire someone you can trust to take care of that part for you.

Review: Project Runway Canada

I’m happy to report that I didn’t have a dual breakdown with the designers this week. I still think the timelines are too short to get anything really good out of the designers, but I was happy to see Jessica turn a problem with pleats into a key design element.

Last week, I complained about my lack of access to designers and inability to interview them or post quotes from the show’s stylist, but this week, I’ll lead you to two great PRC interview coverage:

MONDAY, MARCH 02, 2009
TFI Members Meeting

This month’s TFI Members Meeting was a bit quieter than previous months, but about ten of us met to talk about manufacturing resources, regulations, sustainability considerations in design, chat groups for fashion business owners, and what it’s like to have a job while trying to launch your dream of owning a fashion business.

The Members Meetings are great ways to meet people in the fashion industry who share the same highs and lows that you do as a business owner. They occur the first Monday of every month, so I’ll see you on Monday April 6.

Interview: Susan Bosley from GISH

I met Susan Bosley, the brilliant mind behind GISH (www.gishskirts.com) at the TFI Guilty Pleasures event. I heard about her adaptable clothing, but was amazed when I saw it and felt the fabrics. Susan has brilliant design ideas and a strong business concept, so when she announced that she has a temporary storefront for the month of March at 1978 Queen Street East, I thought it was a good time for a GISH interview.

Carolyn: What's your story?
Born &  raised in upstate NY, off to NYC to attend FIT after an associates degree and bachelors degree in Fashion upstate.

C: How did you get to this stage in your fashion career?
My first job out of FIT was with Polo/Ralph Lauren in design (luckiest girl in the world!). I later went to Canada to take a spot as Advertising Manager for Polo Canada thinking the pay would be outstanding (youth...) and the job amazing. It was, for a little while. I forgot advertising budgets in Canada would only be 2% of what they would be in NY. I applied at Calvin Klein (the Warnaco division which is cK underwear for women, men, kids, leathergoods for men) and they created a position of Marketing, Advertising, PR manager, which I accepted with glee. Following a huge lawsuit between Calvin Klein and Linda Wachner (head of Warnaco), life changed and many were ‘re-structured’, including me. 

C: What made you decide to start a clothing company?
I always had in the back of my mind a need for versatile clothing, especially on vacation.  Ever been to the beach and fresh out of the water to go to lunch or cocktails and you have to squeak into your shorts, still soaking? An easy adorable skirt would be awesome! I wanted to look like a million bucks, feel like a movie star (ok I’m a bit of a dreamer!), but if I just had the clothes.... and skirts, love skirts, I love being a girl but not necessarily a girly-girl, a more athletic build you could say so the skirt, dress idea gets more compliments, heh, heh, I mean complements my figure! (right!) 

C: You studied at FIT. How was that experience?
Amazing and rewarding and unforgettable and useful. The instructors must be in the business for over 10 years before they can teach the subject. So Fashion Buying was taught by a Lord & Taylor buyer, Fashion illustration by the catalog illustrator for Barneys’... you get the idea.  So you get real life experience. Sure there’s a textbook, but I remember the stories they told more so.

C: Would you recommend FIT to someone wanting to study fashion?
Beyond yes! It’s the whole package, you’re in the epicenter of everything fashion, the life, the sites, the NYC experience!

C: The concept of GISH is innovative and unique. Can you describe it?
GISH, a collection of ‘scooch-able’ womens clothing transcending age, height, and size. The pattern is created so that you can ‘scooch’ the piece either in or out up to an inch either way to maintain the perfect fit, always, for every reason be it womanly or simply as a layering choice. Your clothes will never be too tight or too loose. 

Here’s our spiel:  GISH Girls in Skirts, a line of ‘scooch-able’ skirts, tops and dresses featuring ‘wind-proof’ wrap around closures created for the woman desiring the perfect fit as well as wearable versatility. Seasonless, travel-loving pieces for every aspect of your lifestyle from vacation and honeymoon, active swim, tennis, and golf to fashionable day and evening dresses and skirts both long, short and in between, flattering tops, and jackets. Quick-dry fabrics for active sports and swim, easy care; seasonless, layering, packable jerseys for business and holiday travel, breezy linens and silks for summer and resort, cozy sweater knits for fall and luxurious velvets for holiday. Timeless and classic silhouettes with unique fashion-savvy details.

C: How important is it for a clothing company to have such a strong design concept?
Pretty quality isn’t enough and not necessarily memorable enough to create a brand identity, following, and loyalty. Stores and customers have their ‘what are you going to do for me’ t-shirts on lately. Understandably.

C: Do you have any advice for someone wanting to start a clothing company?
Keep these mantras in mind:

  • “I can do this”;
  • “Purpose and intent”;
  • “how do I increase sales”;
  • “always positive”;
  • “network”;
  • “hire someone better than you”;
  • “lunch? Huh?” just kidding!

You get the idea, I’m sure we all do. If it’s in you, it’s in you. You just have to want it. Bad. No sittin’ on the couch, nothing happens unless you make it happen. That, and every so often, a horseshoe falls out of my butt and I start weeping at the kindness of others.

C: What made you decide to open a storefront for a month?
That falls under ‘how do I increase sales’ and the horseshoe!

I jumped at the opportunity to showcase the brand and plop an enormous GISH sign in the window. The unfortunate demise of the budgets in a couple of the stores I sell to (and a stint on the shopping channel) meant I had lots of current inventory that needed a home. I also needed to fund updating my website, my Fall catalog shoot, and all of those other expenses we have! I get to demonstrate the ‘scooch-able’ concept to everyone I can and hearing them say, “wow, what a great idea, that’s what I need” is wonderful. It’s turned into an unbelievable opportunity to show Fall to buyers and do a launch party for Fall to the media. Every person that walks by that big GISH sign and says ‘GISH’ is another step closer and a big smile on my face. I’m elated and thankful and a bit weepy. Eeeee!

Ooops! I Made a Mistake!

When I was in Vancouver over the Winter holidays, I met a bunch of fantastic people, but on Monday January 5, I made a mistake on my list.

I stated that Natasha E Campbell is a BC Fashion Week Producer, when she is the Model Coordinator. The Producer is Vladimir Markovich. Sorry about my confusion.
Stay tuned for more Vancouver fashion news. I hope to interview BC Fashion Week Executive Director Debra Walker in the next week or two.

So You Want to Be a Buyer?

A reader recently wrote, thanking me for buyer-related posts and asking for advice on how to become a buyer. I received many compliments on my buyer posts, so I find it interesting that so many people are interested in this aspect of the fashion business. I’ll keep that in mind and try to bring you more buying information in the future.

In the meantime, here’s the advice I gave to the reader:

All the buyers I know started on the sales floor. I recommend targeting stores you love and would eventually want to work with as a buyer. I would apply for a sales associate position and mention in my cover letter and interview that I intend to stay with the company for x, x, and x reasons, with the goal of getting to know the company and its client base so I can ultimately become an intelligent, informed buyer for the store.

You may want to choose small, successful boutiques, but it depends on your interest. If you like activewear, you may want to apply at a large, national, or international chain. Department stores such as The Bay, Sears, and Zellers may not be glamorous, but they tend to hire often and promote from within. You could get experience there first and then move on to the store of your dreams. 

Cindy-Renee Mathieu and Oscar

Guess who was wearing Cindy-Renee’s dress to the Oscars last night?

Cheryl Hickey was indeed interviewing red carpet denizens in one of Cindy’s beautiful designs. Congratulations to you, Miss Mathieu!

Why I’m Taking Forever to Post

Please, please, please don’t hate me!

Please, please, please still read me!

Please, please, please accept my tardy posting apologies!

Over the past month, I took an extra job (in the film industry, not fashion) and have been taking an active role with my condo board because my loft STILL hasn’t been fixed from a July flood!

Unfortunately, that means my spare time was very, very spare, and blogging was neglected. The craziness is not over, but I’ll try to stay on top of things better so I don’t leave you waiting months for posts.

I think the interviews and Q&As are well worth the wait.

Q&A with Costume Designer Denise Cronenberg

It’s Oscar weekend! What better time to talk to a costume designer? I thought you’d like to hear from a woman with tons of film costume experience, Denise Cronenberg (www.imdb.com/name/nm0188725/).

Carolyn: What is the difference between a fashion designer and a costume designer?
Denise: The difference between a fashion designer and costume designer is this. A costume designer must give the actor the clothes to help him create the character he is playing, from the underwear to the outside clothing. A character sketch begins the process, where you talk about how much the character earns, what he does for a living, etc, and what you think his clothing preferences would be.

