Toronto Dancer Creates Beyoncé and Rihanna Sweaters to Help Charities

Owner and creator of 1Club, Shawn Bracke says his 50/50 percent cotton/polyester sweaters are perfect for an active person, someone in a creative space. Photo by Sveta Soloveva

Whether he’s teaching a dance class or sketching in his notebook, Shawn Bracke always uses his art to support charities. Now he creates sweaters with faces of celebrities on them and donates 35% of the proceeds to a different charity each month. Founded in September 2016, his online clothing brand 1Club stands for the idea of “all for one and one for all”.

Sveta: Hi Shawn! It’s exciting to learn a new artistic side of you besides dancing. How did you come up with the idea of creating your brand?

Shawn: The idea was always charity, donations. But not all. I was sketching a lot for the last five years or so, and I started putting it on clothing myself. People really liked that. On top of that, I was donating once a month from classes that I teach to different charities. So I kind of just fused the two ideas together. I thought, instead of donating from the classes I would start a brand.

Sveta: Did you have any background in fashion?

Shawn: Yep, I used to be a stylist. I used to live in London, U.K. I was a stylist there for two years, mostly just like on set for music videos, TV, and films. So it’s not the most creative because you can’t do really much with film and TV — you literally give them like this template —, but I definitely had an understanding of the industry. Honestly, fashion doesn’t really apply to my brand. The whole goal for it is to be comfortable and wearable and easy.

Sveta: How does the design of your brand express its idea?

Shawn: We stand for all for one and one for all. So the goal of the brand is essentially to create all-inclusive type of company, something comfortable and supporting. Originally, they [sweaters] are just faces of people that really inspired me. People who are using their celebrity styles to make a change in the world. There are pretty big names, like Beyoncé and Rihanna, Gigi Hadid, Victoria Beckham. They all are known for what they do either as musicians or designers, but I love all of them because they are affiliated with charities. And obviously, I know that people would love to wear a Beyonce sweater or Rihanna [sweater]. And I like that it’s all strong women. A lot of charities that I focus on are geared towards helping women.

Photo by Sveta Soloveva

Sveta: What are some charitable organization you work or have worked with?

Shawn: Right now we are with Red Door Family Shelter. We’ve worked with Covenant House. They are cool. They are like a shelter for the homeless slash for people who are distressed. So they help a lot of women who are in bad situations with their husbands or who are trying to escape.

Sveta: What is exciting for you about working with charities?

Shawn: I’ve always loved donating to charities, but as a dancer I would just do it with my credit card online. With the company there’s different formatting. You obviously have to build relationships with them [charities]. It’s been very cool to see their responses and meet different people within the charity. And also, knowing where the money goes is comforting. I was kind of nervous going into it, that these different charities wouldn’t be that interested and would just kind of take a donation, but they all have been so lovely and so caring. Just hearing the cool things they do to change people’s lives is awesome.

Sveta: Does anyone help you to run the business?

Shawn: Yeah, so the sketches I do myself, and then I have a company, actually, a friend, who prints all the clothing. He works in film and TV, so it’s cool we have that relationship. And I also have some friends who help me to run the company. Primarily, it’s just me, but we do a lot of events. We go to different markets, so I have a crew who sometimes writes the emails and does the administrating.

Sveta: What is the most difficult part of running a clothing company?

Shawn: I would say, continuously promoting our brand. The more promotion you do, the more you need new people. And it’s not even bad. The most difficult is the most fun in a weird sense. I think it’s just the nature of any creative person: anything that’s difficult, you like doing because you know that it’s a challenge for you. I don’t know if as a journalist and a dancer you can agree with me. I hope that answers the question.

Sveta: I think I agree with that. Would people who wear your sweaters be creative as well?

Shawn: Obviously, I would love everyone to wear the sweaters. The goal is to benefit charities and feel comfortable and cool, yeah? But, generally speaking, the people, who have been gravitating towards it, are people like us, who work during the day and take a dance class or a yoga class or go to the gym at night… Or maybe they just wanna have like a Sunday-cozy sweater to go to a brunch and go for a walk after. My mum and her friends wear it too. They wear it on Saturdays if they go out for a show or something.

Sveta: Do you have your favourite sweater?

