|Vancouver is home to a thriving fashion industry made up of individuals committed to its growth and success. Get to know these personalities in The Inseam and discover what makes the Vancouver Fashion scene so awesome. Every month, The Inseam’s Eco Edition focuses on the innovators that shape the green movement in local fashion.|
As always, I love hearing about unique business models and ways that people are addressing sustainability. That includes minimizing environmental impact as well as addressing social equity. Even better is a clothing company with the mission statement of “inspiring women to own their greatness”. I’m a strong believer that business can be used to do good, and the founders of dress company HelenJean are perfect examples of the social entrepreneurship movement in Vancouver demonstrating that business can drive change.
Jessica McIlroy: Tell me about how HelenJean got started.
Katie Jeanes: HelenJean was basically born out of necessity. I needed something to wear to work that wasn’t a suit or jeans and a t-shirt. I had trouble finding good work dresses that fit properly so I decided to give custom a shot. While travelling in Bali a few years ago I’d had a custom suit and coat made, so I got back in touch with the tailors and they said they could do dresses as well. We launched last September with our first Fall collection and recently debuted six new dresses for Spring/Summer.
JM: Do you have a background in design or fashion?
KJ: Not even close. I have a degree in Kinesiology and Health Science, spent some time working as a researcher and have been working in social media and digital strategy for the last three years with my company A Little More Good. Fashion and design were always things that I loved, but it was sort of a secret passion for a long time.
Photo courtesy of HelenJean
JM: Was there a desire to find a unique way to celebrate women and you chose dresses or did the idea to make dresses come first?
KJ: The idea to make the dresses came first, but what I really wanted to create was an outfit to wear when you were not 100% confident or when you were really stretching your comfort zone. I wanted the dresses to be this secret weapon, like a super chic super hero cape. So I guess that’s where the celebrating women part came in. When we started asking women how they wanted to feel when they wore their dress and began to put those words in the tags as a reminder, the idea really started to take off.
JM: There is a clear social sustainability aspect to the company and each dress is locally handmade, are you trying to address other areas of eco design and fashion?
KJ: They are a work in progress. We work with two different village co-ops in Bali, and pride ourselves in ethical manufacturing. We’re looking at carbon offsets for our shipping and while we use mostly natural fibres right now, we’re hoping to source more environmentally friendly materials for Fall 2013. Diving deeper into the world of social consciousness for fashion has opened up a whole new world for me in terms of how we can do ‘good’. From raw sustainable materials, to processing, to animal welfare for wool, there are lots of ways we are trying to improve. Fortunately there are a lot of amazing brands like Nicole Bridger and Eileen Fisher who have been gracious enough to help us get started on this path.
JM: Tell me about the HelenJean “parties”.
KJ: Well, they’re fun! Basically, we took the traditional trunk show model and added wine and empowerment. If you live in Vancouver, you can host a party, which means inviting your girlfriends over and making some snacks. We’ll show up with the samples and a couple bottles of wine, and then we all mingle. Everyone can get their measurements taken, we talk about intention tags and how women want to feel when they wear their dresses. Basically it’s shopping without the crowds, and with wine. To me it’s the ultimate girls night in.
JM: Do you find you have a certain customer profile?
KJ: Sometimes. When we started out I imagined professional women in their early thirties wearing our dresses, but we’ve been lucky enough to get women of all ages and industries wearing HelenJean. Mums, daughters, students, professionals, it’s been wonderful getting to meet so many different, spectacular women. I think the uniting factor is that women are looking for a power outfit that makes them feel amazing, we do our best to provide that.
JM: Are you just an online store or will you connect with any retail outlets?
KJ: Right now we’re just an online store, but we’re looking at the possibility of retail as well. I really like online, as well as the parties, because we can see each customer through the whole experience. I haven’t figured out the best way to fit our experience into a boutique’s own brand yet, but we’re working on it.
JM: Who creates the designs and how often do you change them?
KJ: I do. They’re all inspired by different game changing women that I look up too. We do two collections per year, our Spring/Summer collection is available now and Fall is launching mid August. There might also be some secret holiday stuff coming this year, that may or may not be available in November.
JM: Anything else you can share about future plans or upcoming events?
KJ: We just had our Vancouver trunk show on May 29th, and we’ll be in Toronto June 12th for another one. Everything is available online, and if you have any questions and want to mix and match your dresses, take the front of one and the back of another for example, we can do that. Just email email@example.com and we can make it happen. We’re also doing a fashion show September 26th with Project True, and will have more trunk shows in the fall. In the meantime if anyone would like to host a party, email firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get it set up.