If you’ve been reading C+H for a while, you likely know by now that I live in Alberta – land of the oft-repeated “Sure, our winter is cold, but it’s a DRY cold!”. Well, it’s April and there’s still a ton of snow in my backyard, but the sun is shining and the kids won’t stay in the house anymore. We’re spending a lot of time in the chilly spring air, and a cozy hoody is required. So… I think one of the fabulous, 100% Canadian-made Clothing Brand Experiment (CBE) hoodies belongs in my spring wardrobe – check ‘em out:
The very cool Clothing Brand Experiment hoodies are fantastic, and made entirely within the Toronto area. The fabric is milled locally, and all of the fabrication and production is completed within 50km of Elly Green’s CBE studio. I met Elly at the Vancouver OOAK show, and she was super passionate about her business – with every right. Her vision of creating a 100% locally made garment, that is high quality and still affordable, can’t have been easy to realize. There’s a reason why all those other manufacturers go overseas, but Elly is bucking that trend and we’re right there with her. The fabric is gorgeous – soft and cozy, and the fit was great when I tried one on!
CBE hoodies come in a couple of styles, but the colour combinations are what make them so fun. There’s also the option to choose your own lace for the hood, so you can spice it up a bit if you need even more colour in your life!
Now, CBE is not just about hoodies. It is a true experiment, and when you visit the site you’ll see a section in the shop for amazing “Limited T’s” with artwork by local independent business-people and artists, and the more recent BY KIDS 4 KIDS project with the kids of Regent Park.
This week, I checked in with Elly to learn a little more about CBE, her collaboration projects and to ask her to share some of her thoughts and processes with us. Read on to learn more, and be sure to visit the CBE Facebook Page and follow Elly’s Twitter feed @CBEClothing, too!
C+H: When you have 30 seconds to explain CBE to someone new, what do you tell them?
Elly Green: CBE stands for Clothing Brand Experiment, we specialize in deluxe hoodies! Everything we create is made locally within 50kms of our studio downtown Toronto – from the milling of the fabric to the printing of the hang tags. We have perfected our hoody and now also make t-shirts, sweats and various limited lines.
Why did you initially want to start CBE?
I love quality and I love consistency and I also love specific details. I was shopping for a hoody, over 3 years ago and I wanted it to include a few details and be in yellow. I looked a bunch and didn’t find it so I figured I would put my sewing skills to use and make one. I went to Fashion school for a year before dropping out and moving to Toronto to go to OCAD and I had also sewn a ton while growing up outside of Collingwood so I knew I could make the hoody I wanted. I did just that and then the compliments came in along with some custom orders from friends and then friends of friends and so on.
CBE began as a custom hoody business and I made just over 100 hoodies out of my apartment. Eventually I recognized a pattern as many customers would state the colours they were thinking they wanted and then would follow up with questioning me on what I thought would look best. With this I realized it would make much more sense to make small runs in colour combinations I liked and sell the finished hoodies, this would allow customers to try on the hoody completed instead of trying to envision what the custom order might look like finished. And so CBE began and still operates in a similar fashion making small runs each season in different colour combinations.
When you made the decision to source the entire production locally, were there obstacles to getting that done?
When CBE moved from custom orders to short runs I knew it wouldn’t be worth making anything out of fabric I purchased from a store or wholesaler if I didn’t know every detail of the fabric blend. I had made a few custom orders that ended up shrinking or piling and I was extremely frustrated to have put so much time and work into finishing the garment for the quality of fabric not to match-up to the quality of sewing. And this is when I began searching for fabric suppliers and after a few months I found a Mill just north of the city that made premium cotton blends for high-end companies across North America – I was thrilled to find it! It did take a while to find and the cost is a little higher than other options from wholesalers but the quality is well worth it.
As a very small business I was a little intimidated to approach the mill but I did and a good relationship started out and I purchased ends from them to make my first few runs. Ends for them could be up to 100 meters per colour which was plenty for me to work with. CBE now orders our own fabric blend from the mill for each line and the weight and soft feel of the fabric definitely stands out to all our customers.
Cut & sew, dyeing, pre-washing, embroidery, tags, printing and so on, where each a little easier to find in the city since there are a handful of places to go for each. CBE now works with a good mix of these other businesses to make each line. Contrary to production over seas we are with our line each step of the way and each step is done in smaller businesses that each take care of one step in the production process. We are able to deal with problems quickly and efficiently since all our production is done within 50 km of our studio, the furthest location is a 40 minute drive away.
I love the way you integrate local talents into your projects – especially with your limited t-shirt line last year and this spring with the BY KIDS 4 KIDS line. Why is this so important to you?
CBE COMMUNITY is a new wing of CBE that we have launched this past month which is geared towards partnering with local communities in the city to create limited lines or inspirational projects. This is a natural branch of CBE’s care in production – since we care about the people that make our clothing it only makes sense to care as well about the community that wears it.
CBE BY KIDS 4 KIDS is a partnership with an Art Club at Regent Park/Duke of York public school. CBE worked with the grade 5 & 6 students to teach them how to turn their drawings into screen printable two colour images and then took them on a field trip to a printing studio to see the line printed. With the sales of this line we are actually going to outfit the kids in the club with hoodies for them to have as “team gear”. So the Regent Park students may not already be CBE wearers prior to the project but they will at the end.
Right, so why is this so important? Well I could go on a social justice rant but let me boil it down – CBE is extremely concerned with what we make as well as how we make it. There are many ways to create clothing – quickly, efficiently, profitably, ethically, organically and so on but we would like to keep our focus on making things locally and experimentally which allows us to continue learning and growing in our city.
