Designer Pauline Siu loves animals—and not just the usual suspects (baby seals, panda bears, and dolphins) but every ugly bottom feeder, pesky rodent, and spineless stinger that most of us don’t think twice about. And she knows all too well how much the survival of her beloved critters depends on environmental initiatives. That’s why she’s determined to make her label, flora&fauna, as eco-friendly as possible.
After spending more than five years in the Toronto fashion industry, Siu saw firsthand just how toxic the garment-manufacturing process can be. But thanks to a stint at Hatley, an environmentally conscious label that focuses on kids’ wear, Siu also saw how easy it is for clothiers to clean up their acts. So when she moved to “Super, Natural B.C.” in 2007, she naturally expected to find employment with another forward-thinking clothing company. She was sorely disappointed.
“When I came here and got a job, I felt like I was totally back to square one,” recalls Siu, sitting down with the Straight at a downtown café to talk about her debut collection and the critters that have shaped her vision. “I wanted to be a part of something that would be a leader, or at least be somewhat cooperative, and not just another negative force in the environment.
“I was getting a bit frustrated,” continues Siu. “It wasn’t like I was in the position to say, ”˜Hey, you have to print all your catalogues on recycled paper—that’s just the right thing to do.’ My voice just wasn’t being heard and I realized that I have choices. I don’t have to be a part of something that’s not right—even if it came down to working in a coffee shop, I’d do it.”
She never did get a barista gig. But she did quit her day job and start her own label. When it came to inspiration, she didn’t have to look far. One of the first things she did when she moved out here was go on an extended camping trip to Tofino, where she got her first glimpse of West Coast wildlife.
“I was just so amazed,” says the Ryerson University fashion grad. “I was starting to do all these sketches while I was there and the whole time I knew I had to put it into clothes somehow. I had these little animals just brewing in my head waiting to come out.”
The most obvious Tofino influence is the Jelly Fish Tube Top ($90), a teal-blue soy–organic cotton–spandex tunic with a built-in shelf bra and a handful of glow-in-the-dark jellyfish screen-printed on the right side.
“I did some research and found out there’s been some jellyfish blooms in different parts of the world,” says Siu, who, along with many marine experts, believes this is an indicator of environmental problems. “I wanted a visual reminder that there’s this imbalance in the ocean because of the jellyfishes. So it’s not all fun and pretty—it’s kind of serious. But at the same time, I want to bring it up in a fun and pretty way.”
Siu also made a squirrel version of the tube top ($90), which comes in kelly green and has several nut-hoarders running along the right pocket. Her inspiration for this one is Pepper, an orphaned baby squirrel she sponsored at the Critter Care Wildlife Society in Langley—one of the many organizations Siu works closely with.
To cap off flora&fauna’s signature tanks, tubes, and beach dresses, Siu designed some bamboo-cotton French terry shrugs ($80) that come in three bold shades. You can check out all these spring styles at Hum Clothing (3623 Main Street), Granville Island Organix (1812 Boatlift Lane), Planet Claire (212 Abbott Street), and Dream (311 West Cordova Street). Get a sneak peek at her fall collection when she takes part in Vancouver Fashion Week’s ecofriendly-themed runway show this Friday (March 27) at the old Storyeum site (151 West Cordova Street).
Most of Siu’s fabrics are Oeko-Tex-certified, which guarantees they don’t contain harmful amounts of chemicals. Of course, that doesn’t mean they are 100-percent ecofriendly. After all, it does take a lot of treatment to break down a plant as strong as bamboo into a malleable material. But for Siu, this is definitely the lesser of two evils.
“It’s not perfect,” she says, adding, “But it’s a step.”