In the wake of last week’s building collapse, the challenges and exploitation of offshore garment manufacturing has been harshly and unavoidably brought into the Canadian market conversation. Loblaw’s low-price label, “Joe Fresh” is being named amongst the lengthy list of retailers supplied from the condemned building that has killed (at time of writing) up to 400 known Bangladeshi workers, and the desperate need for change is being acknowledged by corporations, labourers and consumers.
Vancouver-based women’s wear designer and distribution duo, “Two of Hearts” is passionate about local design and commerce. Jenny Yen (who designs for her label, “Cici”) and Tabitha Savoie (“Togs”) have opened the second location of Two of Hearts Boutique on 4th Ave, marking the tenth day of operation in the trendy Kits location with a fashion show and neighborhood bash.
I had the opportunity to chat with Jenny and Tabitha the day after the event.
Vancouver Weekly: Tell me about the history of Two of Hearts
Jenny: We’ve had the store for about four years; we started out on Main Street and 21st. We’re both designers and we met about 8 years ago. We started the Two of Hearts line, which we originally started as an Eco-Line… We had both had separate lines, and then thought “hey! We get along and share a studio; let’s try a line together!” It worked out well and we ended up becoming business partners together, so now we’re full on business partners together and have merged everything into one.
VW: And with opening the second store – is the Main Street location staying open?
VW: So that’s quite a success story then!
Jenny: Yes – I mean, it’s definitely hard-times right now. For us, we need to expand because we make our own in-house labels, so for us, the more locations that we have, the better for the numbers.
VW: How did you come to the conclusion of 4thAve for the second location?
Jenny: I think it’s a good market for us… We design for women about 25 to about 55. There are a lot of young people, and we also carry some great professional, work-appropriate pieces, clothes that are great for moms… the materials we work with are quite forgiving, which our customers really appreciate. Our clothing is made for real women: curves, different body types, etc. We try to make things with a bit of stretch because it works for people. Also, depending on accessories, the pieces can easily be dressed up or down.
VW: How are you finding the reception in Kits so far?
Jenny: It’s been good. We’re still getting to know the customers – we’ve only been open for 11 days… It’s interesting to watch what the customers are gravitating toward. As a few months go by, it’ll be interesting to compare the hot sellers on 4th, as opposed to Main Street
VW: As a local, independent designer, you have the luxury of a hands-on and real-time relationship with your clients. What does that look like?
Jenny: The process of being with customers for fittings and receiving feedback translates (to our collections) quite fast. We do two seasons a year, with a 30-40 piece line for each season, so I can listen to the feedback and create pieces within the line that reflect what the customer is looking for.
VW: So the event last night, that was the official launch of your summer line?
Jenny: Pretty much – there were some things that are already in the store and a few things that are still in production…
VW: As an independent designer, how much do you take international trends into consideration with your line?
Jenny: We definitely research international trend. With our line, we do value being stylish. We consider trend, and translate in a way that is functional, wearable and comfortable… We also offer some classic pieces – things that will still look great in five years.
Tabitha: We work on that blend of current style and timeless classics to offer the customer. For example, wrap dresses look great on women, and women love to wear them, so we always do a variation of a wrap. It’s one of those styles that never gets old – it’s a very womanly shape that really flatters a lot of body types
VW: What are you seeing as the major trend for Spring/Summer 2013?
Jenny: We’re seeing and using a lot of colour blocking, and some brighter colours – the chartreuse is doing really well for us – just a lot of great colour in general.
VW: Speaking of colour, the big finale piece for the show last night was a fantastic maxi dress (pictured). Now, something like that, when I see in on the model it looks brilliant. How does a piece like that work for the rest of us?
Jenny: Definitely! It’s actually very wearable, very comfortable, and the fabric itself is quite flowy – it has a bit of polyester, which makes it great for traveling, and keeps it easy to wash.
VW: How would you classify the Two of Hearts price point?
Jenny: I think it’s really good. Especially considering that everything is local and limited run. Many of our pieces are made in as few as 30 pieces, to as high as about 100 pieces. So each item is actually very special
VW: What kinds of long-range plans are in place for Two of Hearts?
Jenny: We’d like to see two or three more stores here in BC, then really work on expanding our wholesale line. Right now we offer wholesale in select stores across Canada and a little bit into the States.
VW: Let’s talk about being a local designer and business… Why Shop Local?
Jenny: Shopping local is a vital component to keeping money in a community, keeping it vibrant, keeping jobs available… It’s so important to our economy.
VW: For most people, what do you think the biggest obstacle to shopping local is?
Tabitha: It’s a little more expensive than going to the mall… I mean, we’re not Joe Fresh here – but also, everyone who works at our factory – they’re just normal people, you know?
Jenny: They wake up, go to their job, we can say “hello” and know that they’re being paid fair, market wages for their work;
Tabitha: but in turn, you know when you shop local that if something happens down the road, say there’s a hole in the garment or whatever, you can come back and just deal directly with the source, and the source has a face. It’s not just like, “oh, I have to deal with this random person, or that person, it’s got to be mailed back or sent to wherever to be seen by whoever… “ you know, we are clearly invested to do whatever we can to solve any challenges for our customers. That’s one of the great things about supporting small businesses – most people who run a small business are really passion
VW: What kind of misconceptions do you find that people have about shopping local?
Jenny: I think sometimes people can think that it’s not fashionable, when in fact the pieces that we create are Very fashionable. We often are working with the same trends that the larger stores are showing.
Tabitha: Yeah, and in fact we are making fewer items, so really the pieces from a local designer – you’re paying middle of the road prices to have something where there may only be, like 12 of those dresses ever made… People don’t often pay attention to the long-term effects of our decisions to shop local –
VW: Until Every Job in garment manufacturing has been completely outsourced and we don’t actually own anything in our local economy –
Tabitha: Exactly – often, all people are paying attention to is, “Oh – do I like it and how much is it?”
Jenny: There are lots of supporters of local designers though. It’s just a matte of continuing to get the word out –
Tabitha: And helping people to see that there is so much more at stake than just buying something for a low price. It’s hard to imagine going into anyone else’s workplace and saying, “oh – you’re doing a great job, how about it we get you to do it for a quarter of the price?”
Jenny: Exactly – in order to support a local economy, we have to recognize that we can’t be paying the people who are working here $3.00 an hour…
The Fashion Show itself was enjoyable – a couple hundred Kits neighbors and industry insiders packed into the location, sipping cool drinks and enthusiastically supporting the customers-turned-models as they strutted the runway. The Mimi Dress (pictured above) was a standout piece, and will work just as well in the summer office, with kitten heels, a polished bangle, and a cute cardigan as it will down on the seawall with sandals and a big, beachy hat.
Complementing the locally designed clothes, Two of Hearts also offers an exciting collection of jewelry and accessories created by local, BC-based, and Canadian artists.
A sample sale is the next event in the works for the Kits location. Keep up with Tabitha and Jenny on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/TwoOfHeartsBoutique and twitter at @2HeartsBoutique.
When asked for any closing thoughts, Tabitha was quick to offer, “We’re your friendly, neighborhood boutique. “ and emphasize that the team is looking forward to making new friends in Kitsilano. Jenny mentioned that the store even carries a dress or two made from an anti-bacterial bamboo material. Great for dancing (or the odd downward dog). Clearly, they’re fitting right in!