Category Archives: Interviews

Eco Fashion Week 2013: BHANA Design

After watching the BHANA show at Eco Fashion Week, we decided we wanted to get to know the brand a bit better. We bring you a Style by Fire exclusive interview with two-time Eco Fashion Week designer Trisha Rampersad of BHANA Design.

What does the name BHANA mean, and how does it influence your brand?

BHANA is my maternal grandfather’s last name. He was a well respected business man and had great personal style.  He was also a man of integrity and was known in the community for this. When I started my business it made sense to me that I should name my business after this great man. Because of this, integrity in my business and [in my personal life] has always been a strong foundation for all I do.

We love the theme of this collection, “Embracing the Goddess Within.” What tips do you have for people to embrace their higher being?

The answer is just, love.  Love yourself for all that you are. Accept what you see as short-comings and free yourself to love yourself and your surroundings. When you love yourself, you actually free yourself and you are able to be the best version of yourself. And if you always live in that personal greatness, then you are being your own god or goddess!

What kind of eco-friendly fabrics did you use for BHANA?

For this Summer 2014 collection we used light, airy type fabrics. There is organic cotton, silk, linen, and a hemp/silk blend.

You mention the collection was inspired by Vancouver’s blue skies and ocean breeze – was that the inspiration behind the shiny sateen-like fabrics? Tell us more about the choice of fabrics and colour palette.

It was really important that fabrication be light and breezy. I don’t like it when fabric becomes so heavy that its wearer becomes lost.  Clothing should always uplift it’s wearer and enhance the human spirit. That ‘shiny’ fabric was the hemp/silk blend I mentioned earlier.  It is such a luxurious fabric!

What’s in store for BHANA next? Will you present at EFW again?

Who knows what the future holds for BHANA in the way of fashion shows!  I would love to present on the EFW runway again. This is absolutely the best team I have worked with. You really feel the love for what they do. I would love to get some celebrity endorsements for BHANA, and as you know, we have an online shop:  www.bhana.ca. The future for BHANA is all about sales. Let’s hope people love embracing their inner goddess with BHANA!

Photos by Aurora Chan

Interview by Miranda Sam

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7 Truths with VVHATIF Designer Aloysius Liew

VVHATIF by Aloysius Liew

I came across Aloysius Liew’s label, VVHATIF, at Vancouver Fashion Week, and he has since stood out to me as one of the ones to watch. I can’t get enough of his architectural designs and playful shapes.  Aloysius attended the prestigious Central Saint Martins, home to Matthew Williamson and Gareth Pugh. Shortly after enrolment, Liew was named the National finalist of the 2008 Triumph Inspirations Award in London, and was featured on one of my favourite blogs, Style Bubble. Liew has interned at Alexander McQueen Design studio as well as Viktor & Rolf Atelier in Amsterdam. Liew returned to Singapore in 2012 where he founded VV H A T I F, a conceptual fashion label for the experimentation of designs through hypotheses.

His first collection is called “The perimeter is.” True to his geometric style, the idea is that depending on the journey of a line, a shape is defined when its ends meet. The collection that experiments with just the use of lines, that upon joining the two ends, creates shapes or pattern that exhibits fluid geometries.

Just before I asked Aloysius the 7 questions, I was curious to know where his name was derived from. He says, “Aloysius is actually a self-given name when i was 10, after hearing it in class one day. I just fell in love with the name and decided it would be mine. I later found out its of german origins and means ‘fame’ and ‘war.’ My label VVHATIF, on the other hand, is the habitual instinct of my design process where I often doubt or hope to create.”

1. What was your experience like at Vancouver Fashion Week?

It was an indicative experience that made me want to share more of my work.

2. You mention you started designing at 19. Surely, you must have had previous sewing/illustration/art experience before that? Tell us about your early years.

During my childhood, I was heavily drowned into the world of cartoons. The unbounded world of cartoons became the trigger that led me to submerge myself into my own imaginary world and the only way I could illustrate my escapades in this world were through doodles and sketches. Everything else just followed through later on.

3. What inspired you to enter into the world of fashion design?

When i was 10, i would iron my own uniforms and prep myself for school in the early mornings. I remember I would fold them and press them, to mimic the fold lines when your parents would fold the garments for you. I think it was during this time where i already paid attention to how little details on a garment could express so much that led me to my interest in fashion.

VVHATIF by Aloysius Liew

4. How did you decide on starting your own label rather than working at a renowned brand?

I never really wanted my own label. I always dreamt that I would be a heroic fashion designer that would revive a dormant heritage fashion house. By chance, everything just kinda fell into place when fashion events and investors approached me and most importantly, I really felt like i wanted to have a voice of my own. It felt like i was at the very moment of my life where i should be taking a risk to do something heroic for myself

5. Who or what has had the biggest influence on your work ethic or design aesthetic to date?

It’s an instinctual feeling that responds to the movement in society. It’s like there’s an invisible movement happening around the world that unknowingly affects everything else that happens. And once you sees it and seize it, you create things that either rides with it or opposes it.

