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Greta Constantine and Their Experience With the Fashion Arts Program at Seneca #IndustryConnections

Meagan Markel, Sophie Trudeau, Celine Dion, and Demi Lavato –  these are just a handful of prominent women who have worn and come to acquire in their wardrobes, designs of the Toronto-based brand and the 2018 Canadian Arts and Fashion Awards (CAFA) nominee, Greta Constantine. Founded in 2006 by designers, Kirk Pickersgill and Stephen Wong, Greta Constantine (GC) is a brand defined as ‘ready-to-wear’ womenswear conceptualizing, exploring, and challenging the standards of present-day fashion. Throughout GC’s inception, Kirk and Stephen have released numerous collections: their most recent spring collection, SS19, is inspired by the early 80’s glamour of the disco-era, which includes a combination of well-fitted silhouettes with metallic, leopard print and pinstripe patterns. 

Stephen Wong and Kirk Pickersgill
Photo credit: Nuvo Magazine

The success of GC is unquestionable, and of equal significance is their impact and influence in redefining womenswear, both in Canada and around the world. Their collections’ have been debut and showcased across several runways, including VOGUE RUNWAY and Paris Fashion Week. Along with their unparalleled exposure, GC has been featured across multiple media channels, to name a few, the Toronto Star, E!News, CTV, the Globe and Mail, and HELLO Canada. 

Behind the scenes of GC’s iconic brand is a team of 16 dedicated individuals that collaborate across various departments to help run the studios’ day-to-day operations. Having an integral role in this are four alumni of the Fashion Arts program at Seneca. Doreen To (2014 alumni) leads Private Client Experiences; Carla Nina (2018 alumni) works in the Quality Control team; Shiva Hashemi (2018 alumni) started as an intern and now leads Production at GC, and Kelsey Gulley (2018 alumni) is GC’s Cutting Room Lead.

Seneca had the opportunity to sit down with Kirk and Stephen to learn more about GC and hear their insights on the impact fashion schools like Seneca have in helping foster talent in the industry.

Q: How did Greta Constantine start?

Stephen: Kirk and I started Greta Constantine in 2006. We had always spoken about doing a collection together, but it wasn’t until 2006 that we actually made the conscious effort to do so. The name Greta Constantine is made up of my mother’s name (Greta) and Kirk’s grandfathers’ name (Constantine).Prior [to GC], Kirk had been working in Milan styling and teaching, and I remained here in Toronto working on wardrobe for the growing film industry. At the time, there was a recession, but we had read an interview with Karl Largerfeld, who pointed out that recessions “weed out” the industry – “what remains after a recession are usually the “best of the crop.” At this time, it was just the two of us working out of my apartment, and we committed ourselves to live and breathe the fashion industry – asking questions, seeking advice, learning and absorbing everything we could. We still do so to this day.

Q: Having been in the industry for so many years, what should fashion schools do to prepare their students for the industry?   

Stephen: When I’m speaking to industry peers in North America, the most common comment regarding new graduates is that they don’t have the required comprehension – that this is a robust industry to be in at all levels! The very fact that there are so many seasons and collections means that it’s compulsory to put in time and commitment that isn’t often required in other fields.

It’s my impression that most new graduates either want to have their own label or would like to jump right into a design role, but there are so many more roles to be had in the field. It’s not to say that you can’t aspire to have your own collection, but what we do is both business and craft. It takes a long time to perfect and develop one’s craft and gather the needed know-how of the different parts of the business. Necessarily, you have to pay your dues. That means working with good people and companies where you can see what the reality of the business is. You are then able to take that knowledge and make an informed decision on how you want to exist. Both Kirk and I worked for many years individually to gain some of the experience and skills needed, so we’d have something to bring to GC. 

Q: What is your relationship like with Seneca, and does their program prepare their graduates for the industry? 

Kirk: We enjoy working with Seneca and appreciate what their program offers. It’s a good match [for us]. They [Seneca] are doing something right – we keep hiring their graduates!