The trick here is not to make clothing look costumey, or so noticeable that it looks like a fashion show and not real life. The clothing must serve a purpose and also must blend with the scenery and other actors clothing who are in the same scene. For example, you can't put all the men in similar ties, all striped shirts, and all the same colours. There is a definite colour pallette that is discussed with production design so that the clothing and background work together. I feel that subtle is best. To have clothing jump off the screen and take away your attention in the film is not a good idea. That is really quite difficult to accomplish.

A fashion designer is competing on a world fashion stage to do something new, unique, beautiful, and daring. Costume design is character driven.

C: Is being a costume designer really as glamorous as it sounds?
D: Being a costume designer is anything but glamorous. I would say it is 95%  psychology, and 5% design, especially in a present-day film, where actors like to use the same clothes they are comfortable in, and sometimes resist thinking about character first. It is sometimes very difficult to convince an actor to move away from his usual dress to the character’s dress. Often they like to bring their own clothes, which we discourage. It is really a collaborative art, where the director, costume designer, and actor all have to agree on each piece of clothing. You can imagine how difficult that can become in some cases.

Also, as a designer, you have a vision of how you feel the costumes would work, but in some cases you become very disappointed because you are not able to achieve that end. That is when you sit in the movie theatre and cringe at some of the clothing, because you had no control. That does not happen often, but it DOES HAPPEN.

C: How can someone become a costume designer?
D: To become a costume designer these days is a long process. There really is no definite direction. I think taking as many art-related courses that you can is a good beginning, such as sketching, building clothing, etc. The next step is to try to work on non-union independent small films. These can be found online. Then try to join a union. NABET is probably the best, as it offers smaller films and more chance to gain experience. Really, the only way to find out the process in a wardrobe department is to be thrown onto a film set doing any job you can get, starting at the bottom. I think Seneca College has a good course. It has been 25 years since I began, so my experiences were very different.

C: What type of business knowledge do costume designers require? (e.g. Do they need to incorporate? Hire a bookkeeper?)
You should be able to work within a budget (which is usually not enough). After you read the script and break it down, the first thing a producer asks for is a budget. Then they say automatically, “We don't have enough money.” Then come the discussions of why you need that money.
You do not need to incorporate until you are making a lot of money. You cannot get unemployment insurance if you incorporate, and in this financial climate, you end up being unemployed most of the time. You just need a good accountant that knows the arts and freelance life, and you are all set.

She Said: Fashion PR Interview with Lyndi Barrett, Representative for Jason Matlo

I met Lyndi Barrett in Vancouver over Christmas and was impressed with her working PR relationship with TFI alumni designer Jason Matlo (www.jasonmatlo.com), so I asked them to discuss fashion PR. Here’s Lyndi’s take.

Carolyn: What is your story? How did you end up in fashion PR?
One of my first jobs in the fashion industry was working for a trend forecaster. After a year with her, she encouraged me to pursue a career in the PR field as she thought this would be a very good fit for my personality & work style.

Public Relations is a business that is fluid, thus I'm always on the move. I'm constantly meeting people and exchanging ideas, and creating concepts. PR is actually a really creative business. The fashion element is fascinating because it is all about perceptions and brand image.

C: How did you end up working for Jason?
I was the person in charge of backstage at one of Jason's runway show at BC Fashion Week. We were both pretty early in our careers when we met and we saw a mutually beneficial opportunity. When Jason restructured his company two years ago, he brought me on board to handle his branding and public relations. In that time, we have solidified the company and collection Brand DNA, and branched out into the United States, which has lead to some really great relationships and an international stock list.

C: What is a typical workday for you?
Busy. Very busy. The fashion industry moves very quickly and has deadlines that are very time sensitive. With exception to my venti Starbucks I know I will get in the morning, the rest of the day is unpredictable. I pretty much fly all day without a safety net and walk a tight rope. I massage perspective all day long and make sure the press, stores editors, and Jason are satisfied with where we are going in terms of the brand. Everyday we address what we can do to grow the brand and create more profile around Jason Matlo. 

C: What is a common PR mistake made by a new designer?
Not having PR representation and a clear brand DNA. If you open a fashion house without a brand strategy and a critical path, you're not going to survive. This is a very expensive industry and a battlefield.

C: Do you have advice for anyone wanting to break into fashion PR?
Volunteer and attend as many fashion related events as possible. Public Relations is about networking. You have to be able to make quick and accurate decisions. Dealing with stress with a clear and confident head is paramount. Be able to stand in 5" heels for hours on end and appear not to be in pain.  And most importantly.......always under promise and over deliver!

He Said: Q&A With Designer Jason Matlo

While in Vancouver during the winter holidays, I hoped to meet TFI alumni designer Jason Matlo (www.jasonmatlo.com), but it wasn’t possible. Instead, I met his PR rep, Lyndi Barrett, who was fabulous, well-organized, and enthusiastic. She seemed so dedicated to Jason’s work that I asked them both about fashion PR. This is what Jason had to say.

Carolyn: What is your story? How did you end up owning your own company?
I would need a whole day and more space to tell you my story. I had always, maybe since I was five-years-old, known I would be a fashion designer. My life is not a mystery. I'm exactly where I want to be and I made a critical path to get from one place to another. I am on another critical path in terms of where I'm going next. I've always been very good at articulating my goals and objectives and never strayed from my path. Before I built a brand and when it was not easy and it really sucked........I stayed totally focused!

C: Can you describe how you work with Lyndi? How do the two of you come up with a PR strategy?
We work like a couple of maniacs. We do a process I will call......constructive play.....this involves a lot of coffee in venti cups..........buzz words...pictures...youtube...image searches.....Webster’s unabridged dictionary..........storyboards and fill-in-the-blanks; in other words a healthy banter.  Of course we constantly discuss Brand DNA and brand positioning......but I'm definitely the paint in the broad brush stokes like a Picasso.......Lyndi is a veritable fill in the fine details Michaelangelo.

C: Why did you choose to hire a PR rep?
I sort of didn't.......we found each other and saw an opportunity. We share a mutual love of fashion and design. I did not realize the power and importance of PR representation when I started my business, a common mistake with neophyte designers.

C: What is the biggest challenge to owning a clothing line?
This is without a doubt the most complicated and difficult business in the world. If I had known, I would have gone for something low stress like an airline traffic controller or neurosurgeon. The fashion industry is a lot like the Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz. Having said that..... it has been the most exciting career I've ever had. Everything I do involves a lot of hard work and is challenging, so it is difficult to pin point one definitive thing that has been a challenge!
C: What is the biggest reward?
I've done the impossible! I've built a luxury fashion brand in a country and out of a city (Vancouver), neither of which is sought after for high-end fashion.....this in no way implies that high-end fashion does not exist in Canada......it just has not been sought-after to the degree that other countries and cities are.  I've done this on bold, naked ambition with no favours from within the fashion industry......I don't have friends on boards or councils or in retail or media that could hook it up for me to get a start. I had to work my ass off and create a beautiful product which is self financed.......promote myself and my ideas .......earn the respect of fashion industry leaders and experts on the merit of my work .......this has made me appreciate the successes so much more and never take anything for granted.....the knowledge I have gained through this process is a reward in and of itself........knowledge is power!

Review: Project Runway Canada

Okay, I’m really not impressed with PRC. Every week there is a painful designer breakdown and I can tell it’s not a breakdown for the cameras. These are legitimately good designers who are stressing out because the producers have not given them enough time to create a decent garment. I feel so stressed out watching it and feel sorry for the designers. It’s a disappointing joke and reflects poorly on Canadian fashion design and television.

What’s more disappointing is that someone claiming to be a designer did not know Yves Saint Laurent. He deserved elimination.

I’ve been trying for weeks to get interview permission from the show’s stylist and others, but I’ve been told that I can only interview competitors who have been eliminated. It’s disappointing, but I’ll try to give you some PRC questions and answers in the future.

Brand PR: Silent Auctions

Last week, I received the press release for the annual BuyDesign (www.buydesignforwindfall.ca) Gala Fundraiser for Windfall (www.windfallclothing.ca), Canada's only new clothing bank. It's always a great event and it's for an important cause, so I hope to see you on April 18 at the Distillery District, dressed in futuristic Barbarella attire.

