Okay, to begin.
You’re going to feel uncomfortable. You need to get over it. It’s going to feel strange and you’re going to have to take some risks. What that means for you individually is going to vary, but just accept that you’re going to have to be a bit out of your comfort zone. And if something doesn’t work, it doesn’t matter, it just didn’t work. Don’t interpret it as some kind of failure. Some things *will* work. And the things that will work will almost always be impossible to guess. Throw stuff at the wall. See what sticks.
Once you get the ball rolling, things are going to come your way that are extremely surprising. Some of them will seem too good to be true. Some definitely will be. But others will turn out even better than they initially seemed. Again – for a long time, maybe forever, it will be impossible to predict. The parts to pay attention to are what excite and motivate you, what things make you happiest.
I’ll start with some anecdotes and stories. You can skip this bit if you just want some step-by-step instructions.
My first fashion show, as I mentioned previously, was for FAT. I applied on a whim, and then got accepted and had no idea how I was going to pull it together. But I did. And at that first show, I made a lot of friends. I had so much luck – I met Ryan Emberley, who worked for E! at the time, and interviewed me after my show. I met some PR people who offered to promote my next FAT show. So I applied for the next year, and hired them. That show, called The Breeyn Show (a creepy circus theme with acrobats and a goth ringleader) was seen by a pair of bespoke graphic design twins who were launching their boutique agency. They approached me after the show, and asked if I would be interested in a collaboration. That turned into what is now the branding of my company. I worked with them as I created my Hard-Boiled Wonderland collection, and they created a book inspired by the themes and clothes in the collection. And designed all my branding, which I am so lucky to have because I still love it intensely. (This far pre-dates Beyonce’s, by the by. Hard-Boiled Wonderland was in 2010.)
The other thing I did with The Breeyn Show was cast models who were known around Toronto. Like Jen McNeely of She Does The City, Anna Von Frances of Pink Mafia, Ainsley Kerr, and Alison Westlake, known today as Coriander Girl. Alison was a longtime friend, but the rest of them I had never met – I did some homework on current It Girls in Toronto, and just reached out to them. Almost everyone said yes.
The Toronto fashion industry is very small, and it is *extremely* difficult to work in. I won’t lie. I can’t speak for all cities – but Toronto is brutally competitive and deeply cliqué-y – very ‘Mean Girls’. I’ve been blocked by people I’ve never even spoken to or interacted with. You have to just have the wherewithal to push through. I am terribly thin-skinned but that is somehow balanced by being weirdly fearless. If you live in Toronto and are working within the fashion industry, we might need a one-on-one chat. It’s a whole beast of its own. My experience working in London (UK) was nothing like it. I was first introduced to the concept of “community over competition” there. It has yet to take hold in the fashion community in Toronto, but there are other communities adjacent to fashion in Toronto where you can find your people and flourish.
Adrian Amiro was my inspiration for this next bit. I had a Year Of Yes. I decided to say yes to everyone who approached me to collaborate. I put images up on Instagram, Facebook and Model Mayhem, and let it be known I was open to TFP (time for print, which basically translates into unpaid collabs where we all just get together to take – or try to take – cool photos). I met a load of HMUAs, models, stylists and photographers this way.
And no – not all of them were good. I lost important pieces to stupid shoots or irresponsible stylists. So many times the images I got back were so poorly done as to be useless. Sometimes I never got images back at all. I attended the shoots as often as I could, but I couldn’t always be there. And a lot of the time people conflate designer with stylist – and they are very much not the same.
However – I met some amazingly talented and wonderful people. People I still work with and love dearly to this day, people I made some truly good stuff with that I am proud of. And I LEARNED SO MUCH. I learned that models can make or break a shoot. Even if the rest of the team is top notch, you need someone in front of the camera who knows that modelling is a skill and not just being pretty (Kaitlin Chapple is not only an incredible model – watching her shift into ‘model mode’ is like watching magic – but she’s also written a book about how to work with models).
I met Erika Fung, and through her the rest of the NC creative team, and we all made some very cool images together and won an award for doing so. I got to work with one of my fave photographers because of it. We also made these fashion films, which I still love.
Remember my first piece of advice? Start where you are. That goes for all aspects. I no longer use Facebook or Model Mayhem, and I don’t honestly know if Model Mayhem is still a good resource for finding like-minded creatives. But I do know instagram is. Learn how to flirt on instagram. Studio Bicyclette wrote out comprehensive instructions for how to flirt on instagram (we’re talking the ‘flirt with other creatives you admire and want to work with’ kind of thing here). I still do this. I have been slowly charming my fave artists into being my friends. And it’s still so I can work with some of them, like Brianne Burnell. Incidentally – this is actually how Paige of Studio Bicyclette and I met and became friends. At this point we’ve worked on countless creative projects together, and been each other’s clients for important things (like her wedding gown, and my whole website and Insta strategy). We started out just shyly fan-girling each other.
If I had to boil things down to a list of instructions:
- Once again, start where you are. Make what you can, get your friends to model them and take pics with your cell phone. Acquire some photo editing software (there are …free ways of getting programs) or pay for a good phone app and make pics that are the best you can manage. All the photos I used to promote everything I did before Hard-Boiled Wonderland were taken by me. I got my friends to model for me and taught myself some basic editing on Photoshop.
- I made a professional-looking website. SUPER HARD. I used templates but damn, HTML is tough. But it’s free if you do it yourself. There are Wix, Squarespace, WordPress.com, Weebly – things where you don’t really need to learn any coding. And yeah, you can ask your friend or cousin to do it for free in exchange for stuff, but people hate doing free work and rarely have that much invested in it. My advice is to do it yourself. It will get done a million times faster and be better.
- Learn how to flirt online with other creatives. Get in there. Make friends.
- Be open to working with all kinds of people. It’s a lot of work and will result in a lot of disappointment but the stuff that turns out good will be so good.
- After my Year of Yes, I have been able to have Years of No. Because I learned SO MUCH from the Year of Yes, I crash-coursed myself through how to spot red-flags and idiots. This kind of experience is invaluable.
- Take weird chances. I really wanted to take fashion and tailoring courses in London, but I couldn’t afford the international tuition fees. I can’t even remember how or why I decided to do this, but I went and approached the instructor of the program I wished I could be in anyway. I brought with me some work of mine that I was proud of. The instructor turned out to be super hooked up in the fashion industry in London. Not only did she trick admin and get me into the program practically for free (instead of thousands of pounds), she took me to a Vivian Westwood show, a Missoni show, introduced me to Zandra Rhodes, the admissions people at LCF, and gave me SO MUCH ADVICE and insider information on working in fashion. That one random ballsy decision of mine absolutely affected the trajectory of my life and career.
It always looks like the people around us are doing better, starting out further ahead, having some weird luck that we’re not privy to – but I promise, a lot of hard work, taking chances and risks, and letting tiny victories pile up very slowly (amongst a lot of other not so great experiences) moves you forward. Writing out how I started and met all those people who helped me seems like random chance and all luck, but I had to be in those situations to meet them in the first place. You can’t possibly know which ones will work and which won’t – hence my Year of Yes – but nothing will happen at all if you just sit and wait.