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.
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.