Stephen: Using Seneca Fashion alumni Shiva, Doreen, Kelsey, and Carla as an example, I would say that their education at Seneca has prepared them very well to meet the expectations of what we look for in a co-worker. They are professional, ambitious, are always conscious of the quality of their work and, thus, take great pride in their work. It’s only recently that we’ve been able to feel confident in having all the right people in their respective roles, and we truly adore our team. We love working with them and are excited to continue and grow with them in the future.

Q: Is there something unique about Seneca’s FA’s alumni that make them a good fit for GC, or is it a coincidence that four members of your team are Seneca alumni?

Kirk: It’s a mix of both! 

Stephen: We have four team members that are graduates of the Seneca FA’s Program. Most of which are in charge of their departments. They are very different in their own way and represent different skill sets and strengths. Things that they do share are dedication, focus, vision, commitment, and a professional manner that makes them a joy to work with!

Q: How do you recruit talent?

Stephen: Interns are an excellent way to get a feel of what the candidate has to offer. You can have a dazzling portfolio and a fantastic resume, but you’ll never know if that individual will be a good fit until you place them in the environment. We use the time an intern provides to gauge the potential that a person has with the company. Having interns is a blessing and a curse. [A] Blessing, because it’s always great to have extra hands and help, but a curse in that the intern needs to be trained and their work, carefully overseen. In the end, it is necessary because it’s how we’ve come to find the majority of the people we work with today.

Q: What does new talent bring to GC, and how do their contributions help with your collections?

Stephen: At GC, we try to involve all parties into areas that they show interest. As an industry that is continually changing with a hunger for new, it’s beneficial to have different views on things.

Q: How important is it that professionals in the industry be exposed to the Toronto fashion scene, and is the fact that Seneca graduates are local have an impact? 

Stephen: When we started the business, we were fortunate to already have in place many contacts within the Toronto fashion community. It’s always helpful to have someone who has the experience to use as a go-to, be it to seek advice or share resources. For this reason, I’d advise people to not only expose yourself to the local industry but to also immerse yourself within it.

We had a blast speaking to the masterminds behind the Iconic Canadian brand GC. Stay tuned for part II of Industry Connections, where we get up close and personal with the four Seneca Fashion Alumni from GC and unravel their history in this ever-evolving industry.

Key Takeaways from the 2019 WEAR Conference

For the forth year in a row, Seneca Fashion had the pleasure of attending the 6th annual WEAR (short for, World Ethical Apparel Roundtable), and boy did we take away some actional information! Keep reading for our key takeaways from this year’s event.

THE 2019 THEME? PURPOSE MEETS PROGRESS

Since 2014, the World Ethical Apparel Roundtable has brought together the entire fashion industry to learn, network and collaborate. This intimate platform allows for meaningful connections, deeper learning opportunities, and a clear sense of how to take action. Over two days, global experts shared best practices, challenges, and successes through a highly engaging format.

WEAR is not only a master of bringing new groups together, but they also excel in helping businesses develop new sustainable business ideas. Some of our essential takeaways from the speakers and breakout sessions include:

#WHOMADEMYCLOTHES  

Millennials and Gen Z care where clothes are made and by whom. They express their love (or lack thereof) for brands on social, making ethical story-driven brands more impactful than ever.

ARE WE REALLY MAKING PROGRESS?

We really need to seek challenges in society and look for solutions and how to push through them. Today, brands are doing more than engaging customers in their brand story. Some notable industry examples include:

Gisele wears Stella McCartney for the #GreenCarpetChallenge at the Hollywood For Science Gala in Los Angeles. Photo credit: Getty Images

#GreenCarpetChallenge The Green Carpet Challenge (GCC) is a world-renowned sustainability initiative that creates a compelling and press-worthy narrative to amplify a brand’s environmental principles. The GCC is a sophisticated initiative that pairs glamour with ethics, serving to raise the profile of a brand on red carpets around the world, putting sustainability in the spotlight underpinned by digital disruption. The GCC has grown exponentially to include world-famous designers and celebrities, all united in highlighting sustainable fashion and methods. Designers who have taken part in this initiative include Narces, Stella McCarthy. Their designs have been worn by Gisele Bündchen and Penelope Cruz.