There's always an unbelievable silent auction at the event and I know I've said it before, but I'll say it again: participating in a silent auction is a smart way to promote your brand. Check out local events to see what meshes with your message, go forth, and donate. You'll do some good and maybe you'll get some new fans.

Vancouver Designer Christopher Bates Unveils Menswear at GOTSTYLE

You might remember my holiday interview with Christopher Bates from ULTRA Menswear (www.ultramenswear.com). We had such a nice chat that he invited me to his Toronto launch at Gotstyle (www.gsmen.com). I invited a bunch of Toronto fashion friends, but only met up with Anita Clarke from i want i got (www.iwantigot.geekigirl.com). We had a great time taking in the menswear and learning about the Gotstyle bespoke collection designed by Joa Cavalcanti.

But obviously the highlight of the night was ULTRA. It looked great merchandised with the other Gotstyle lines. And it looked fantastic on the mannequins. Christopher knows how to design for a store and that’s something I’ve got to recommend to all designers. You might have an innovative, fascinating design, but it’s got to be able to sell off a hanger. Christopher knows this and did an amazing job of blending Euro-Canadian design.

Carolyn’s Movie Review: “Confessions of a Shopaholic”

My Rags and Mags (www.ragsandmags.com) partner in crime, Danielle Meder (www.finalfashion.ca) and I went to a preview of "Confessions of a Shopaholic" last night. It was pretty much like candy for any fashion fan.

Did it have any lessons related to starting a fashion business? Sure. Don't overspend.

FASHION Magazine at The Gap

Tonight, FASHION Magazine (www.fashionmagazine.com) held a party at The Gap on the corner of Bay and Bloor Streets. I was curious about the pairing, but it was a perfect event, from the save-the-date notices sent weeks in advance to the night's activities. There were drinks, sweets, sales, and trend reports (courtesy of FASHION writer Sarah Casselman).

Of all the Canadian fashion magazines, FASHION has the strongest and most effective web presence. If you haven't checked it out, you really should.

Review: Project Runway Canada

Is a designer going to seriously break down in every episode of PRC this season? I'm starting to think of it as designer torture rather than fashion challenge. It's difficult to concentrate on the clothes. At least the show illustrates how hard it is to design and make clothes, but I really think the challenges are unreasonable.

PR is Hard!

Through December, I tried my hand at PR for a small accessory company. You know what I learned? It's so much work to be a PR rep and try to get journalists to talk about the product!

What else did I learn? When looking for a PR rep for your product, plan in advance. Meet with him or her while you are developing your seasonal collection so you can work together on the timeline and strategy.

Guilty Pleasures

It was that time of the year again: The Drake Hotel & TFI hosted the Guilty Pleasures shopping and brunch day at the Drake.

This year, there were two floors of clothing, accessory, and makeup shopping and by the time I arrived near the end of the day, I think people were shopped out, but there was a lot of room to check out the goods and speak with the designers. Events such as this are great for designers to meet clients, get feedback on designs, and introduce themselves to potential buyers.

I met my friend, Julian Brass, who was interviewing people for his stylish new endeavor, Notable TV (www.notable.tv). He's a guy-about-town who knows all about the latest events and everything about fashion. It'll be a web channel for you to watch.

Interview: Celebrity Style with Cindy Renee Mathieu of Sodaliscious

The other day I was browsing through facebook when I saw photos of Sodaliscious (www.sodaliscious.com) designer Cindy Mathieu in a Golden Globes gifting suite! She was showing her one-of-a-kind designs to Sir Ian McKellen, Blair Underwood, Viola Davis, Darren Aronofsky, Cheryl Hickey, and a bunch of other celebrities and their stylists. Since so many of you ask me about how to dress celebrities, I called her up to ask how she did it.

I caught Cindy (who is a TFI member) at a busy time since she's suddenly the go-to-gal for award show attire, but she took time out from Grammy and Oscar designs to chat. I didn't know if she would divulge her secrets, but she did, just for you.

We began with the big questions: How did she make it happen? How do designers get into prestigious gifting suites?

With Cindy, it was a little bit of luck after a lot of hard work. The PR firm DPA and Associates saw her Sodaliscious site and contacted her. They go online and check out up-and-comers to see what’s cool and what celebrities want. They sent youtube videos of past events, lists of celebrity attendees, and described previous events at international festivals.

Cindy was sold on their reputation, track record, and experience and started with a Toronto International Film Festival suite. From there, she participated in the Emmy and Golden Globes suites.

To prepare for the events, Cindy asked what the organizers and celebrities are looking for. DPA provided suggestions. For instance, the Emmy event required at least 25 one-of-a-kind custom gowns! Luckily, Cindy had some made and also had a couple of months to make more.

So what happens when the gowns are done and Cindy travelled to the United States with her product? Were there customs and shipping issues?

Nope. She travelled with a small team present at the lounge and brought the gowns on the plane in her checked luggage. No problems with customs at all.

Before the events, she spends days preparing gift boxes, press kit, hangers, and presses dresses. Set-up happens the day before, and on the day of the event, the whole idea is to give celebs a VIP feel. They get tour guides when they enter the suite. The guide will bring them to each designer, who tells the VIP about the products. Sounds pretty sweet.

TIFF, Emmys, and the Golden Globes? Only the Oscars are next, and Cindy has that covered.  After the Golden Globes, VH1 hostess Christina Martin fell in love with her clothes, e-mailed her, and asked Cindy if she would dress her for the Oscars. Not only that, but ET Canada host Cheryl Hickey wore her purple dress to the Golden Globes and Cindy did an interview on ET Canada three weeks ago. Now she’s part of a designer contest to dress Cheryl for the Oscars! Be sure to watch on Oscar night to see if Cheryl chose Cindy's design.

Of the gift suite experiences, Cindy said, “I made some amazing contacts. It’s just been snowballing since then.”

In fact, she is so busy, she had to decline the Oscar suite in favour of New York Fashion Week participation. A PR company contacted Cindy and asked her to be part of a designer showcase offsite. They realized how much PR she was getting, so they switched from a group show to an individual one for her.

It is all so exciting, but she has done a lot of preparation. She's been sewing so much, she had to upgrade her equipment! She has also been working with a publicist on invitations to send to press. She says it’s been crazy. In the past, she had to work more to get people to show. Now they’re contacting her.

Since Cindy has been so successful and all her hard work is paying off, you can definitely learn from her experience. She told me that new fashion business owners should start contacting styling agencies. Recently, she has been sending out press kits to people who style celebrities. If they like it, they’re the ones willing to borrow and put it on a celebrity.

Something tells me we will be seeing a lot of Cindy's glamorous gowns on the red carpet from now on.

TFI Members Meeting

This month's TFI Members Meeting was exciting, with many new faces, some returning faces, and many different levels of fashion business experience.

We had people interested in underwear design, clothes for petite women, cosmetics, gowns, magazines, and accessories.

All the diversity led to interesting discussions about manufacturing, labels and printing, selling to stores, jobs in the Canadian fashion industry, and how to find a lawyer.

Can't wait for the next meeting on Monday March 2. See you there!

Interview: Catching Up with Shernett Swaby at the f-list’s First Designer Spotlight Series

Last night, Leesa Butler from the f-list (www.f-list.ca) hosted the first of a designer spotlight series. First up? Shernett Swaby (www.shernettswaby.com).

You might recognize Shernett from the first season of Project Runway Canada. I was hesitant to ask her about that experience since PRC is so guarded and I know that designers are beyond a reality show stint. Shernett is no exception. She should not be defined by the show, but I think with a design skill and business experience such as hers, she will not be defined by PRC. Nevertheless, I asked how PRC helped her.

She said, “You know what Project Runway did? It taught me, ‘Don’t worry about what anyone thinks. Because before, I went on Project Runway, I thought, ‘Ohmigod. I can’t do Fashion Week. I don’t think I’m ready. I don’t know if ready for a fashion show. What if they don’t like my stuff? What if I’m not professional in their way?” Then I get there and I’m like, ‘You know, Shernett? Do whatever you want'.”

The show also brought recognition, curious shoppers to her store, and a demand for her fabulous belts. It also confirmed quality and investment in line for existing customers and brought them back.

But as I said, Ms. Swaby is much more than her stint on a television show. Her latest Fall collection was based on ribbons and shows her skill with details. For instance, one gorgeous piece had two hundred fabric squares! It's a lot of work to put into something that you don't even know will sell.

Shernett has had a shop for over eight years, but when I asked her about her business sense and whether she designs for what people will like, she said, “I never do that. I never design for what people will like because then you are not an artist. You then become a businessperson.”