6. What is it about women that inspires you to design for them?

It’s the women who seek individualism and I could be a part of it.

7. The concept of VVHATIF is heavily based on experimentation. What is the biggest risk or most interesting question you have had to “hypothesize” through your designs?

There was never one question that was most interesting or risky. The questions are always interesting and easy to ask as it is limitless to the extend of questions you can ask. But it is the attempt to answer those questions and to realise the answers in the context of fashion that is truly interesting and risky sometimes. The answers are always unexpected and exciting. Even just asking “VVHATIF the seam moves 1 cm to the left” can be very interesting and very risky.

‘The perimeter is’ by VVHATIF is Aloysius’s first collection, and will only be available online at WWW.VVHATIF.COM. His average price point is between USD $140 for a pair of shorts to USD $350 for a more complicated jacket.

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EP!C Preview: Amelia Shaughnessey Loves Leather 2x

LoveMe2Times-1

Amelia Shaughnessy started making bags from reclaimed leather 3 years ago while working full-time. But at her day job, she says, “All I was thinking about was making bags!” So in January of this year, she opted to make Love Me 2 Times  her full-time work. Although every new business can be a struggle to get off the ground, Amelia confidently says, “It’s worth it to do what you love.”

Her bags are all made from vintage leather jackets… and pants! Apparently there’s quite a high supply of leather pants in the thrifting markets. Pants also offer a much wider range of colour choices for the designer, as most leather jackets she finds are brown or black. What is now a teal handbag was once a pair of pants, and a current blue purse was a former leather skirt. Amelia never knows what to expect when hunting for new materials;  it’s certainly always a surprise.

Because of the panels on these garments, she often takes what may seem like an awkward piece and turns it into a focal point in her designs. Oftentimes, jacket pockets are repurposed as a bag’s external pockets. Perhaps it would act as an easy go-to area for lipstick? Love is literally infused on Love Me 2 Times bags: a little stitched heart makes an appearance on the products.

Look inside the recycled leather bags, the brightly patterend lining you see was made from a vintage dress. In addition to speaking to the environmental awareness she creates, Amelia says she “really wanted to something so each one is unique so that people felt it was something really special.” The uniqueness factor is something that runs throughout her business and personal style. When asked which fashion icon she admires, she doesn’t take a moment to hesitate, and mentions Emilio Pucci. “My entire wardrobe is vintage dresses,” she laughs.

Amelia Shaughnessey

Amelia will be at the EP!C Sustainable Living Festival this July 6 – 7th at the Sustainable Living Marketplace. Check out Love Me 2 Times along with Elroy, Dahlia Drive, and other eco-fashion designers.

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A Conversation with Wes Baker, co-founder of de-brand

Wes Baker, co-founder of Debrand ServicesThe story goes that Wes Baker and partner Amelia Ufford got the idea of recycling corporate textiles while surfing in Sri Lanka. They saw the masses of “brandfill” float ashore and decided to do something about it. Thus began the concept of Debrand, a company that recycles textiles while offering brand security to businesses such as Nike, Coca-Cola, and lululemon, who require brand security for their products as well.

The business had originally started out as a creative design firm called Cinder Creative. After establishing a solid client base, it allowed them to “spark the dialogue with [their] clients about the idea of ‘debranding’.” Once the resource recovery side eclipsed the creative side, the company fully rebranded as Debrand.

They first hosted Debrand in a warehouse in Yaletown. Rent was minimal, and they “constructed” it as they needed the space to work for their business. At the time the whole building was under a facelift; jackhammers were used the whole time, so he figured that they might as well jackhammer their place to outfit the space for their specific business needs too!

Wes definitely piqued my interest by doing what it takes to run a business, so I asked him about whether he believes entrepreneurship can be taught, as he holds a degree in it from the University of Victoria. He said he learned the basics of everything from his education: he can read financial statements perfectly well, can do operations, and of course the marketing. But the bottom line is that it takes a certain low-risk spirit and a leap of faith to be an entrepreneur. Or, says he likes to say, just “know enough to fake it.”

When we talked, what I noticed about Wes was that he was very multi-faceted; I think it comes from being an entrepreneur that requires one not only to juggle many tasks at once, but to see things from many perspectives. I brought up an issue about how it’s sad that clothing and apparel businesses churn out so many items that go to waste, basically I labeled it “bad,” but somehow he managed to look at it from a different angle.