ALDO’S RPPL Shoe Made of Plastic and Water

ALDO is stepping up in big ways and small to reduce their environmental footprint and create a more sustainable society for all. Committed to creating and producing responsibly at ALDO, RPPL is one of many ways ALDO makes that commitment very clear. Even the RPPL shoebox is made out of 100% recycled cardboard.

Photo courtesy of ALDO

The Prince of Whales Campaign for Wool
In September 2019 Line, Smythe, and Michael Kale Design Limited Capsule Collection of Wool Pieces for Holt Renfrew, in partnership with The Prince of Wales’ Campaign for Wool initiative. Each high-profile local designers will create a three-piece capsule collection for the fall season. The purpose? To help draw attention to the many benefits of wool, primarily that it is a natural, renewable, and biodegradable resource that’s both friendly to people and the environment. 

Photo courtesy of Holt Renfrew

HOW TO DRIVE THE UPTAKE OF SUSTAINABLE FASHION: THE SUSTAINABLE FASHION TOOLKIT

The uptake of sustainable fashion is slowly dying. The mission is to identify what berries the fashion industry is facing when it comes to sustainability. There are so many resources that are hard to navigate. During the conference Fashion Takes Action, and PWC made an extraordinary announcement launching The Sustainable Fashion Toolkit

No matter where you are in your sustainability journey – just getting started or well on your way – the Toolkit offers something for everyone. With helpful, customizable filters designed for simple navigation, our platform will help you easily find what you need for your specific sustainability journey.

The stages of the Toolkit include: Define – Plan – Implement – Monitor – Report 

Image: The Sustainable Fashion Toolkit

THE CIRCULAR ECONOMY 


”Every year $120B of textiles sit in waste”

@queenofraw

During the Circular Economy Panel, ThredUP, Queen of Raw and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation analyzed three principals to generate value for companies. These include:

  1. Designing out waste
  2. Keeping product and material in use (via rental and second hand) 
  3. Regenerate natural systems (i.e., cotton, grape skins, green and regenerative agriculture)
Circular Economy Panel

“97% of products made with virgin materials // less than 1% are circulated back into products.”

@queenofraw

With such complex value chains, how do we scale circular and innovative business models?

“Leverage technology to build your own inventory management system”

@thredUP

“Keep supply/demand local” 

@queenofraw

“Centralize waste” 

@StevenBethell

Circular business models start at the design process. In comes the Rethinking Design workshop delivered by  IDEO and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. The rethinking design workshop is a fun and engaging workshop that can be accessed for free on the Circular Design Guide.

So with all these takeaways, where can one start? Start by thinking about what you can do with a product once you are done with it. Think of its second life! There are several viable options, such as; recycling the product, taking it to #ValueVillage, a local shelter like Jessie’s Centre, or having a clothing SWAP. 

For more information on WEAR, follow Fashion Takes Action


Industry Spotlight: Steven Bethell, Founder of Bank and Vogue

Steven Bethell has been a thought leader and pioneer in the post-consumer textile space for over 20 years. He has dedicated his work life to innovative and relevant solutions to the crisis of stuff. Steven is also the co-founder of Bank and Vogue, which actively works with over 250 charities and private collectors across North America to maximize the value of post-consumer waste and find creative uses for this “waste” stream. Steven and his team have traveled to over 30 countries working extensively amongst the robust second-hand markets of the world. 

The retail arm Beyond Retro has been the leader in Vintage clothing in Europe for over 15 years. With 8 stores and a thriving eCommerce branch, Beyond Retro can be found on the cover of Vogue, featured in the Huffington Post or worn by Adele. 

Beyond Retro Label is a line of unique, re-worked items handcrafted from carefully selected vintage fabrics available at Beyond Retro stores or at High Street retailers such as Urban Outfitters or Top Shop.

Steven is also the brainchild behind the largest Re-manufacturing plant in the world, where the circular economy for textiles is brought to life.  Taking post-consumer waste and transforming it into relevant products, facilitating repair and re-commerce platforms and providing post consumer apparel as feedstock for fibre recycling projects, Steven works with big brands to help them bring their sustainability platforms to the next level. 

In his spare time Steven lives off the grid in the Canadian wilderness.  He is an avid woodsman: fishing, paddling and  learning about the outdoors and its many wonders.

