The Way We Work: Vancouver’s Park & Fifth is blending fashion and childcare seamlessly

Sometimes the offices of Park & Fifth might look like a daycare instead of a fashion company that generates eight figures in revenue each year. For Brooke Johansen and Zoe Tisshaw, taking their kids to work is just part of the deal

Brooke Johansen looks down at her phone for a few seconds and types a quick reply. In the next seat over, Zoe Tisshaw stops our interview mid-sentence.

“Is everything okay?” Tisshaw asks Johansen.

“Yeah, it’s all good,” Johansen replies before looking up from her phone. “Sorry, our kids are with the nanny right now and I’m just making sure it’s all right.”

Tisshaw and Johansen have a four-month-old and a one-year-old, respectively, in the care of a nanny while we meet at an East Vancouver coffee shop in the shadow of their office. The nanny is a rare reprieve for the duo, who have been taking their kids to work since they became parents.

“It just is what it is,” says Tisshaw, who also has a toddler. “Since the kids were born, I’ve been working. I do three days a week right now, but we bring them in all the time. It helps them be more social and people in the office like it. But… it’s my livelihood. Am I gonna be like, ‘Okay Brooke, see ya’? No.”

The pair are the co-CEOs of Vancouver-based Park & Fifth, which began as a brand for bridesmaid dresses. That’s still the core of the company, but it’s also evolved beyond that, as a place for anyone looking for a dress to wear to an upscale event.

Park & Fifth has around 60 employees, which includes office and warehouse workers, as well as retail staff at its four brick-and-mortar stores—one in Railtown, two in Toronto and one in Calgary. Last year, the company hit eight figures in revenue.

“Most of it really was word of mouth,” explains Johansen. “It was just the two of us for so long.”

Tisshaw, who grew up in Vancouver sewing and cutting everything she could get her hands on and worked at local fashion brand Kit & Ace, did most of the fabric work in the early days. “Brooke learned to cut too, and we took orders all around town,” she remembers. “It got to the point where custom was too hard; we just couldn’t grow.”

These days, Park & Fifth has such a variety of colours and styles—there are dozens of shades of green on offer, for example—that customization isn’t much of an issue. “Any competitors, especially in Canada, they don’t have the product range that we have,” says Johansen. “They can’t compete with what we have going on. And we have an accessible price range.”

Part of that is because most of the company’s products are made in a shared office and manufacturing facility. Staffing can be difficult: “It’s so hard to find sewers in Vancouver,” Tisshaw laments. “We’re seriously worried about what might happen when some of ours retire.”

But the consumer demand doesn’t appear to be going anywhere, in large part because of the versatility of the dresses. “Brides can feel good about getting their bridesmaids to buy them, because they can be used for other things,” Tisshaw says. “A lot of the dresses out there are one-and-done. These can have so many other purposes.”

But having working partners means that, more often than not, Tisshaw and Johansen are lugging strollers and carriers through the company’s facilities. A couple of years ago, Tisshaw took her then-two-month-old on a business trip to L.A. and did the same recently at the opening of the second Toronto location with her youngest.

And while one wonders if it might be easier to just sell it off (they have received interest from investors, unsurprisingly) and lean into family life for a few years, that’s decidedly not the plan.

“There are two ways to build: if you want to own the company forever, or if you have an eye toward selling it,” says Johansen. “There are things you do if you’re leaning either way. We’ve done it to own it forever. And that’s what we want to do.”

The Motherhood Penalty

An illustration of a woman juggling home and work responsibilities
Photo by iStock/melitas; sorbetto

A report from Vancouver-based Maturn and Montreal’s The Brand Is Female entitled Expecting More: The Motherhood Penalty and Its Impact on Canadian Women in the Workplace shows that, even as politicians like B.C. Premier David Eby talk about closing the gender gap and increasing daycare spaces so that more parents can get back to work, there is still a lot more to be done.

Of the over 1,000 Canadian women surveyed, nearly half of employed mothers were dissatisfied with their maternity leave support and a third considered leaving their jobs due to inadequate support, according to the report.

Forty-seven percent of respondents said that an overall transition and communications plan would have made their transition to maternity leave and return to work better, while 49 percent reported that the most challenging part of maternity leave related to their career was the feeling of having to prove themselves upon their return. Another 35 percent said the most challenging part was the fear of their organization sidelining them.

“Our study exposes a critical gap and missed opportunity in our workplaces,” said Jen Murtagh, co-founder of Maturn, in a release. “The challenges for women during maternity leave go beyond individual experiences; they perpetuate gender disparities, harming employees and employers. We want to galvanize employers to implement strategies that foster a workplace environment where mothers are not only supported but can truly thrive in their professional and personal lives.”

In terms of the childcare issue, just 6.2 percent of respondents said their workplace offered childcare, while 60 percent said that better childcare support would have made their transition back to work easier.