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.

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

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.

 

Garry Bell’s view on SDG 9: Industry Innovation and Infrastructure​

GaryBellHaving worked for close to 25 years within Gildan, across a wide range of leadership positions ranging from sales, marketing, product development, innovation, business development, and strategic planning, Garry Bell has developed a passion and a keen thirst for all things sustainable. As a self-admitted ‘life-long learner’, he has long advocated that truly sustainable and responsible practices are directly linked to the corporate success and profitability of most organizations. Gildan’s mission is “Making Apparel Better”, a statement strategically worded to not be defined as making better garments but rather one that is defined as making apparel in a better way that delivers value to every one of their stakeholders. Their goal is to create positive change and impact each and every day, through the actions they take, the decisions they make and the lives they touch.

SDG9

We caught up with Garry and asked him to share his favourite SDG. His response:

“Wow. That’s a tough one. The strength of the SDG’s is that they collectively address the most material issues we face. Pulling one out as my favorite leaves so many things unaddressed. I believe that SDG9, Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure, can act as an important enabler for many of the other SDGs, in an era of ever-increasing digitalization of our world. Substantive progress on this SDG can make eradication of poverty, access to quality education, clean energy and ensure strong and effective partnerships are formed. I also think it’s an SDG that can very quickly access the capital required to make substantial progress quickly.”

-Garry Bell

Rafik Riad’s view on SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation

Rafik Riad, originally from Egypt, has studied and worked globally on policy design and project implementation in the field of international development. In 2011, Rafik founded SALT, a fair-trade social enterprise that worked with communities in Africa and Latin America. Rafik’s appreciation for social enterprise as a business model that circumvents both the volatility of traditional development frameworks and the shortcomings of conventional corporate models led him to found Buy Good. Feel Good. in 2014.

Today, Buy Good. Feel Good is North America’s largest marketplace dedicated to connecting social enterprises with buyers and consumers.

We caught up with Rashid during our Transforming our World Symposium, we asked him to elaborate on the SDG that resonates with him most, clean water and sanitation.

SDG6_RPandC

“No life without water, through my Egypt origin I am very much aware about the importance of water, we all need to ensure the availability and sustainable management of water”

-Rashid Riad