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.

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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.”


B[art]er invites local artists to trade their work

Courtesy of Chantal Hassard

B[art]er calls for all local artists to gather together and exchange their works at the Northern Contemporary Gallery.

B[art]er started out as house parties. A gallery associate Chantal Hassard created B[art]er to invite her friends and classmates from University of Toronto’s art program to her house to trade their art.

“The idea of someone actually wanting my work in their space inspires me to make better work,” Hassard said. “I thought B[art]er would be a good way to inspire others in the same way.”

The owners of Northern Contemporary liked Hassard’s idea and let her host the event at their gallery.

Now everyone can participate in the event — no artistic experience required!

Photo: Sveta Soloveva

Hassard said she came up with the idea when she travelled to Israel as an exchange student at Tel Aviv University.

“While I was over there, I met some people setting up the Middle Eastern regional Burning Man event called MidBurn,” she said. “Because of their radically inclusive community model, they welcomed me whole heartedly into their homes all over the country. Before and after the event, I shared many meals with burners and really identified with their values. All my art now is a feedback loop that tries to replicate their community ethos to bring countercultural activity like pARTicipation and immediacy into the mainstream.”

Many times Hassard gathered Toronto-based artists and their friends at her house to celebrate art. They brought prints, photos, and oil paintings. However, there was no theme.

Courtesy of Chantal Hassard

While the recent B[art]er allows works of all mediums, they have to reflect Toronto.

“I feel like there’s institutional need to define our city and its fine artists. And that is a nice opportunity,” said Hassard.

For those who need inspiration, they would do well to check AGO Tributes and Tributaries or the free Form Follows Fiction exhibit at U of T.

Hassard said she already has some ideas for the next B[art]er that will also take place at the gallery in February. It might be political art or the art of one colour.

Courtesy of Chantal Hassard

All events will be accompanied by music, with snacks and drinks.

B[art]er starts at 7 p.m. on Dec. 19, at the Northern Contemporary Gallery, 1266 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario.

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Artsy Gifts Under $100

Photo: Sveta Soloveva

A new exhibition at Northern Contemporary Gallery features hundreds of art pieces under $100!

Photo: Sveta Soloveva

Looking for an inspirational gift for your artistic friend? Acrylic Sugar Skull, Coffin Jewelry Boxes, Drake-inspired painting, and many other interesting and affordable pieces are waiting for you at the art-show, Under 100.

Photo: Sveta Soloveva

The exhibition introduces you to talented North American artists and makes your holiday shopping entertaining in itself.

“You can get something that is really unique,” said Emily May Rose who runs the gallery. “Every kind of theme is covered because we did no theme for the show.”

Photo: Sveta Soloveva

Rose said they wanted to make it affordable for people to buy gifts for their friends and family. The artists could submit a work of any theme and medium, but it had to be priced $100 or under.

The idea worked out perfect. The gallery was full with customers on Dec. 8, the first day of the exhibition. They were scanning the walls with juicy paintings, breathtaking photos of Toronto, and funny digital illustrations.

Photo: Jordan Prentice

“People mostly chose to do reproductions of their work like prints because you can set the price a little bit lower for those,” Rose said. “You can’t really do a big painting and sell it for under a hundred dollars.”

Some of the artists decided to use shampoo jars and broken pieces of cups in their mixed-media-works.

Photo: Sveta Soloveva

An OCAD University student Kevin Pham submitted two digital illustrations and one watercolour painting that he did for school. He said the exhibition is a good opportunity for him to show some of his work and get gallery experience.

“This one is about my grandmother,” Pham pointed at his watercolour painting. “She passed away. So this is her caring for thirteen kids.”

Photo: Sveta Soloveva

Rose said her favourite artist in this show is Ann Somers who submitted six pieces.

“She has a very painterly but still graphic style,” Rose said. “She did a lot of pop-culture references like Kim Kardashian or Stranger Things TV show and little Drake pieces. Those were very cute.”

From left to right: Kevin Pham and Chantal Hassard. Photo: Jordan Prentice

The exhibition runs until Dec. 22, at the Northern Contemporary Gallery, 1266 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario.