Shawn: Right now the Beyonce-embroidered is my favourite just cause I haven’t seen anyone do an embroidered sweater and I just love the texture of it. I’m excited that my drawing can be transmitted into an embroidered sweater.

Photo by Sveta Soloveva

Sveta: How do you build your collections in terms of frequency, colours…?

Shawn: As we partner with a different charity every month, the goal is to do a new sweater every one to two months. The first collection is all white, and the second collection had like that salt-pepper and safari [shades]. And then for the next one we are gonna go back to straight one colour. I definitely want to keep them neutral. For me, as a dancer, rehearsing, I like to wear very basic colours or shades rather. And my clients love that kind of neutral shades, so… We might play with colours later, but for now we are gonna keep it.

Sveta: Are you planning to add more items to your collections in the future?

Shawn: In September we have few other things coming. T-shirts and some other stuff, which I’m gonna keep secret.

Sveta: Were you thinking about creating 1Club physical store?

Shawn: Right now it’s an online-brand. I think we are gonna keep it there for a while. I don’t really have any goals to make it a physical shop… like in the near future.

Sveta: What does 1Club mean to you personally?

Shawn: 1Club for me is a nice escape from the dance world [we both laugh]. That sounds terrible! I couldn’t live without it [dance]. It’s like who I am, but there’s so many sides of me. Just like there’s so many sides of you. So it’s like a break from always focusing on like, Oh, I need to do this with dance. I need to focus on this with dance. For me it’s to meet different types of people with 1 Club that I would never be able to meet in the dance world.

Continue following our arts & culture coverage on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Sympli: Real Women, Real Bodies

Shopping for clothes can get frustrating and leave women feeling inadequate about their bodies. Often, we find ourselves adjusting our body shape to fit the clothes and not the other way around.

Jan Stimpson and Abbey Stimpson, a dynamic mother daughter duo decided to challenge the norm by coming out with a universal line for women of all shapes and sizes. Jan had been designing clothes for 40 years prior, and Abbey soon followed. From helping lay fabric on the cutting board to working with her mom in between soccer practices as a teenager to make some extra cash, she grew up in the business. Together, they built their BC-based brand Sympli, which stands behind positive body image and caters to all women. Sympli was the first Canadian brand to design a universal line for women of all body types and ages as well as introduce a plus size line.

Behind its success is the long and time consuming process in creating a line that was accommodating to all kinds of bodies while still maintaining some shape to it. When asked about creating the line, Jan Stimpson stated “I had always designed clothes for every woman but as the years went by, the style just got a lot more form fitting, a lot tighter. It was very difficult for women, and I’m not talking full figured women, I’m just talking average women, to fit into anything.”

The name Sympli, refers to the everyday, simpler style of clothing the brand produces. It really is about designing a comfortable line that accommodated as many women as possible with cuts that were flattering for their body, as opposed to putting themselves in boxy t-shirts. This is how Sympli started,with some t-shirts and a few pants. They offer a slim fit, a relaxed fit, and a tunic fit that accommodated everyone. It was a nicely fit t-shirt that came in a variety of necklines and sleeve lengths.

That’s where they thrived. “Women loved it. They could finally shop and look great and feel great. Like the basic t-shirt that’s not just a box for somebody who had had a few kids and didn’t want to wear a skinny t-shirt.”

Along with the basics, Sympli now does tops and lighter weight jackets. Their first line of outerwear coats came out last year.  Their market reaches those who embrace the practicality of the line. Abbey states “Once women get around their 30s, they become a lot more open to the fact that fashion should be durable. They make more long term choices and they have more ethical values as to how and where their clothes were made and how long they last.”

Local production is an integral part of the process. The fabrication and local manufacturing allow for superior quality. “We’re not fast fashion so we don’t design our clothes to rotate off the shelf every couple of weeks. We will look at trends that are approachable in a body friendly way and try to include it in a way that won’t be out of style next year. Local production is really important to us and its gotten us to where we are today.”

Jan recalls the the hardest part of taking this approach to fashion is the process to actually accommodate all different body types and the rigorous process to do it authentically. More time is spent picking garments than actually designing them. The garments are fitted on a number of size 4s, 8s, 10s, 16s, etc. Even within size ranges, each body is different. It’s much easier to take the template form of the super thin model sitting in front of a white background. It’s easier to execute, cheaper and more readily available. “People know what’s working out there and they just essentially copy it. Our process is challenging and very time consuming,” says Jan. Around 95% of Sympli’s pieces are not computer generated.