When asked his favourite SDG, Steven replied, goal 12 and 13 are closest to my heart.

For more on Bank and Vogue, visit https://www.bankvogue.com

Sustainability with Urban Planet

Seneca Fashion 3rd-year fashion students embark on their 2019-2020 capstone project journey.

Each year, graduating students from Seneca’s Fashion Business Management (FBM) Advanced diploma program partner with a client in the fashion industry to assist with a real-life business opportunity. FIELD short for Fashion Industry Educational Exchange and Leadership Development is a capstone project. During the FIELD year, students work in teams to apply knowledge gained to develop creative solutions for the ‘client’ and present their strategy to a panel of judges at a year-end industry event. We are overjoyed to announce that our 2019/2020 FIELD client is Urban Planet, a brand under the iconic YM Inc. family.

The Challenge? Sustainability.

Sustainability is the new frontier in fast fashion, too much clothing winds up in landfills every year, and the environmental cost related to this industry must be addressed. Urban Planet would like to develop a robust sustainability initiative addressing materials selection, manufacturing, post-consumer waste, and packaging. How can Urban Planet adopt better manufacturing practices while engaging more with their customer, successfully converting the initiative into the adoption of additional sales and customer loyalty?  

“We are very excited to be the 2020 Field Project Industry Partner and contribute to such an amazing educational program. When Anna and Lorrisa presented the opportunity to be the industry partner, we jumped at the opportunity. YM values the contribution of fresh minds and believes in giving young people a leg up in the industry. The most important part of our successful evolution are the people we work with.  It’s the teams of talented individuals that collaborate and inspire each other to push hard and do more to impress our customer.  

Our industry is facing a significant cycle of change, sustainable manufacturing practices are at the forefront of retail conversations and initiatives.  We believe that great fashion doesn’t have to come at the cost of the environment and are committed to improving our processes to ensure we make better choices in our future production and logistics. Concern for the sustainability of the environment must be top of mind as we drive our strategies forward.  

Retailers must act as a bridge between manufacturers and consumers, demanding change from our suppliers and encouraging new consumer behavior as well. Great insights and fresh new approaches for the end to end sustainable retail cycle is our challenge to the 2020 graduating class of Fashion Business Management. We believe that this generation is more engaged than ever before with environmental responsibility and know they will truly impress us with their innovative and forward-thinking retail strategies– Maria Mayer, VP of Merchandising at YM INC.

This year, five groups of student teams will develop a capsule collection and marketing plan that researches the Canadian women’s apparel market. Their solution will focus on sustainable sourcing, production, and omnichannel selling practices and should define a clear competitive advantage and a diverse channel/assortment and branding strategy.

“Third year in FBM has been great so far. FIELD has been accelerating quickly from week one as we are tacking our FIELD concept to present it to our client, Urban Planet for feedback. I am excited and anxious for the final presentation at the end, knowing it could lead to some open doors (potential employers), post-grad Seneca.”Yonas Kbede, FBM Student 

Students embarked on their FIELD journey on September 12, 2019, with a visit to Urban Planet at Fairview mall. Here, they received a private tour and presentation on the brand’s visual and merchandising strategy followed by presentations from senior management, question and answer period, and a group networking lunch at Seneca College.

“The FIELD project gives our 3rd-year FBM students an opportunity to tackle a real-life business case with mentoring from the industry client and faculty. It’s a privilege to work industry leaders like Maria and members of the Urban Planet team (at YM Inc.) who embrace the value of our FIELD program and its outcomes. The skills students learn and apply throughout the 8-month duration of the project sets our graduates apart from other fashion business graduates in the GTA.” – Lorrisa Dilay, FBM Professor at Seneca College

About Urban Planet:

Unique in size and concept, Urban Planet is one of the fastest-growing fashion brands in Canada, with more than 100 locations across the country and an online store at www.urban-planet.com. Catering to a broad core demographic of young men & women aged 16 to 24, our customers are part of a generation constantly looking for that next best thing.

With a focus on the latest fashion, footwear & accessory trends, our customers can be confident in knowing they’ll stay one step ahead of that ever-changing curve, and with our everyday amazing prices everyone can always afford to look their best. As we continue to expand our brand, our retail philosophy will continue to stay the same: shopping should be fun and great fashion should be accessible to everyone.