He explained that it’s just a necessary evil because companies experiment with better ways of applying technology, similar to how nowadays consumers do much testing of beta software. I guess that’s just how the mind of an entrepreneur works – always seeing the opportunities.

Then we touched on some big issues in the fashion/sustainability world. “The fundamental of your business is to make more stuff and sell more stuff,” he said. We talked about how our economy is based on a consumption cycle, but just like the issue of skinny models ruling the runways, it’s really difficult to pinpoint where we can find a leverage point to create change. I also learned of an outdated part of our duty system, where it’s financially more sensible for companies to destroy clothing instead of recycling them because “destruction” warrants companies to regain its duties. We both agreed the whole situation is very grey.

So, instead of donating your old clothes to the nearest clothing collection bin, either give it to someone you know or leave it in your closet for a few more seasons. As he mentioned in his speech during the Eco-Fashion Week seminars, 95% of the clothing donated doesn’t make it back to a thrift store. In fact, most of it ends up as unwanted waste in third world countries.

Just take one of his examples – Wes was about to donate a jacket that had been sitting in his closet for a while but decided to give it one more go. Four people complimented his “new” jacket that day. So maybe it’s not so much that we need to find where the root of our consumption patterns lie, but rather, for us to view our wardrobes through a wider perspective. Just as an entrepreneur would see the many possibilities.

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Reflections from Vancouver Fashion Writer & Editor Marilyn Wilson

Marilyn WilsonI came across this Facebook viral series of Q&A answered by a former editor of mine, Marilyn Wilson. I wanted to share this with you guys because Marilyn is one of the most gets-to-the-heart type of interviewer and writer I’ve met.

I remember the time when we had coffee at 49th Parallel and we were so surprised by our different approaches to writing: I was formal, direct, and business oriented while she had a much softer touch, loved hearing about people’s personal stories, and often got people to reveal the deepest parts of themselves they may not even have been aware of. She’s also played such a big part in Vancouver fashion by supporting local designers and startup businesses. Thanks for sharing, Marilyn!

THEN

At 21 I lived in: Los Angeles
I drove: an ancient 1950’s something VW with no back bumper I bought for $100
I worked at: A company that supplied the raw materials to create high-fire ceramics.
I wanted to be: A California girl who actually had a tan and a set of breasts as although I was blond, I was totally skinny, flat-chested and pale
I feared: Never being love-able or loved

NOW
Now I’m 58 and married to wonderful man with 3 amazing grown kids.
I live in: Richmond
I drive: 2005 BRIGHT BLUE Yaris which I love
I work at: Writing about people- the most interesting subject in the world. Interviewing people about their life journeys is unbelievably satisfying.
I want to be: as skinny as I was back then…but as happy as I am now (copied from Pam Jackson as it’s just so true)
I fear: Loss (way to hard and too personal to share on FB)

If you’ve been moved in any way by her Q&A here, please go on to check out her blog, Olio by Marilyn!

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A Conversation with Sarah Penfold, Project Manager at MEC

Sarah PenfoldAfter countless emails and battling a month long cold I finally had the opportunity to meet up with Sarah Penfold, Facilities Specialist and Project Manager at Mountain Equipment Co-Op (MEC).

We sat down at 49th Parallel with our soy hot chocolate and herbal tea. I must admit, It was a shame I chose a cafe that bakes some of the cities best donuts as Sarah was headed to a power yoga class later that night! Luckily the drinks were amazing and a great conversation ensued about sustainability, MEC, store openings, proper pronunciation of the company name, and herding cats (keep reading!).

It was almost as if Sarah were destined to work at MEC. Her parents were environmentally conscious folks, she completed a program in restoration of the natural environment, and the outdoorsy side of her drew her to work in Alaska for 4 years.  Even as a young child, while the rest of us hovered over the Toys ‘R’ Us or Sears catalogs circling all the toys we coveted, Sarah did the same with the MEC catalog. She’d circle ski boots and crampons… even when she had no idea what the products were really used for!

Now, as a Project Manager for the facilities and operations teams, Sarah has one of the coolest jobs in Vancouver. For one, she gets paid to shop! Sarah deals with 2 types of facilities management: maintaining existing stores and working on new store openings. In a nutshell, she sources everything aside from the products sold in store. Her responsibilities include finding sustainable and cost effective fixtures, office furniture, appliances, down to the supplies used at the cash desk.

One of the stores she worked on was the boutique concept Saint-Denis location in downtown Montreal, which is a mere 4,000 square feet compared to the Vancouver location which spans half a city block. She mentioned initially, the response to the store was simply shock. But over time, the “advanced retail technology in that store helps members access and purchase the full assortment and have it delivered within an hour or so,” says Sarah.