When asked about how she maintains her client base, Shernett told me, “I don’t think I try to keep them; I think it’s just a relationship after a while. I don’t know the business part of it. I’ve always done whatever I’ve wanted to. I’m happy it’s been going for eight years.”

Since she has been successful with keeping clients and owning a store, I had to ask her advice for new fashion business owners. She said, "You have to have at least $100,000 to start a line.” You should start small, grow, and build it.

What's next for Shernett? She designed a  Bratz collection of five dolls, which should be coming out in two months. I also think world domination is in the future. She said of owning a fashion business, “I don’t see it as tough; I see it as a challenge, but I will have stores in New York, London, Paris, Montreal. Maybe when I’m 60, but I will have them. Because it’s my life. It’s not hard. It’s what I do. I’m a designer.”

Daniel Thompson Cosmetics at Rosemarie Umetsu

Earlier this month, Danielle Meder and I went to Rosemarie Umetsu's elegant atelier and learned about creating a unique shopping experience. Tonight, Rosemarie took the consumer fashion experience one step further by debuting Daniel Thompson Beauty (www.danielthompsonbeauty.com), a couture approach to mineral makeup.

Daniel is quite amazing. Not only does he have his makeup company, but he is also a blogger. he writes Beauty Busted for Erica Ehm's Yummy Mummy Club (www.yummymummyclub.ca/who_is_dan_thompson). While quickly yet efficiently demonstrating his makeup line, he explained the blog:

“We take every myth the cosmetic companies have told you and I rip them to shreds and show you why scientifically, biologically, and physically these claims are untrue and you can’t live up to them. Plus I show you how to put on a red lipstick sometimes.”
It's a great blog, but I was amazed with Daniel's multi-tasking abilities. He was able to tell me about the blog, demonstrate makeup application, explain the product benefits, and discuss the line's genesis.

He said, "We developed this line because so many people are out there buying these claims, and they’re going, ‘Why am I not getting rid of all my wrinkles? Why is my makeup not doing this?’ And the truth is: because it can’t.”

I like his truth, but I really like the quality of product and it's fashion-forward design.

Daniel explained the concept by saying, “Every little piece of what I do when I am putting together, I’m thinking, ‘Fashion, fashion, fashion!” and that’s why we’re launching at a fashion house because most mineral makeup is completely boring!”

Rather than have me write about the benefits of Daniel's makeup, I'm going to direct you to his Yummy Mummy blog and product line website. But what I will say is that the partnership between Daniel and Rosemarie is a wise business move. Both artists have a common client base and the products offer the same high quality. They complement each other and will heighten the shopping experience at the R.U. atelier.

Review: Project Runway Canada

I was looking forward to the second season of Project Runway Canada, as was Danielle (www.finalfashion.ca), so we went over to O'Grady's Pub on Church Street to watch the premiere with some of the designers, their entourages, and crew members.

What a great way to watch the show and was amazed that the designers could even watch the show, and do so with smiles on their faces. I was horrified at the stress level of the show,  quality of the garments, and the unrealistic challenge expectations.

After the show, I chatted with Sarah Jay, who styled everyone in the title  sequence, the press photos (the paper doll shot, Iman in white, and everyone in black), and the judges for every episode. We had a great talk about her favourite moment from the episode and including Canadian fashion in the show's styling, but alas; I am not allowed to tell you what she said because PRC is guarded about the show.

But if you run into me while out on the town, feel free to ask me about PRC. I'll be happy to talk about it.

Online PR: twitter

Even though I learned about twitter (www.twitter.com) last year from Eden at Bargainista (www.bargainista.blogspot.com), I felt too busy with myspace, facebook, and regular old blogging to join. That is until everyone started asking, "Why aren't you on twitter?"

It got to be too much, so I joined.

But I'm not me. I'm maxvelosse, one of my Rags and Mags (www.ragsandmags.com) alter-egos. Danielle (www.finalfashion.ca) and I thought twittering as Max would be fun and a good way to promote the site.

Unfortunately, I have a problem. It's hard to write as another person. Plus, I get distracted by what everyone else is doing to be able to make up Max's life. I especially enjoy tweets from designers such as morphclothing and JasBanwait and think that any designer not wanting to do a whole blog thing should join twitter. It's free and easy PR! Bloggers geekigirl and kimleestar are so prolific in their fashion reports that I can barely read before they add more posts. I can only hope that maxvelosse will be able to catch up.

Inauguration Fashion: Designers Dealing with Press Demand

Everyone's talking about Barack Obama's Inauguration and Michelle Obama's fashion sense. True to the objective of this blog, I'll talk about how this relates to starting a fashion business.

There are reports of J Crew, Isabelle Toledo, and Vancouver's Jason Wu selling out items of clothing worn by the fabulous First Lady.

Oh, and who can forget about Aretha's hat? Milliner Luke Song is going into heavy hat production since they're on backorder now.

I guess I want to say is that when you are a new designer and have a fantastic PR opportunity, make sure you can follow up with the demand. Now I know that it would be rare to have the First Lady wear your clothes, but how does this apply to you? If your product is placed in a national magazine editorial, for instance, ensure that it will be easily accessible for readers.

I imagine these designers are thrilled for all the attention they received this week, but I'll bet they haven't had any sleep since they're probably working on production deadlines.

TFI Seminar: Promostyl

I love the Promostyl (www.promostyl.com) seminars hosted by the TFI. They offer the chance for designers, stylists, journalists, store owners, and anyone else involved in the fashion industry to see into a crystal ball and plan for future trends.

The TFI subscribes to the women’s wear Promostyl trend books, (which cost a few thousand dollars and are in the TFI Resource Centre), but the seminar is the place to check out additional trends in menswear, childrenswear, juniors, accessories, and the inspiration and rationale for the direction that design will take.

Tonight's seminar introduced trend forecasts for Spring/Summer 2010, and it was fun to see everyone get excited and inspired about four main themes:

•    Wild - a focus on adventure, freedom, and spontaneity for the new urban nomad.
•    Decadence - a deeply sensual and intellectual interpretation of artistic intent.
•    Postit - a 50's-inspired take on Corbusier's Modulor image and futurism.
•    Wave - focusing on ethical and aesthetic harmony with the natural world.

The presentation focused on those themes and revealed how and why they will be important. Not only did we learn the rationale behind the themes, we saw fabrics, silhouettes, colours, and prints. I highly recommend that you take the time to visit the TFI Resource Centre to check out the Promostyl books. You are sure to find them to be inspirational.

Interview: Ally Niu from Oni Manufacturing

How many of you have an okay job, but dream of working in fashion? A bunch of you, I'm sure. Many people I meet in the fashion industry are interesting people who have had a career or two before pursuing their passion. Ally Niu is one of them.

Ally studied engineering in China, received an MBA in Canada, worked at CIBC as a personal banking associate then business advisor, and finally worked with the Business Developement Bank of Canada with commercial banking. Business was her first interest, but after dealing with business owners, she decided to do it for herself.

Her father was a manufacturer in China and one day she met Dorothy, who owned Oni Manufacturing for 31 years. Dorothy started with Jones New York, but wanted to leave that venture. It was natural that Ally took over.

Ally runs a smooth, clean, and fair manufacturing business with sewers, cutters, pattern makers, and finishers. She is proud that Since she took over, she delivers more efficiently and the company is more organized.

She's happy she made the career move, but she does face quite a few challenges as a clothing contractor.

First, the competition is so fierce. Since manufacturing shifted overseas in the last 10 years and now with the recession, people are manufacturing less. She worries about the declining industry.

Second, the seasonal aspect to fashion design is a huge challenge. Every season, Ally expands her work capacity, then lets some people go. Most business for Cdn designers is small/medium and due to irregularity of work with delayed fabric and trim, so much stress falls on the manufacturer and sewing staff.

Third, Ally wonders if customers really appreciate manufacturers. She and her team are hard workers and encourages designers to think of their contractors as part of their teams. Without a doubt, owning a manufacturing company and being a sewer is hard work.