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Vocabulary of Souls: Annie Thompson’s new collection

From left to right: Chris Binet and Kasia Kaminska. Photo: Sveta Soloveva
From left to right: Chris Binet and Kasia Kaminska. Photo: Sveta Soloveva

TEXT: Sveta Soloveva and Liat Neuman

Nature, architecture, graphics, and music — Vocabulary of Souls, the latest collection by Annie Thompson reflects everything. “The depth of happiness, gratitude and enjoyment that I had in my life inspires my work,” said Thompson. “Every single person and thing can come out in the collection.”

Vocabulary of Souls follows the last collection Life in General, which called on people to be expressive through their clothes notwithstanding situations. “People always say, I like it but where would I wear it?” said Thompson. “Wear it to the grocery store. It’s all about feeling.”

From left to right: Sveta Soloveva and Annie Thompson
From left to right: Sveta Soloveva and Annie Thompson

Maybe because ‘every single person’ inspired the clothes, they fit absolutely everyone.

To prove that, Thompson held a try-on evening called Me, Myself and Annie at her studio on Dupont Street, where clients and friends were grabbing hangers, posing for a photographer, and chatting lively alongside snacks and wine.

The warm welcome and the friendly atmosphere were all we needed on this chilly November night. The concept of the event was to celebrate passion for life, art, and fashion. It featured approximately ten inspiring clients and friends of the designer’s who acted as real life models, not to mention, a talented photographer, Anna Petro, who captured the most fun, beautiful, and intimate moments of the evening.

Me, Myself and Annie was completely different from other fashion events of the day; it was all about real people sharing their own experiences in this quickly shifting fashion world.

“I want any age, any sex, any colour, any style, and any person to feel comfortable in those clothes, to try them on. I try to bring newness and freshness by having all kinds of people here tonight,” said Thompson.

The guests — painters, DJs, publicists, models, and kids — were strangers to each other until the love of Thompson’s work brought them together at her studio. Some met Thompson at work, some met her online, others danced with her in a club. Listening to their lively discussion, one immediately became a part of that creative family.

L to R: Veronica Hufana and Abegail Usman. Photo: Sveta Soloveva

Abegail Usman, who just graduated from Ryerson’s fashion communication program, got a position as a sales associate at Annie Thompson’s studio on her 23rd birthday.

“I was kind of feeling down because I hadn’t really gotten any job in a while. And on my birthday Annie gave me a call. That was a really cool feeling,” said Usman.

It was her 30th birthday when Veronica Hufana, the director of SRC Media, met the designer by accident.

“There [was] this awesome sale going around the corner,” Hufana recalls. “I checked it out. I’ve been hooked on Annie’s fashion since.”

Thompson personally does not consider her work to be fashionable, saying that the styles and colours that are trendy now won’t be trendy then. She doesn’t follow fashion magazines and just uses ideas that inspire her.

Photo: Sveta Soloveva
Photo: Sveta Soloveva

Thompson has been designing since 1981 and her passion for art, fashion, and humanity has gotten only stronger. Her aesthetic vision is embedded so deeply in the DNA of her clothes that a skirt purchased from the current collection will work perfectly with a jacket or a top from her previous collections.

In the world of fast fashion, when some companies are producing thousands of same garments for millions of the same stores every day, the creative process behind designers like Thompson is usually tied to slow fashion — in Thompson’s work, slow fashion means ‘hyper-local’, high-quality, utilitarian, and authentic.

Photo: Sveta Soloveva

The idea behind her designs is to give the individual an opportunity to embrace the person he or she is in a comfortable way with a style that reflects his or her own personality and to enhance it.

Thompson designs, chooses fabrics, makes patterns, and cuts the first sample. Her sample-maker, Brenda, whom she has been working with for 25 years, is the only other person who is involved in the creative process. When the first sample is ready, she comes in from St. Catharines and does the fitting. Thompson is the only model for her garments, and she says that that makes her clothes even more normal, flattering, and wearable:

“I’m a regular body. I’m not very skinny. I’m not really the other way.”

Photo: Sveta Soloveva
Photo: Sveta Soloveva

It takes about five months to get a new style done. And there are 20 styles in the current collection — from elegant dresses and hats to baggy pants and hoodies, from calm grey to bright blue. Many pockets, circles, vertical and horizontal stripes. There’s so much stuff to experiment with and get inspired from.

It’s fair to say that the guests of Me, Myself and Annie were wearing their imagination when experimenting with Thompson’s collection.