MEC Saint Denis store

Having a highly infectious personality and being a “people person,” Sarah says that the biggest challenge in her role is not the team building and managing expectations bit, as it is a common Achilles’ heel for most project managers. She loves communicating with everyone who helps put a store together – from the site manager to the visual team to the store planner. Now her job isn’t all fun and games. In fact, she said as a project manager she’d describe her role as “putting out fires and herding cats,” alluding to the many difficult decisions and conversations that come with the package.

With great passion, Sarah spoke about MEC’s sustainable building policy, called Green Building Systems ( MEC GBS). Instead of following the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) system, the company invests what it would spend on certification back into sustainable development. I find this is what a company dedicated to sustainability would actually do – to forgo branded certification and instead do what’s right for its own operations. She mentioned that the MEC GBS follows a similar grading structure – Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum – and after a first round of upgrades approximately half the stores should be Gold certified (MEC GBS). The company is dedicated to zero waste, and was able to recycle, compost, or donate 92% of waste in 2007, so hopefully the results are getting closer to a hundred percent and to Platinum certified.

One of the topics that brought a smile to my face the most was listening to Sarah describe the MEC culture. As shoppers of the gigantic outdoor sporting goods retailer, we can only assume that those who work there enjoy a casual, laid-back, and environmentally aware culture. Surprise, surprise – they do! She mentioned that instead of “Casual Friday” someone had started a “Fancy Friday” initiative. And thinking about that, it would definitely be fun to flip the corporate dress code around.

After spending with Sarah the amount of time it takes to sip away at a hot chocolate, I found her to be a really warm-hearted person, and MEC a great place to be. For all the sustainability champions out there who have the outdoors in their hearts, I’d definitely recommend looking into MEC. And be sure to spell out the company name like “M-E-C” when you say it – it’s not pronounced “meck!”

Thank to Sarah to took her time to speak with me as I continue my sustainable fashion and retail journey as I begin my second term at BCIT’s Sustainable Business Leadership program.

MEC

*** Updated January 14, 2013 ***

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A Conversation with lululemon’s Community Sustainability Program Manager

As you may know, I’m enrolled in a yearlong sustainability program. And as part of my learning, I wanted to find out about sustainability jobs as much as I can in the real working world, mainly in the areas of apparel, consumer goods, and retail. This isn’t part of the course, just something I’m excited to do in order to learn about the sustainability community and connect with them.

A while back I had the opportunity to speak with Eric Unmacht, the Community Sustainability Program Manager at lululemon. It was very exciting to hear about social and sustainable initiatives from one of Vancouver’s favourite brands.

What I got most out of the conversation was that:

  1. Eric is a super chill and cool guy (maybe because he came from California?)
  2. Green jobs must be created + what it’s like working in a sustainability role
  3. Working at lululemon can be pretty sweet

One of my first questions was: how did he score such a sweet job?! It all came down to always taking initiative with your career. Eric’s always had an interest in the environment, with a degree in Environmental Science and Political Science. His mentor at the time had told him to find a company committed to this area, and lululemon was a natural choice.

Having just moved to Vancouver in the past few months, Eric’s been figuring out where the company’s been with sustainable initiatives, cataloging what’s happened, and working on developing a social and environmental strategy for the company. The people who work at lulu are super conscious of their environmental impact, so many initiatives happen everywhere in different capacities, so it was important to centralize that information. On the social front, Eric’s working on lululemon’s Giving program that has the goal of elevating communities, and we all know lulu’s all about community engagement.

As the sustainability guy, as much as people are into giving back and the environment, there are also those who oppose to any sort of change. I asked about overcoming objections and luckily he hadn’t come across any during the first few months. It’s likely due to his easygoingness to work with different people, as he never feels like there’s only one way to do things.

On that account, Eric also talked about how he loves the company: lululemon’s not afraid to do things their own way. He also mentioned it feels like working in a startup where it’s fast paced yet flexible and full of freedom. There’s also a strong support system to let employees form goals and visions for their lives. That’s not a surprise to hear, as we’ve all seen the inspiring messages on lululemon bags.

lululemon’s also looked into their carbon and water footprints through Offsetters, a leading carbon-management solutions company. The report showed their results on part with the apparel industry, and they’re looking at more ways to reduce emissions.

As for advice to sustainability students looking for work in the future, Eric says, “Don’t ever turn down an interview for anything, even if to figure out what you want.” He says that knowing when the right fit comes along is simple because both parties will feel the same way, and that it’s okay to not have it all figured out.

Thanks so much to Eric for taking the time to share his thoughts. Best of luck with creating a more social and environmental place at lululemon.

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