Fourth, it's difficult to work with new designers, but Ally says every time there’s a new, small designer, she “kind of has a soft heart; I feel I want to help someone wanting to try something.” But it can be problematic because they don’t necessarily know the steps or what’s expected. It can take a while to develop a good working relationship between designer and contractor

How can designers work well with contractors? Ally stresses the importance of a well-planned production schedule and to start early. Know seasons and try not to catch the peak of production (January to March and July to August). She also asks designers to remember that the contractors are people too. Try to get fabric as soon as possible. Many times, she is ready to start your collection, but is left waiting for fabrics. Above all, Ally recognizes that designers are artists, but she recommends that they remember they operate businesses. Work out the right numbers for styles and sizes and make it fit your budget. Make sure you have a financial cushion because "mistakes always happen."

Yes, owning a fashion business is difficult and the garment construction process can be especially hard for designers to navigate. But a well-run manufacturing company can help alleviate some production problems.

At Oni Mfg, Ally says, "We’re a team; a strategic partnership. When it comes to pattern making and design, we are able to assist. We are the manufacturer. We try to make things as coherent as possible and make it streamlined as possible.”

“When customers look at Canadian-made products, I hope they have a little sense of pride,” she says.   “People who are making them have a great sense of pride and passion. And we treat them well.” This is true, especially when compared to overseas manufacturing. It may cost a Canadian designer a bit more to produce here, but it is well worth the investment, especially for small and medium sized businesses. 

With Canadian-made goods, Ally says, “We have a sense of quality, uniqueness, and a sense of pride.”

I can see the pride in the garments hanging at Oni and I can see Ally's happiness with her career switch into the fashion industry.

Interview: Renee Labbe from Promostyl and Creative Research Unit

Renee Labbe and I met on the evening of my Vancouver fashion meeting. She is working on a new TFI Guidebook (details coming soon!) and introduced the project to those in attendance. Through her work with Promostyl (www.promostyl.com) and her own company, Creative Research Unit (www.creativeresearchunit.com), she is nothing less than a trend expert. Thought you'd like to read a little Q & A with Renee. Let's talk trends!

Carolyn: What's your story? How did you get here?
I have a design degree and I split my electives between marketing and art history.  There is so much symbolism in art that spills out into - remarkably - so much of todays' world of design that it has been a big asset for my career.

C: Why is it important for fashion entrepreneurs to study trend forecasts?
Quite simply, because the bulk of the  industry studies forecasts, in one form or another.  Every now and then I encounter a designer that will proudly tell me they "shop Europe" and therefore don't need forecasting services.  I'm always amazed at this remark because the majority of trend services began in Europe and started out catering to European clientele. A healthy percentage of our clients are still European brands, including the runway designers. 

The more sophisticated answer is that forecasts aren't simply someone's ideas of interesting fashion.  Forecasts are continuously plotted directional information based on the cumulation of years of studying subtle shifts in consumer behavior and the economic, environmental, cultural, political, and technological changes that will ultimately affect consumers down the road.

C: You work for Promostyl and I know many fashionable people who believe they would make perfect trend forecasters. What makes a good trend forecaster and how can someone break into the business?
Time & research.  And lots of both.  In Malcolm Gladwell's new book, Outliers, he writes about how it takes 10 years to become really good at something.  I firmly agree with this, ESPECIALLY for forecasting.  It's not a degree you can get from any institution because it's not something that can really be taught.  You get immersed in it, and eventually you come out pickled in trending ability.  I'm in my 10th year now, and I feel like it's really only been in the last 3 years that I trust my trend mind 100%.  I started at the bottom and worked my way into a Director's role.  No one likes to hear this, but breaking into the business is extremely difficult, for several reasons. 

The first reason is that it's a very very very small industry, I'd say less than 500 people worldwide.  The second reason is that of those 500 positions, the competition for an empty spot is pretty intense...and because the demand for accuracy is so high, those who are hiring tend to hire people they've already worked with (perhaps at another trend agency), whom they know have the right mindset for the job. The third reason is there's no specific education you take to be a forecaster.

C: Your company, Creative Research Unit, produces "smartmarket". By looking at your site, it looks important for fashion entrepreneurs. Can you describe this publication?
Yes, but first let me differentiate between Promostyl and CRU.  Promostyl does trend forecasting.  CRU is more of a sourcing office.  CRU directs clients to the new products they need to know about and/or consumer attitudes they need to appeal to via their marketing methodology. 

SmartMarket is a periodic research report for marketing managers and those who want to match their brand language to the evolving North American consumer groups. 

The last SmartMarket report was called "The Green Issue" and it was written in 2006 to help brands understand that there is not just ONE green consumer.  Contrary to popular belief, there are at least four, and only one of them is buying green products out of a desire to save the planet.  The others are motivated into purchase by more vain reasons.  If you understand the different green consumers, you can understand how to appeal to one or all of them.  A brief introduction to those consumers in The Green Issue report has been added to the Going Green guidebook for the TFI.  The next SmartMarket report focuses on the consumer behavior that is evolving out of the Green Consumers.  It's not finished (more research to do), but right now I refer to it as the Voluntary Responsibility issue.

C: Do you have any advice for someone wanting to start a fashion business?
Wow, where would I start?  The industry is more competitive than ever, so find your niche, make damn sure it's a viable one, and align your brand with the right team of individuals to make your product soar.  I meet so many new designers who make a nice collection, but fail to make any sort of business plan.  It's suicide.  Make a plan, stick to it.  If you can afford it, hire people that are smarter than you and learn from them.

Interview: Rosemarie Umetsu

When friends and colleagues look super-stylish, I always compliment them. I appreciate good ensembles. Sometimes I have to ask, "Who are you wearing?"  More and more often, the response is Rosemarie Umetsu (www.thestar.com/comment/columnists/article/282503). 

I met Rosemarie at a recent TFI seminar, Venturing Into Retail. Her retail concept was so interesting, I requested a visit to her by-appointment-only atelier for R.U.Design. Last week, she invited me in, along with my Rags and Mags (www.ragsandmags.com) partner in crime, Danielle Meder.  

Danielle and I were impressed immediately merely by standing in the entrance, a piano on one side and a Virginia Woolf quote elegantly graffiti-ed on the other. We were surrounded by photographs and painted portraits of twenty-four talented Canadian women wearing Rosemarie's fabulous designs. They covered the walls and Rosemarie soon explained they were created for a CONTACT Photography Festival exhibit (www.contactphoto.com/view.php?eventid=1203) called Iconic Beauty. She plans on collaborating with different artists annually with the goal of producing a book after five years. Watch for the newest exhibit at this year's CONTACT festival in May. 

Artistic collaboration permeates the atelier and Rosemarie's designs. Also evident: a unique shopping experience, elegant designs, and a caring designer. 

The showroom is any woman's dream closet and the perfect way to shop.  

At first it may be intimidating to make a shopping appointment with a designer, but Rosemarie makes her clients comfortable by planning appointments one-and-a-half to four hours long, assessing wardrobe needs, showing the season's collection, and perhaps discussing custom creations over wine or light lunch. It is actually quite welcoming and inclusive. She indeed offers an individual shopping experience. "It's a whole package," she says. 

Who are the lucky ladies receiving the R.U. package? 

Rosemarie says most of her clients are artists, which is what she enjoys most about running her atelier. She has been a classical pianist since the age of three and music was her first love; fashion was a close second. She developed a fashion appreciation by growing up in Sri Lanka with a couturier for a grandmother, but never really considered fashion as career. As you can guess, she did end up in fashion and has experience with Club Monaco and Holt Renfrew. But by working with artists in her own studio, Rosemarie can participate in both worlds of fashion and music. 

It could be argued the R.U. atelier is creating a whole new world of fashion, music, and other disciplines since Rosemarie brings them together for Salon nights. Clients meet each other and discuss the latest works from indie rock to opera. In a way, she is creating a society and almost an artistic lifestyle that defines her brand. But it's not all about branding and business; she is connecting Canadian artists and absolutely loves it. 

Why do these artists love Rosemarie and her designs? 

Rosemarie monitors her client and inventory lists meticulously. Her personalized service ensures clients have original pieces. She doesn't make more than four pieces per style and she doesn't sell two of the same outfit. You will never see duplicate R.U. designs at the same function.  

She also  makes custom pieces and even designs concert tour wardrobes. For a tour wardrobe, she will meet with the artist, who will inform her of their repertoire and performance venues. If the artist is playing in a smaller lounge, it is obviously different than performing for hundreds of thousands in Central Park, where stand-out clothing is necessary. Fabric colours must work with the client's skin colouring and their repertoire. All special designs fit into seasonal collections. 