About Seneca Fashion: 

Seneca Fashion combines innovation with the world of business, beauty, and design. Our programs in fashion and esthetics challenge you to connect your creativity with professional skills to help you succeed in the industry.

Through field placements, competitions, and Seneca’s Fashion Resource Centre – a collection of Canadian–worn garments and accessories, you’ll experience the industry, build connections, and develop a career. To learn more about Seneca’s exclusive Fashion Resource Centre visit www.fashionresourcecentre.com

2019 Career Networking Event

On Thursday, October 3rd, The School of Fashion hosted our annual Career Networking event with industry-leading companies! Thank you to our long list of exhibiting companies, including Hudson’s Bay Company, Nordstrom, Footlocker, SEPHORA, Shoppers Drug Mart, Sanctuary Day Spas , TJX The Ten Spot, and Elmwood Spa. The event was open to all our #SenecaFashion students who spent the afternoon engaging with company representatives and handing out their business cards and resumes to prospective employers. We are #SenecaProud of our career ready students!

Kelly Drennan on SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production

Kelly Drennan is a systems thinker, social entrepreneur, thought leader, disruptor and collaborator who is devoted to making change within the fashion industry. Twelve years ago she founded Fashion Takes Action, out of her desire to create a better, more sustainable future for her two daughters.
She is also responsible for producing the World Ethical Apparel Roundtable (WEAR) which began in 2014, developing FTA’s youth education program “My Clothes My World” and “Design Forward – Canada’s Sustainable Fashion Awards”.

She has given hundreds of presentations to industry, academics and consumers in the hopes to raise awareness for responsible consumption and production, and for human rights in the fashion industry. Kelly is very passionate about the circular economy in fashion and is responsible for convening a Textile Diversion Collective in Ontario. This multi-sector collaborative has more than 30 stakeholders. We caught up with Kelly during our Transforming our World symposium and asked her to share a few words on her favourite Sustainable Development Goal (SDG).

“My favourite SDG 12 because in order for us to move toward a circular economy, it requires both industry (production) and consumers (consumption) to be responsible. This necessary shift to circularity is not the responsibility of any single sector, but rather the combination of private and public sector, and civil society.”

October 7th marks day one of the 2019 Fashion Takes Action, WEAR Conference. Stay tuned for our full event coverage!

Industry Spotlight: Romy Schill, Sheep and Lamb Producer and her view on SDG 2, Zero Hunger

RschillRomy Schill was raised on a dairy farm near Moorefield. She met her husband Ryan Schill through Ontario’s 4-H program and when they married in 2008, they knew that they wanted to farm. Romy had studied at the University of Guelph receiving her degree in Agricultural Science. After Romy worked off the farm for a few years and after getting some farm experience, the couple decided to concentrate on sheep. The barn was rebuilt and set up to handle their new flock.  They now have 300 ewes (female sheep) and hope to increase their herd size to 500 in the coming years. Their farm, in Wellington County, has been in the Schill family for 94 years.

Their sheep are a combination of both commercial and purebred d stock. The sheep are marketed to other farmers for breeding stock or to the local auction ring for meat. They also sell some lamb meat and sheep products (wool, yarn, sheepskins) from the farm gate and at a few farmers markets.

Romy is a board member of the Upper Canada Fibreshed. The Upper Canada Fibreshed is an affiliate, not-for-profit organization within the international Fibershed network committed to building a regional fibre system centered around local fibres, local dyes, and local labour. It nourishes emerging, bioregional textile communities of producers and consumers, that value sustainable agriculture and hyper-local textile manufacturing. Its members believe that supporting bioregional textile networks will change the way we make, purchase and use textiles, envisioning a different culture based on soil-to-soil systems for environmental regeneration.

SDG2When asked her top #SDG, Romy replied “With our farm we truly support sustainable resource use and soil to soil fibre systems to achieve food security, improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture. A huge commitment to animal health, care and environment gives our animals the opportunity to be productive creatures.”

Want more? Visit our blog post ‘not a baa-d look’ and learn about our #SenecaFashion sheep sheering project.