As the environmental costs of the textile industry increasingly come to light—think about the thousands and thousands of garments that are produced by retailers such as Forever 21, H&M, and Aritzia on the daily—more and more people are reverting to the way of life of their grandparents, preferring to fill their closets with locally made, handcrafted garments.
But you don’t need to break out the needle and thread to build a wardrobe that stands the test of both trends and time. Here in Vancouver, there is a wealth of talented designers, metalsmiths, and shoemakers who are crafting ethically and sustainably minded apparel, jewellery, and accessories that will make you actually feel good about shopping.
Those who fancy their wardrobe staples with a little vintage flair will find much to love in Harly Jae. Founded by local designer and Quebec transplant Laïla Bédard-Potvin, the recently launched label offers a flattering ’60s-inspired jumpsuit and breezy bandeau-and-cropped-trouser set that may be styled separately or together for maximum versatility.
All products are ethically crafted in Vancouver from a breathable cotton-linen or cotton-polyester blend. “I’m trying to create pieces that will last over time,” says Bédard-Potvin by phone. “They’re garments that you’d want to wear everyday but aren’t just basics.”
Expect Harly Jae’s debut collection—made up of the three aforementioned items—at this year’s Fall For Local, plus a few handpicked vintage pieces that go swimmingly with Bédard-Potvin’s designs. She also has a blouse, pant, and jacket planned for the autumn/winter season.
If you’re not smitten with the brand already, the story behind its name—an ode to Bédard-Potvin’s late father, Jess, and his beloved Harley Davidson motorcycle—should do it. “He was living his life against the norm and…all I wanted was to fit in,” recalls the designer. “Now, the more I grow up, the more I realize I’m a lot like him.”
Novel Supply Co.
When tourism-and-sustainability grad Kaya Dorey decided to pursue a career in fashion, she found few brands with values—and an aesthetic—that fit her own. So she decided to launch one herself. “There were some companies that were doing sustainable clothing,” she says, “but none that were really my style.”
In 2015, Novel Supply Co. was born. Its name a nod to the “novel” idea of apparel crafted from nontoxic, biodegradable fabrics, the North Vancouver–based label produces unisex Ts, tank tops, and crewneck sweaters designed for those who live by the mantra “West Coast, best coast”.
The laid-back apparel is made from a relaxed hemp-and-organic-cotton blend and features doodles of evergreens, tuques, and bicycles, and, occasionally, one-off prints by local artists. “It’s sort of comfortable, casual street style with a little bit of an outdoorsy feel,” describes Dorey.
At Fall For Local, Novel Supply Co. will be stocking its full line of gender-neutral tops, plus upcycled hats, cork wallets and notepads, and wall art made of fabric scraps sourced from the startup’s production process. Dorey also hopes to employ the leftover material in a kids’ line sometime in the near future.
Bianca Barr Designs
From silk button-ups and T-shirts to kimonos and denim shorts, secondhand basics are updated with whimsy under local designer Bianca Barr’s skillful eye. Since 2006, the fashion-design grad has been scouring thrift stores for top-quality, one-of-a-kind pieces and then updating them with handmade stamps, dyes, and swirling paints in contrasting shade pairings like grey on orange or cotton-candy pink on black.
“I go to thrift stores all the time and I would see all these other clothes that didn’t fit me but were really awesome,” explains Barr. “So I thought, ‘Oh, maybe I could do something to these and sell them.’ ”
Recently, Barr began constructing her own pared-down denim pieces and fashioning her one-off, hand-stamped fabrics—often decorated with large geometric shapes—into easy-to-wear jackets and tops. A woman of many trades, the designer is an experienced metalsmith, too, and specializes in sculptural gold, sterling-silver, and copper jewellery that boasts a marred texture suggestive of years of wear.
“They look like art pieces almost,” says Barr. “They’re raw and rough but very wearable still.” These, along with Barr’s vintage reworks and a new line of bright enamel jewellery, will be on deck at First Pick Handmade.
Kevin Milne is what you would describe as handy. The Toronto native has built motorcycle engines, brewed his own beer, distilled whisky, and even assembled guitar amplifiers with little help, so when he decided to transition from leather to vegan boots for ethical reasons, his next step came naturally.
“There are vegan boots, but they tend to be made in larger factories and not necessarily made to last or to be resold,” Milne explains by phone. “So I decided to take it upon myself to make them.”
For a little over a year now, the designer has been crafting rugged, cruelty-free, and ready-to-wear men’s boots that work equally well at work and outdoors. The shoes, which use traditional English and North American production methods, are made of Ecolorica, a lightweight vegan substitute for leather that’s manufactured in Italy.
At First Pick Handmade, Milne will have samples of six-inch and eight-inch lace-up boots, which are handmade upon order, as well as a selection of selvedge men’s Japanese denim that the designer recently began experimenting with. As for the name Anderson, it’s a way to carry on the maiden name of Milne’s mother. “I have all brothers and we’re all Milnes, and I thought it was kind of silly to have that name die off,” he says.
Fall For Local takes place this Saturday and Sunday (September 9 and 10) at the Pipe Shop Building (112 Victory Way, North Vancouver) and First Pick Handmade happens on September 16 and 17 at Heritage Hall (3102 Main Street).