With this customized approach to fashion design, Rosemarie does still offer basic pieces each season, such as a wide leg pant, but both the custom and basic pieces have a common problem: it is always difficult to keep fabric in stock. Since she has a niche market, there is no need to buy large quantities. To work around this, she buys from small mills in Europe that allow her to purchase fifty meters or less.. The upside to her approach is that she doesn't have inventory problems because everything is made to measure. 

She settled on this business model after two years as a designer selling in boutiques across Canada, the United States, and Europe. There were problems with that approach. She couldn't grow the business and do what she wanted. Finances are a huge issue when making collection in advance, advertising it, selling it, and shipping it. When evaluating her business, Rosemarie realized most of my clients were from the arts, so she skewed designs that way and marketed them to that crowd.  

Since her business and clientele isn't traditional, Rosemarie doesn't market in traditional ways. For instance, she will outfit members of a ballet or opera company. She will participate in CONTACT or with an organization such as PEN Canada for a special event. She has embraced facebook as a marketing and networking tool. You can find her there at www.facebook.com/people/Rosemarie-Umetsu/628355662

Rosemarie got to where she is by knowing her market and she says that is one of the biggest keys to having a successful fashion business. You also have to ask, "What do you want to do? What are you passionate about? What makes you different?" 

Above all, Rosemarie says you must "be able to go out there and sell it. Don't be afraid."

TFI Seminar: Meet Arie Assaraf, Owner/Buyer, TNT - The New Trend

Last night, the TFI held an interesting seminar with Arie Assaraf, the Owner/Buyer of the TNT - The New Trend (www.tntthenewtrend.com) group of stores. He also participated in a TFI seminar called What Buyers Want on November 1, 2006 and was kind enough to answer follow-up questions, posted on my November 13, 2006 blog. 

The New Trend is an apt description for the stores that include TNT WOMAN, TNT MAN, and TNT blu, a more casual incarnation of the women's and men's stores. I would say that Arie and his buying team have the sharpest eyes in Canadian retail and are strong supporters of Canadian fashion designers. They always know what's coming next. 

Surprisingly, they sometimes make mistakes, as Arie admitted during his chat. He recounted a story about buying women's mid-range suits for a recent season that did not sell. Every other season they sold, but not anymore. 

What? A successful retail owner makes mistakes? How does that happen? 

Listening to Arie speak, I realized miscalculations can make business owners smarter. You just have to plan for some missteps and move on. In the case of the wrong suits, Arie realized that his customers tastes had shifted, while the suit designers were remaining the same. He stressed the importance of being in step with your target market. 

After his informal chat, Arie answered some questions, which I thought you would be interested in reading (please note that I am paraphrasing greatly): 

Q: Are Canadian customers moving away from fast fashion?
Maybe not, but there will always be a demand for quality clothing. 

Q: Can you identify some hot up-and-coming brands?
Karen Elliott, Elizabeth & James, Rag & Bone, Smythe (www.smythelesvestes.com). 

Q: Does TNT do private label?
We did a pant line called Jaiden [Sorry guys, I forgot to get the spelling! -C], but it was discontinued for various reasons, one being that I'm not a designer but was finding myself needing to put in too much time to develop the line. Now we're involved with Line Knitwear (www.lineknitwear.com), which is not exclusive to TNT. Working for a private label company can be the best experience for a designer. 

Q: What do you think of accessories?
Accessories are the next big business; accessories are an impulsive buy. 

I would say everyone left the seminar with a positive feeling. Arie stressed that the current economic situation is not at all bleak. He suggests that now might be a good time for young designers to work for larger companies to get experience, analyze the environment, and talk to stores to look for marketplace gaps. Recession? What's the r-word mean to someone who opened his first shop in the economic slump of 1992, which has grown into an influential retail presence? It means opportunity. 

The designers who attended the event were given the chance to create opportunity for themselves as they were encouraged to submit buyer kits to Arie and speak with him after the event. See? It's a good week for TFI members!  

TFI Members Meeting: Perhaps the Best One Ever!

You may or may not know that I moderate the monthly TFI Members Meetings. Yes, yes, I do, and I love having the opportunity to meet everyone.

We started them around the same time I started my clothing company, and they became my lifeline. I looked forward to chatting with people who knew what it was like to be chained to a sewing machine, sew with blurry eyes due to lack of sleep, juggle a job while trying to start a fashion business, and find trustworthy contractors and fabric suppliers. I dubbed them "My Fashion Support Group". 

I usually don't have a plan for the meetings. I ask everyone to introduce themselves and their projects. If they don't have a company yet, I ask them to tell us their interests. During the introduction, I also request discussion topics to make sure we talk about what is of interest to everyone (Undoubtedly, someone always wants to talk about fabric suppliers!). There is usually a great mix of new to intermediate designers and I have met many fashion friends and colleagues through these meetings. 

Lately, they haven't been as energetic as they used to be and I wondered if I was bringing everyone down or if new Toronto fashion business owners were bringing themselves down. I thought about ways to spice them up, but usually talking about owning a fashion business is spicy enough. What was I going to do? 

The spice returned at last night's meeting. 

There were about 15 people, some who haven't even thought about what they want in a business, others who are ready to write a business plan, quite a few who have small business, and a couple who had tons of fashion industry experience. 

We had swimwear, menswear, womenswear, kidswear, medical uniform, specialty clothing, and accessory designers, along with an online retailer. Everyone had different perspectives, experience, and advice. At many points through the night, people were so excited to share that little conversations erupted throughout the room. Everyone wanted to hear what others had to say, so at times I felt a bit school-teachery and had to stop the chats with, "Is there something you want to share with the rest of the group?" I hope I didn't offend anyone, but I wanted to hear the words of wisdom too! 

Some people have mentioned to me that they would attend more Members Meetings if there wasn't a fee attached. I understand, I really do, so here's an explanation of why there is a small fee.  

Through the TFI's twenty-two years of experience of running workshops and events, we have found that people do not commit to free events. In the past when meetings were free, we'd have 20 or 30 members sign up to attend and then have to cut off the list due to room size restrictions. But then what happened? Only two or three people would show up!  It's not fair to other members if you say you're coming and then you  don't.  Also, for TFI to host these meetings, they must remain open beyond regular business hours, which costs this non-profit organization money in staffing and operating costs. If nobody shows up, then it's a waste. The fee is a form of insurance that we'll get a lot of enthusiastic people out to the meetings. 

What else do you get apart from the opportunity to meet new people, network, and chat about your business challenges? Pizza! And the chance to win a fun door prize! The best part? Everyone at TFI Members Meetings is friendly, supportive, and eager to help other fashion entrepreneurs. There is never a trace of cattiness or backstabbing for which the fashion industry is known. 

Have I sold you on the greatness of the TFI Members Meetings? If so, I'll see you at the next one on Monday February 2. You can sign up by e-mailing Nina or Anne (tfi@fashionincubator.com).

Vancouver Fashion: What I found

I still have Vancouver fashion on my mind and I promise to bring you some more Vanvouver fashion interviews. In the meantime, here are some of my thoughts on the Vancouver fashion scene:

  • The fashion industry in Vancouver is young, but it is dynamic and energetic
  • I see a big growth in Vancouver retail areas and shops
  • There is something strange going on with its two fashion weeks, BC Fashion Week and Vancouver Fashion Week. I don't want to get involved in which one is better because I might find a horse's head in my bed if I do so. I have not attended either one, so I cannot judge until I have seen both (I would love to go and report on them, though). But really, there is no need for two fashion weeks in one city. Until this is resolved, I do not think Vancouver will have a strong fashion voice.
  • I hear there have been attempts at starting fashion meetups and networking opportunities, which started strong, but fizzled. I recommend that you take the initiative and see where it goes. For instance, Vancouver bloggers could get together for Fashion Blogger Brunches like Danielle Meder (finalfashion.ca/category/on-blogging/tfbb) started in Toronto. It was a great way to meet supportive fashion friends.
  • Photographers and stylists seem to be a strong force. Keep up the great energy, guys and gals! Get to know your local fashion designers and use them for your portfolios or editorial work.
  • The voice of Western Canadian fashion will get stronger with the growth of Fashion West, a branch of the Canadian Apparel Federation. See last week's interview with Carol Fergusson, Managing Director of Fashion West and check out the CAF website (www.apparel.ca) for more information.
  • There was excitement over the idea of starting a Fashion Incubator in Vancouver. That was not the point of my meeting, but we did want to introduce TFI to Vancouver.
 Some of you may agree, some may disagree. I could be completely wrong since I was only there for two weeks. Nevertheless, I look forward to keeping up with Vancouver fashion and meeting up with my new fashion friends during my yearly visits to the city.  

