The West Coast has long been known for its athletic and outdoor apparel, but Vancouverites have been given a reason to shed those Sugoi vests and kick off those Lululemon pants.
Through unique talent and hard-work, the following designers are just a few who have proven that Vancouver-based labels can grace the world-stage in sophisticated, high-end attire.
The bold yet elegant looks of Jason Matlo’s couture-cut, ready-to-wear designs were officially launched when Matlo started his company in 2004, but it took over two years for the Helen Lefeaux School of Fashion Design graduate to see a significant growth in his business. Private clients who understood and appreciated the high-end finishes and meticulous detail put into Matlo’s collections were willing to pay the corresponding luxury price point, but clothing stores were slower to indulge.
The Calgary-born, but Kelowna-raised, designer persevered. Working closely with his publicist and director of marketing and sales, Matlo has seen his company grow significantly in the last few years. Two years ago, Jason Matlo designs did not have any accounts in the United States – the company now ships hundreds of garments to the U.S. each season. Looks like the silk and cotton voile classic blouse ($470.00) and the wool pant with drape front ($640.00) from the 2008 to 2009 fall and winter collection can be found at Lola in New York all the way to Flirt at the Marriot Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Notwithstanding his success, Matlo is still very much involved in all aspects of the company. He designs, selects fabrics, oversees production, makes patterns and constructs garments. The Vancouver designer works with one sample maker, and together they can create an average of six prototypes in a day during peak collection production. In addition, two assistant designers help to cut fabric, create patterns and sew, and two interns prepare fabric and goods for construction.
The increased sales and streamlining of operations has also allowed Matlo’s private couture business to more than double in the last two years. The likes of actress Gabrielle Miller, singer/actress Hilary Duff and actress Susan Lucci have all worn dresses designed by Matlo. Surprisingly, Jason Matlo designs are still not available at the Canadian retail level.
Raymond Boutet and Lyle Reimer
Raymond Boutet and Lyle Reimer, the creative duo behind the Evan & Dean line, describe the theme of this year’s high-end, ready-to-wear collection as “architectural.”
Boutet, a Kwantlen University-College (now Kwantlen Polytechnic University) fashion design graduate, and his partner Reimer, a M.A.C Cosmetics make-up artist for the past seven years, are still the principles of their small company, but Evan & Dean is rapidly expanding. When the couple started their company three years ago production was at 45 pieces for the first season. Production has now reached 180 pieces this season, and growing.
Both Boutet and Reimer have tried to grow the company slowly in order to keep a handle on quality production. Due to the significant expansion of the company in the past year, the partners recently employed a sales representative to take over their sales. Although Boutet does contract out some of his sample work and production has moved to a larger facility, the up-and-comers work tirelessly to ensure they are part of the creative and manufacturing process at all times.
The chic, but wearable cuts of a piece like the black, flowing cascade dress ($600) debuted at this year’s B.C. Fashion Week is what has established the Vancouver designers as an international success and proven popular with a number of female celebrities. Actresses Gabrielle Miller and Kristanna Loken and actress/singer Alicia Keys have all donned the Evan & Dean line.
The couture-cut, ready-to-wear looks like the Evan & Dean bow blouse ($420) and flap skirt ($380) can be found in Vancouver at Tenth and Proper and Clack Clack Empire, but to date, the design duo’s largest accounts remain in the United States. Down south, Boutet and Reimer’s Evan & Dean line can be found at Juno & Jove Inc or Apple the Second.
Zonda Nellis is internationally known for her rich and colourful handwoven separates, and orders for the Vancouver designer’s hand-dyed, cut-to-order garments have not ceased to grow over the last three decades.
Nellis left the Vancouver School of Art (now known as Emily Carr University of Art and Design) in the 1970s to pursue her passion for design and textiles and establish her company, Zonda Nellis Design Ltd. As the business grew, the textile designer took on more staff whose jobs ranged from sewing and cutting to pattern drafting and retail sales. Nellis now employs about 15 employees, the majority of whom have been with the company since the beginning and are highly knowledgeable about fabrics and finishings.
Despite the company’s significant growth, Nellis insists that every garment and sample from the Zonda Nellis Collection is produced in-house rather than being contracted out. All of the concept and design work is done by the designer exclusively, and she travels to Europe regularly to work directly with textile mills and manufacturers.
While the company’s wholesale accounts have remained fairly consistent over the years, Trunk Shows held several times a year throughout such major cities as New York, Chicago and Toronto ensure that the company is always developing new clients. Retail customers can also purchase some of Nellis’s designs in various boutiques across the globe – from Lisa Todd Inc in Miami, Florida to Saks Fifth in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The Zonda Nellis Boutique in Vancouver is the only store to carry Nellis’s complete collection, which includes cushions and handbags as well as her three-piece daytime looks (approximately $2,500) and her velvet opera evening coat (approximately $2,600).
Actresses Halle Berry, Goldie Hawn and Diane Ladd are just a few of the many celebrities who have purchased Zonda Nellis’s high-end fashions over the years.
Karen Buder and Mike Buder
Karen and Mike Buder actually started Sugarlime Jewelry while they were traveling in Vietnam towards the end of 2002. Although Karen had no formal jewelry design training, Sugarlime offered Karen a way to express her creative side and love for public relations while allowing Mike to pull upon his knowledge of business operations. The couple spent the first four years focusing exclusively on branding and building a customer base for their business, and their dedication has paid off.
To date, Sugarlime has increased its revenue by 4,000 per cent since its first year in business. Each month the innovative duo host a free of charge wine and cheese jewelry event to showcase their 1,000-piece collection. Almost 4,000 women are now on the Vancouver guest list for this event as compared to 1,500 women in 2006. About two years ago, only three stores carried the Sugarlime line, but Karen is now fashioning her distinct pieces for upwards of 20 stores. Meanwhile, the company’s online accounts have also rapidly expanded. Not surprisingly, Karen expects their online sales to increase from 103 orders from last year to a minimum of 300 orders by the end of 2008.
Despite this substantial increase in sales, the talented designer and her husband still employ only a handful of staff. An administrative assistant, three production specialists and a bookkeeper complete the Sugarlime team that work and manufacture out of Sugarlime’s Vancouver office.
Initially, the couple’s goal was to build on the Sugarlime brand exclusively in Vancouver, but its celebrity success has thrown it into the international spotlight. Sugarlime is the exclusive jeweler of eTalk Daily’s Susie Wall. CTV News’ Tamara Taggart regularly wears her Gabrielle necklace ($105) and singer Sarah McLachlan is often pictured in Sugarlime’s Mandy necklace ($155).