What It’s Like to Work in the Fashion Industry in Vancouver
A designer, a stylist, a consignment store owner and a fashion show founder weigh in about the ups and downs of working in Vancouver.
November 1, 2018
What it’s like to be a designer
I started sewing when I was 13, but didn’t think it would be a career. I was on trajectory to be a doctor. But my first love, when I was 16, was the son of John Fluevog, and from him I learned you can do what you love and make a career.
Vancouver is very small and very new, and there are advantages to that. It’s easier to get noticed, rather than being in a sea of people. We don’t have these old traditions in the industry that we have to abide by, so we can kind of create whatever we want. The difficult thing is that, in Vancouver, generally people don’t spend a lot on fashion. Style isn’t as high on people’s priority list. But that’s been changing slowly.
I grew up close to the ocean and forest and that definitely had an impact on me and my values, and believing how important it is that we create things that are going to be in harmony with the planet. That’s definitely shaped my values and the values of my business. I would also say that there are a lot of people in the city who are socially conscious, so they quickly understand what it is I’m creating and gravitate toward it. It’s definitely a growing trend all over the world.
It’s a really hard industry. Cash flow is always the most intense thing. It’s really hard. I’m constantly going, “Why am I doing this?” The apparel industry is intense; it doesn’t matter if you’re small or big.
I think people would be surprised at how little time I actually spend designing. I design probably five percent of my time. I’m CEO of the company, so most of my time is looking at financials. My advice would be: if you really want to be a designer, then partner with someone who will take care of the business side of things or work for a company specifically as a designer.
I used to get to be a little more experimental, but when you see the really simple things are what’s selling so much and the more interesting things sell so little, slowly things become more classic. One of the big changes we’re making is reducing a line just to core essentials. Our clients—because they’re socially minded—want to buy less, buy better, and be able to wear one thing in different ways. It’s about a “lean closet.” For me, as a designer, it becomes a little less exciting, but it does allow me to do the other things I’m passionate about, like going deep into the supply chain and making sure things are high quality.
—Nicole Bridger [Note: Since this interview in 2017, Bridger has retired from fashion.]
What it’s like to run a consignment shop
I’ve only been in the country a few months. I came here to relax and that hasn’t worked out too well. I had a few thousand pounds from savings, and I was working a really casual job at a hat shop; I walked past this space and saw it doing nothing, so I asked the owner: Would you be up for renting that full time? I think I’m the first retail space on this 100-block. I’m hoping the quality of the clothing does the work. I’m on a mezzanine level…is that a shitty word for upstairs? Sorry, British people swear a lot.
I sold wine in London before this. I just love clothing: always have, always will. It’s not fair to compare, but I came to Vancouver and there was nowhere to shop here. Things are so focused around women. So I thought, I’m going to start a men’s shop. But girls are the ones who are actually shopping here anyways. I thought that if I just put good clothes out, people would come. It’s not that easy, though.
In England, vintage is huge. But it’s nice here, because the vintage at home is more expensive. And there’s lots of good American workwear from the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s here. Like this piece from the ’60s, it’s never even been worn. It’s made of “high-bulk orlon,” which I’ve never heard of before. I love knitwear, that ’50s American perfect-smile vibe.
Weirdly, I have no clothes anymore. I gave up everything for here. My denim jacket, my leather jacket. I think I’m the only clothes store owner who doesn’t have any bloody clothes.
—James Faulkner, owner, Faulknerandco, faulknerandcoapparel.com
What it’s like to be a stylist
I started as a model when I was young—a lot of catalogues because I’m super short. But I realized I loved setting up the shoots, staying behind and connecting with the people who put together the shoot. I liked making things pretty and organizing things.
I’ve actually worked all over the world, styling videos in Greece, working in London, working on the red carpet for the Daytime Emmys. In every shoot. you can anticipate that something is going to happen. I’ve been at the Junos with one of my clients and as we’re getting ready, about to perform, one of the guys puts on his jacket and the buttons are gone. I’ve been on set for another band and I’m trying to use my double-sided tape because his pants are falling down. I’ve made an earring back out of a gummy bit off my dress.
I was dressing one of my clients from Days of Our Lives and we had pulled a bowtie for him to wear, but I didn’t realize that I had to tie it myself. So I’m on the red carpet, and I literally can’t tie this thing so it looks right. When we’re there, I saw Sharon Osbourne, and thought, “She’s British, she’s gotta be able to tie a bowtie.” But she was like, “Me? Noooo.” So she and I were running into the audience, looking for someone to do it, and wound up grabbing some random guy to help. My client won best dressed that year.
Celebrity styling appears glam but the majority of the job is schlepping. Reaching out to designers, begging to borrow their clothes, schlepping them to your car, steaming them. You don’t see the muscle.
—Kim Appelt, stylebykimxo.com
What it’s like to run a fashion festival
Vancouver is a teenager city trying to find its identity. Stop trying to be New York and Montreal. I thought, let’s give Vancouver its fashion identity in sustainability.
There are more fashion weeks in Vancouver than in the rest of Canada combined. This is the challenge—you don’t have the time to attend them all, and it thins the crowd. Around the world, there are people who don’t see the difference. After eight years, what I find the hardest is to still have to convince people here that we’re serious and doing something great and need support.
When I first moved here, I saw that there were fashion players but no community. Nobody knew about each other, nobody was working together. I would discover brands that have been there forever that don’t even sell in Vancouver. We should work together and shine together.
Honestly, right now the world has their eyes on us because Vancouver knows how to do clothes well. You can complain about leggings, but leggings have surpassed denim sales. And leggings that fit well and are made well—you want to wear them. You feel good and look good.
— Myriam Laroche, founder and president, Eco Fashion Week, ecofashion-week.com
*Interviews originally conducted in summer 2017 and have been edited and condensed