Q&A with Ryerson Fashion Communications Student Meghan Orlinski

I first met Meghan Orlinski while she was volunteering at the TFI. Then I started running into her at fashion events around Toronto. And then I noticed her running fashion events around Toronto. With a shared interest in fashion and the environment, we became good friends. I thought you would like to hear about the experience of someone in her last year of the Ryerson University Fashion Communications program, so here’s a Q&A for you.

Carolyn: You're a 4th Year Ryerson Fashion Communications student. What have you learned from the program?
Meghan: My program has really given me an integrated look at the world of fashion. It’s a communication course, and we focus on communicating ideas - through images, layouts, branding, writing, events, etc. Because we’re a University, I’ve also taken liberal studies courses like Critical Thinking, Spanish, and English courses. I have friends that are getting minors in sociology and psychology. My program also focuses on learning all aspects of the industry, and we do everything from graphic design, illustration, web design, marketing, package design, typography, events management, entrepreneurship… we have a good selection of professionally related electives. (If you can manage to fit them in your time table.)

C: Who would you recommend the program to? People who want to be in PR, branding, marketing, or merchandising?
I’d recommend this program to someone who is self-directed and likes learning, or for someone who is still exploring what they want to do. Our class variety gears you to a wide choice of careers, and it also prepares us to be great entrepreneurs and leaders in the field as we have a good overview of the industry. It’s great for the magazine industry.

Also, a lot of grads go on to work in fields that aren’t fashion because our program teaches you a good amount of graphic design and marketing skills and it teaches you HOW to work and think, not necessarily just about fashion.

I’m interested to see how our new Chair Robert Ott will change the program; he wants to re-vamp the program to make it even more integrated, and there is the new re-vamped business school where we take many classes.

If someone wants to do something specific like PR and merchandising they should go to a college like Humber or Seneca that have specialized programs. If you don’t like to work really hard and take criticism, save your money and go somewhere else and save all of us some time.

C: You have organized a lot of events during your studies. Do you have any event planning tips?
Yes. Hire me. It’s really important to know the people you work with and how they work. If you know your team’s work ethic you can anticipate how things will go and what to prepare for.

  • Make sure you know everyone who is working at the event and what their roles are. Make sure they know you and what your role is. Have a janitor/facilities manager on speed dial.
  • Always be friendly, always be positive
  • Be prepared; event planners should have a kit just like stylists
  • “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.”

C: The third year Fashion Communication students organize Mass Exodus, Ryerson's final year fashion show. What was your role for that production and what did you learn from it?
I was a part of the Sponsorship team, which took care of creating sponsorship kits, organizing the incoming money/products-in-kind, and distributing model bags. In addition, during the actual event, we were in charge of food and the model holding room, which was really rewarding since people love you when you feed them good food. Another fun part of the food role was that we got to know the models and theater workers who make the magic happen.

On top of that, because of my experience and interest, my professors created an environmental coordinator position for me. It was great because I got to learn the theory behind sustainable events management, do a lot of research, make a lot of contacts, and influence people in my school. We got to save lots of energy, paper, water, and plastics.

I wish maybe the role had been taken more seriously, the only problem with the position is that there was no authority behind it, so I could suggest ’til the cows came home to do something, but it didn’t have to be taken into effect. If anyone wants to have an environmental position in their company or event, make sure that that person has some authority behind it.

C: Can you tell me about the final year Fashion Communications show and the fundraiser you're organizing?
Each year, Ryerson’s School of Fashion graduates intelligent, skilled and talented Fashion Communication students. To showcase their final theses, the event LINK was created to exhibit the graduates’ work while providing a forum for graduates, industry and the public to mingle. In the past, fashion, web, design, marketing, production, event planning, media and moguls alike have been in attendance.

2009 marks a re-branding for LINK. It aims to re-look at the way student theses are presented and interact with the public. Spearheaded by a new school Chair, top faculty, and a team of dedicated and talented students; LINK is poised to be the gallery opening marked and highlighted on Toronto’s A-list’s calendars, blackberries and iPhones. This year, 62 fashion communication graduates will be leaving the school. There are theses about sustainability and fashion, the future of web design, the nature of creativity and magazine niches.

To raise money for a venue and a cocktail reception, we are partnering with BUMP-IT, a really fun party night at the Boat. All proceeds from this fundraiser will go directly to the event budget of (Missing) LINK 2009. The fashion invasion fundraiser will be featuring: dj barb, dj yo-evm dj so soft, and an Independent/Student Art raffle from 8-10pm and the after-party from 10pm-2am. The raffle will include donated art pieces by artists that include: Elicser, Fathom, Vladimir Kato, Gabe G, Elyse Connery, Maxwell Pope, Misha Hunter, Oligarchy, Chris Butters, Brooke King and more.

CHEAP DRINKS! FREE EATS! GREAT ART! GOOD PEEPS! Who could ask for anything more?

My class hopes you come out to celebrate and support Fashion's Future!!!

Interview: Carol Fergusson from Fashion West and Golden Gnome

I met Carol Fergusson at the Vancouver fashion meeting and after hearing only a few words of wisdom from her mouth, I knew we needed to sit down, have a chat, and share our conversation with you.

Fashion design is Carol's second career. Previously, she worked in marketing, retail, and as an Assistant Gallery Director, among other positions. Fashion was her passion since she was eight years old, so at 28, she woke up, said, “I have to follow my dream,” and went to school at University College of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford.

After school, Carol worked for Aero Garment, one of first, largest, and oldest apparel companies in BC. It was family-owned for eighty-five years and was where Please Mum (www.pleasemum.com) is now. Aero started in the 1920s, producing everything from denim overalls to pressed pants for men. It produced Pulse, the first junior denim line in Canada, and was one of the first companies to do acid wash. Carol was intrigued with the learning opportunity that the company's history and size presented. The building had a design room, laundry facilities, fabric warehouse, sewing factory, pattern cutters, and the family elders looked after everything. There, she learned every aspect of apparel construction.

Carol said the experience “has made me who I am today as far as apparel is concerned.” She was a design room assistant for the first season, and subsequently promoted to look after all major store business. She was asked to start a new division, but that was flipped into something else, and then her bosses changed their minds. After that, she was asked to re-launch a polyester pull-on pant line in 6 weeks, which she researched and modernized, but it was too much work. She left Aero and worked for a comic company.

Aero dissolved in December/January of 2003/2004, but a son of the owner approached her about the line that she started. He noticed that sales had gone from $60,000 to $3.5 million, and wanted to start his own company.

“My life was like a bad country song at the time", said Carol. "My boyfriend had just broken up with me, I had nowhere to live, I had no money, my car broke down, and my cat was sick, so I was like, ‘Okay, sure. What do you want to do?’ ”. They stayed with the same line, but gave it a new name: Taylor Brooke. They went to outside mills and contractors, which was a new challenge for Carol since she was used to having in-house resources. After only a few weeks, they had a forty-piece line out to eight reps in duplicates. She continued to help build the company, with over five million dollars in sales in the first year thanks to two major customers.

Carol learned a lot from that experience: how to negotiate with non-English speakers, work with a pattern company, set up a business, hire people, ship, and price fabric. The company, Quantum Apparel, grew from two employees in the son’s basement and Carol's apartment to owning a building with fourteen employees in 2006.

Eventually, Carol became frustrated because she worked around the clock, but it wasn't her own company, so she left. After teaching at Blanche McDonald (www.blanchemacdonald.com), a few contracts, and a return to Quantum, Carol decided to start her own company called Golden Gnome (www.goldengnome.ca).

Golden Gnome is a consulting company where Carol puts her varied experience to good use, recommending merchandising, branding, marketing, and design solutions to existing apparel companies.  One client is the Canadian Apparel Federation (www.apparel.ca), where Carol is re-branding Apparel BC (www.apparel-bc.org). As the Managing Director of Fashion West (there is no website at the moment, but keep watching for it), Carol's business card states, "...it is different out here."

She sees Fashion West as a cheerleader for Western Canadian fashion that will break down walls and emphasize teamwork. What can Fashion West and the Canadian Apparel Federation do for designers?

Carol told me, “I think everybody should be a CAF member because there’s strength in numbers. They only get so much money from Industry Canada...it’s not a lot...that office is run by 3 people. The more people that are members, the more CAF can do for you.” Executive Director Bob Kirke “is so intelligent it hurts” and CAF knows all the intricacies of doing business in apparel industries and is very connected with governments. For instance, CAF knew about consumer product safety changes before everyone else and quickly offered a seminar about them.

