As the founder of Fashion Takes Action, it has been a pleasure to work with so many emerging eco fashion designers over the past few years. Our recent Design Forward award, which recognized top sustainable designers was a great success in terms of raising awareness for who we considered to be the top fourteen designers, and more specifically how it has opened doors for our winner.
As our inaugural winner, Nicole Bridger received flight and accommodations to New York and a place to show at Nolcha Fashion Week‘s Ethical Fashion Preview in September. In addition, Nicole won a look book – styled, photographed and designed, which she will take with her to NY to accompany her Spring/Summer 2011 collection. Nicole was also awarded $1000 in eco friendly fabric, from Canadian supplier Telio, along with $1000 toward the certification of her line courtesy of Ecocert.
I had the chance to catch up with Nicole over a yummy vegetarian meal while she was visiting Toronto this week for her look book photo shoot. It was really important for me to hear first hand how the award has affected her business, and to learn more about what the future has in store for her.
How does it feel to be the first winner of the FTA Design Forward Award?
It’s a real honor to be recognized in this way, and it is so exciting that this award even exists. It’s a sign of the times of where things are going. For myself, it was a rare opportunity to acknowledge my own work. As business owners, we tend to look forward and project ahead to the next five years, focusing on how far we have yet to go. We don’t tend to acknowledge how far we’ve already come. And in the case of the award, it just feels good to know that I have accomplished something incredible, and that I am being recognized for my hard work and dedication.
Being the first designer is exciting because I hope I can be somewhat of a mentor or role model for other designers hoping to go down the same path and choose sustainability. We can show that it is possible, it can happen, and I hope I can help make it a little bit easier. The more people who are doing it, makes it easier for all of us.
What has the award done for your business?
It has been amazing for recognition on a North American level. Just carrying the title of Canada’s first eco fashion design winner has opened so many doors for me. Doors that were maybe more closed, or that were met with resistance before, and now I can say I just won this national award, and the reaction is different. Selling season hasn’t started yet, but I am expecting things to pick up as a result of winning. The opportunity for me to be in New York at Nolcha’s Ethical Fashion Preview in September, is huge. I will be in front of so many retailers, more than ever before, including international retailers. A lot of people say that my line is more European in its styling, so it could do really well in NY and could be a turning point for my business.
There has already been a big change in terms of the amount of press I have received over the past few months. It has given the media a reason to write, and now it would be great to see this same success south of the border and to gain that kind of recognition in the U.S.
The opportunity to come to Toronto, to meet and work with the team that Fashion Takes Action put together is amazing. Connecting with everyone in Toronto has really tightened up the community for me and it feels great to be a part of something so exciting. And the connection with Telio for the fabric has been amazing and I look forward to continuing that relationship. It has already solved a few fabric sourcing issues I had which is amazing because its one of the hardest things about being a sustainable designer.
The eco certification, when it goes through, is going to be huge. I think it will help answer any doubts that consumers may have about my true intentions, and whether or not my collection is in fact sustainable. So customers can feel good about supporting us or buying our product, if that is what’s important to them. I think it’s important for eco-minded consumers to feel reassured, especially since there are so many claims out there without any kind of backing.
Have you always considered yourself to be a sustainable designer?
I grew up in Vancouver and my family and community was big on recycling. Literally every school play I did was about “reduce, reuse, recycle”, so it really was ingrained in us. I’m not sure if that is just what it was like growing up in Vancouver but I felt like it was definitely more available for me to be mindful of the environment.
Personally, I have a threefold approach or philosophy to life. I care for the earth, I care in my heart for its people and also for our individual spirit. This translates into my business and is always top of mind when I am designing. I have sewn “I am love” tags on all of my clothing, because at the root of our true form we are all love energy. I think its important for us to all be kind to ourselves and to one another, and to come from a place of love and try to spread a bit of positive energy.
Where do you get your inspiration?
It comes from the life lessons that I’m learning at the time that I’m designing. With fall 2010 I had just left my husband, so I called the collection “Healing Heart.” It was a very difficult decision to leave because I had a 10-month-old son, but I had to do what I had to do. As a result, it’s a really small line of just seven styles, but they are seven really strong pieces.
But finally making that choice in my personal life felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders and I was finally able to be happy, maybe for the first time ever. It was a journey for me in reconnecting with myself, my spirit, and really about falling in love with myself again. I had completely lost touch with myself out of self-sacrifice for that relationship.
So Spring 2011 is called “Reconnection” and it’s a journey to true happiness and loving yourself. The color palette is playful and creative. I feel this creative energy re-emerging, so I’m really excited about where things are going to go from here. When you’ve been bleeding energy for so long, it’s nice to see it going somewhere good. I love personal growth and so every season I get to reflect a bit on where I’m at and what I’m learning. And that dictates both a color palette and silhouette.
What is the fashion scene like in Vancouver?
There is a lot of conscious minded people living on the west coast, in both Canada and the U.S, so I’m seeing a big change in terms of the number of sustainable designers that are emerging. It’s a great community to be a part of because we all openly communicate with each other and get to support each other and share whatever we can.
I have a strong following in Vancouver, where I do a studio sale once a month and tons of people show up. It’s a nice time for me to be with the customer because when you just wholesale or sell online, you miss that connection.
The fashion scene in Vancouver is definitely a bit slower. But now that we are becoming more of an international city, you see people becoming more comfortable with a particular style, where it’s no longer just about wearing jeans and a Mountain Equipment Co-op jacket. It is still very different from Toronto, where there is a very strong suit and business culture. But that is starting to change. People are starting to get more edgy with their style, and feel comfortable with it, which is nice to see happening.
With the upcoming Eco Fashion Week in Vancouver, do you think it is becoming the eco fashion capital of Canada?
Yes because we have the built-in health, earth and socially conscious consumer. On a daily level you are either walking on a beach or running in the woods, skiing on a mountain or kayaking on the ocean. People are just more connected to nature. They don’t have to be convinced. It’s a very laid back environment, where I feel there is less judgment. It’s kind of like yoga in a way, where it’s your own practice and you do what’s right for you. Nothing feels forced.
I’m very excited to be showing at Eco Fashion Week Vancouver. I think it’s the one thing that can work in Vancouver. We can’t compete with LG Fashion Week in Toronto. Out west, sustainable fashion is a niche and it’s non competitive. It’s something we can offer that is authentic to Vancouver, that we are known for and that can draw international designers and buyers. And I think it can be really successful. I’m really excited to be a part of it and helping support that movement.
What does the future look like for Nicole Bridger?
Well, the very next step would be strengthening our wholesale accounts and I’m hoping that will really take off in NY.
My true vision for the company is to have our own retail outlets. So opening our first boutique will be a real milestone. I hope to have a store sometime in the next year. First in Vancouver, and then maybe a second one in San Francisco. From there I would love to take it global, with retail outlets all over. And then I would love to branch the line to carry both high end, and a lower end collection, kids and babies, bags and accessories, and even house and home products. Overall, creating a lifestyle brand that you can rely on for green, ethical and high style.
My long-term goal would be to create a co-op setting in a developing country, and help restore a community. It is the only time I would consider doing offshore production, where I would actually get right in there myself to do the farming of linen and hemp, and create a closed loop system.
Images: Portrait taken by Dawn Stenzel; fall “˜10 collection by Candace Meyer