Sympli also works with the Looking Glass Foundation and youth suffering with eating disorders. An automatic match with the message behind Sympli, the Looking Glass Foundation was founded by three mothers whose daughters had suffered from eating disorders. It was started in Deep Cove in Vancouver, where the Sympli got started as well. Passionate about people moving toward a healthier version of body image, the organization’s holistic approach to treating disorders is something both Jan and Abbey believe in. Their Hand in Hand program encourages a real support system between trained survivors and those who are suffering now. This allows for a more organic approach and support system for their journey to recovery.

Sympli challenges other companies to have the guts to display unique bodies, and a variety of healthy bodies. Jan states, “For women to embrace their own bodies and to enjoy it and be healthy and love yourself, the change starts from the way we feel within ourselves. As much as we like to blame the media, we have to take a look at what we stand for and what we’re attracted to, and what we try to be.”

 

Does “Made In Canada” Matter?

Canadian-made brand “Raised by Wolves”- Photo @ Pangela Productions

With the importance of fair trade products on the rise as well as the support for local businesses becoming increasingly popular, this question should be a no-brainer- of course buying fashion items from Canadian designers should matter. However, when considering the actual act of labeling a product to indicate that it’s made in Canada, it seems that Canadian consumers do not tend to consider this an influence to their shopping.

Business of Fashion put out an article, “Does ‘Made In’ Matter”, which explores whether or not consumers really do care where their clothes are from. What they found is that the term ‘Made In’ is increasingly losing its credibility as brands can have their clothing made in a cheap labour market and simply package the product in their own country to say that the item is made from there. Certain countries are known for specializing in specific products. For example, Italy is known for their superb shoe making. How would you feel buying a shoe that claims to be “Made In Italy” but is actually produced in a cheap labour market? It happens more than we think- the validity of the “Made In” label is continuously decreasing.

When it comes to Canada, the “Made In” label can mean more than indicating the quality of clothing (especially to Canadians). In a recent Toronto Star article that was published this past October, titled “Canadian Designers: The challenge of making a name in Canada”, reporter, Katrina Clark illuminated the elements, which affect Canadian designers’ ability to grow their brand and sell their clothing. Canadian designers are not considered as distinguished and valuable until recognized outside of Canada. Brands from fashion capitals such as France or Italy are historically reputable and because of this, if Canadian consumers are going to buy within the designer realm, they will tend to purchase from these fashion capitals simply because of an ongoing reputation. For this reason, labeling a clothing item “Made In Canada” does not matter in terms of quality of the product itself. However, this label can still be of influence to those who choose to support local Canadian designers.

Canada Goose Manufacturing- Photo @ Toronto Standard

Many people prefer to support local artists, designers, and businesses rather than give their money to large corporations. I know that I despise chain restaurants, especially in Toronto when the single owned restaurants are endless and most of the time a much better option in terms of atmosphere, nutrition and taste. When thinking of this choice I make to almost always choose the local restaurant over the chain, I ask myself, why do I not pick the local designer over the large retailers when it comes to my fashion choices? I know that my money would be better deserved. I know that the quality of my clothing would be better and also more unique. However, when it comes down to it, paying eight dollars more for a pizza from a family run Italian restaurant is much less of a commitment than buying a four-hundred dollar jacket from a local designer when I could buy one for seventy dollars at Zara- I mean, when you do the math that’s about thirty pizzas saved (do not fact check that).

 

Photo @ Etsy Canadian Jewellery

It sounds brutal but as a broke and hungry twenty-something, this is just my thought process. If I had the maturity and the disposable income. I would be buying locally because I absolutely think that Canadian fashion brands have much to offer and should be recognized for this. In terms of labeling something as “Made In Canada”, I don’t believe that this matters currently to consumers simply because of the lack of recognition of the quality of Canadian products- but it certainly should. Canadian designers should receive the same recognition for their work that it just as great and sometimes better than European luxury brands. Those who buy designer items should feel proud and encouraged to purchase fashion items that are “Made In Canada”.

Continue following our fashion & lifestyle coverage on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.