CAF offers many seminars and Carol mentioned that she plans on gearing Fashion West seminars to suit the needs of young companies, focusing on how to hire, importing and exporting, and how to choose marketing, PR, and web design companies. CAF members get half price off all events and seminars, so the $200 annual membership pays for itself quickly. All benefits are on the CAF website (http://public.apparel.ca/eng/cafPublic/cafDiscounts.cfm).

When should someone join CAF? Carol recommended that designers need to become involved early on, even if they don’t have a line or even if they are working for a company that isn’t a CAF member. She is also looking into recent grad membership.

With Carol cheerleading for Fashion West, I am sure many new designers will benefit from her wisdom. For those of you who are not in Vancouver or Western Canada, here are a few tips from Carol that I think you will find useful:

  • Canadian designers have the opportunity to stand out in a "weird layer" below designer, but at a better price point
  • We need to market to Europe and give the United States a rest, not only because of the economic climate, but because we are more European than American in fabrics, fabrication, and climate
  • A lot of fashion practices are completely un-environmental. Why not have the seasonless season?
  • Read Mary Gehlhar's book, "Fashion Designers Survival Guide" (www.fashiondex.com/store/proddetail.php?prod=646)
  • Pay attention to trend forecasting companies Promostyl (www.promostyl.com) and Trendex (www.trendexna.com)
  • Go work for someone, learn from their mistakes, then go out on your own.

With Carol's passion for fashion, belief in teamwork, and desire to pass on knowledge, the Western Canadian fashion industry has a very strong cheerleader.

Interview: Jaime Schulman from Strut Productions

I met Jaime Schulman through a friend from Ryerson and then ran into her again when I was suffering from fashion week burnout last season. I hoped to prove to her that I wasn't as brain-dead as I appeared after a week of fashion, so we met for a chat in Vancouver, where she told me about her company, Strut Productions (www.strutinc.com)

Strut Productions is a boutique fashion sales and marketing agency focusing on fashion and arts sectors. Jaime launched it in May 2008 with her business partner, Sabrina Fenster, to offer essential services to fashion designers, including large scale event production, marketing, and PR. They recently partnered with a branding agency to offer a complete range of fashion services.

When Jaime and Sabrina first meet a client, they try to understand who they are, what they're about, their goals, and how to get them from point A to point B. They "put together a plan that utilizes a number of our services. We often have clients that are interested in sales or just interested in branding or one sector. The reason we have so many services is so that you can build yourself a package and a strategy so you can utilize all of these things. You can't have one without the other. You can't throw an event without marketing because no one will show up; you can't have sales without public relations because people see this name and have no idea who you are. They all tie in. It's a matter of putting together a plan that utilizes every sector because the moment you drop one, it throws off the whole balance."

They started Strut because they wanted to develop Vancouver’s fashion industry. There are new retail areas all over the city, such as Main Street and Gastown, with new designers popping up everyday, but it is still a small fashion city. It became clear that to properly represent clients across Canada and in U.S., Strut required a Toronto location, which will open in June.

Jaime and Sabrina are both young entrepreneurs and Jaime mentioned that it is sometimes a struggle to be seen as legitimate as a young entrepreneur, but between the two of them, they have a lot of experience and partner with other experts. She also offers advice for other young entrepreneurs. First, she says, "If you don't have an idea of who you are and what you want to do, you're going to be steamrolled when you get in front of that first client." Then:

  • Research your market.
  • Prepare a proper business plan.
  • Have room for some flexibility.

I have a feeling we'll be seeing a lot of activity from the Vancouver and Toronto offices of Strut Productions in the future.

Interview: Christopher Bates for ULTRA

Menswear designer Christopher Bates wasn't able to attend my Vancouver fashion meeting, so he sent me a link to the site for ULTRA (www.ultramenswear.com) and his press package, which blew me away.

The kit is in pdf format, complete with cover, table of contents, press release, background, bio, lookbook, linesheet, stockists, and contact information. It was such a well done introduction to the line that I decided to meet with Christopher while in Vancouver.

Christopher studied in Milan at the Instituto Marangoni (www.istitutomarangoni.com), which he recommends highly. It is an English program and he says it was "an incredible experience. You’re studying and living in a city that breathes fashion.”

He chose to study in Italy not only because he loves Europe, but the decision was part of an ultimate branding plan. He says, “To brand myself as a designer - that would be the best place to be from.” He wanted to stay in Milan and was in the process to work for Armani Jeans, but his visa ran out, which turned out to be a blessing.

“My goal from the start – since I was a kid, really – I wanted to have my own clothing line. I went to school to figure out how to do that. What it takes to translate my ideas for clothes into real pieces.”

Now he is armed with knowledge and working on that goal in Vancouver. His company, Christopher Bates for ULTRA, officially incorporated in February 2008 but he started in November 2007. The line is influenced by Christopher's many trips to Europe. He is influenced by Scandinavian, Italian and Eastern European designs and reinterprets them. As a result, ULTRA has slim Scandinavian cuts, classical Italian styling, and a modern twist.

“What I’m really creating here isn’t just a line of clothes; it’s a new brand...People bandy-about the term ‘brand’ without really knowing what it means. It’s actually a huge concept. It’s a new lifestyle, a new way of living for men. It’s sort of how I live and what I’m into, and it’s something I think other guys might be interested in...I’m trying to educate them about that and how to dress."

How does he know so much about branding? His background is in PR and advertising. With just one look at the ULTRA press kit, which Christopher designed himself his understanding of branding is obvious.

About branding, he says, “Everybody is going to ask you, ‘What’s different about your clothes?’...It’s the feeling that goes along with buying and wearing a dress shirt. There has to be something more to it and the more is a company’s brand. A brand shouldn’t come from something made-up; it should come from something within you so that you are telling the story. And it’s your story. What is my story? Living life to the fullest, being in the moment, whatever you’re into. For me, it’s traveling around Europe, partying, just having a blast.”

How can you take that (the essence of ‘you’) and brand it? Christopher says it starts with the name of your company. "For me, it’s a designer brand - Christopher Bates for ULTRA. Ultra is the brand, Euro-trash is my icon." He tied those things together and translated them into his designs through fabrics, details, and accessories. "When it comes all together, I want my garments to scream that [Euro-trash brand], and they do.”

After the branding comes the manufacturing. Christopher says the key is to get involved in production and quality control.

“You can send a technical flat to China, but you’re not going to get back what you had in your mind. It doesn’t matter how good your flat is, how good your construction is; they’ve got their own issues and things going on there and you’re so low a priority on the totem pole for them that it’s just not going to happen.”

At the beginning, talking to factories all over the world was overwhelming. Christopher talked to some manufacturers in China and Hong Kong because he had a sourcing agent friend; but due to his high end designs, his friend couldn’t produce there. Not only that, but he would not have control over quality. He ended up finding a local manufacturer and is on the floor three days a week. Currently his collection is at the manufacturer for Spring 09 production.

He promoted his Spring 09 collection throughout the fall, with what sounds like a demanding fashion show schedule. He officially launched on October 16, 2008 at Tunnel nightclub, but also showed at the Fashion Music Awards, Ford Centre for Performing Arts, Vancouver Fashion Week, and had two cross-promotional shows with Armani’s fragrance launch at Crush nightclub.

What did he learn after organizing all those shows? The biggest expense is making extra clothes; some things go missing. Be really well prepared and organized.

He says, “Two months out, you should have already done everything. The next two months regardless are going to be busy.”

Not only does Christopher plan to take over Vancouver and Milan, but Toronto is on his list too. On February 12, he will be at Gotstyle (www.gsmen.com) for a trunk show. After establishing himself in Canada, he intends to return to Milan. He says, "That’s where I get my inspiration...but I always want to have a strong presence in Canada as well....I want to be a Canadian designer, but on the international stage.”

Vancouver Fashion: Meeting the Vancouver Fashion Crowd

I spent my winter holiday in Vancouver and took the opportunity to meet some people involved in the Vancouver fashion industry. We met at Subeez Café (www.subeez.com) and around forty people showed up! I bustled from table to table, introducing the TFI, while I was introduced to many designers, stylists, photographers, and bloggers. It was a great night and here are some of the people who attended:

It was a fun night. Thanks to everyone for coming. I look forward to watching what happens in Vancouver fashion.


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