[Ed. Note: Click here to see some AMAZING videos of the creation process for the Limited T-shirt line - My favourite is the first one, called "Chia"]
What started the creative fire burning for you? Do you remember a particular moment, a favourite childhood activity, something you saw and wanted to recreate or improve upon?
I love to be busy and I am pretty hands on when it comes to my creativity. Since I was really young I have always come up with wild project ideas with entrepreneurial twists. From selling handmade bracelets to sewing wacky pants from vintage fabrics to making guitar shaped birthday cakes, I am always up to something – ideas never stop flowing through my mind. I went through school at OCAD as a sculpture major because I wanted to learn more skills to implement my ideas, there I learnt – how to build, design, paint, weld, print and most importantly risk creatively…
I am less poetic and more of a productive risk-taker. To date I often rush through my preliminary sketches and on to the next steps because I am both impatient and curious about the process and I can always envision the finished product I am making. CBE is a big leap for me because it is much more fine tuned. The Classic and Slim fit hoody patterns I worked on for months, making samples and re-drafting the patterns to perfection. Learning how to run a business involves many details beyond the actually hoodies – a lot of thought, perseverance and patient but most of all risk is need to push through the day to day and keep a business alive. I think my creativity is an outcome of the risks I take and the risks I take lead me to more creativity.
What is the best (and worst, if you’d like to share!) part about owning your own business?
CBE is going into year number four of business so it is still small and things are tough. Balancing funds and debt is tricky while maintaining creativity and time off. Yet it is amazing to have the small flexibilities of working for yourself – bringing my dogs to work with me everyday is great – determining my own business focus and values is exciting. The most important thing CBE has caused me to realize is how much more CBE is than just me. Friends, family, neighbours, customers all play a big part in what CBE was, is and will become – this collaborative reality keeps me grateful and inspired when it comes to CBE work.
What part of creating your clothing gives you the most joy and satisfaction?
I actually like to problem solve so as the surprises and challenges apart of each production come about and I think I am about to loose it, I learn something new, find a new technique, meet a new person and some how it always works out – it is a great process. I also love once a new line is finished, picked-up and in the studio and I get to pull out a brand new garment and try it on – this is satisfying every time.
Do you feel that living in Canada has influenced your work?
For sure. if I hadn’t grown up in small-town Ontario I would never had the chance to explore and become creative in the same ways. I also aim one to love the winter and snow and have made CBE hoodies beyond cozy to enjoy such Canadian weather. I also feel very fortunate to live in a country that values the arts and believes that “Canadian Made” means well made.
Who has provided you with inspiration or mentorship in terms of business or your creative journey?
I do have a business mentor who has worked many years in the clothing business and has been an amazing sounding board and motivator to conquer daunting challenges. I also am fortunate to be surrounded with many creative, intelligent and honest friends who are glad to lend a hand or begin a discussion with me on day to day CBE projects.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out as an independent creative selling their work?
You are going to need help – you can’t do it all – so be sure to surround yourself with friends, family and others that you can ask for a helping hand. And very practically – find a banker you like and get yourself a good rate line-of-credit because you can’t pay your rent with a credit card.
Do you listen to music or have another way of getting “in the zone” when you design? Do you have a favourite book or other inspiration that you turn to?
Most of my ideas come to me while doing something else, walking, driving, hanging out. I don’t actually sit down to design or create. Once I have an idea I am often wrapped up in it quite intently that I don’t always listen to music or even remember to drink water or even go to the washroom – it becomes like a marathon I am determined to finish.
I know it’s a bit like choosing a favourite child, but do you have a favourite hoody or piece that you’ve sold through CBE?
A few hoodies stand out amongst the pack to me. The Slim fit Grey and Black hoody with the Neon Yellow hood panel from Winter 08/09 was the first hoody made into a small run that I personally was very excited to wear. It was amazing to pick up that order and put on the finished hoody that had been made by others but was so much my own.
Also, the Speckled Trout Hoody was a pretty risky project, where I wondered for a moment if we had just destroyed 60+ hoodies or whether we had just created the most amazing vintage washed one-of-a-kind design – it was a very hands-on, DIY production which I believe created an amazing line.
When you’re not working on CBE, what is your favourite way to spend your time?
I love my dogs, I now have two! Theo was my first dog – I got him once I had started CBE and realized I need a buddy to remember to get outside for a break and some fresh air once and a while. I now have Sofia too and enjoy running around with them in the park. I also love to cook and bike and enjoy a dark americano.
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Note: All images courtesy of CBE.
I’ve come to appreciate a well-played djembe drum in the past few years, and when I saw the gorgeous drums from Sylvan Temple I immediately thought of a few people who would love to play something so beautiful!
Handmade on Vancouver Island by Robin Shackleton, these one of a kind instruments are built with great care. Robin makes just 70 or so drums a year, and believes that “ideally, no drum is made until it is called forth”. I love that!
Sylvan Temple’s mission statement:
To uphold the ancient art of the craftsman drum-maker, and so strengthen intimacy, accountability and quality in the marketplace; To inspire choices that will allow Earth to heal us and so initiate the circle that will sweep us into balance.
Sylvan Temple is very focused on creating drums that leave a small environmental footprint – using wood that has been salvaged from various waste and burn sites on Vancouver Island, as well as sourcing skins and hardware that are “as local and considerate as possible“. Obviously, much care is taken with each drum and I’m quite sure that anyone lucky enough to play a Sylvan Temple drum would feel that.
Here’s hoping you find your own drumbeat and march to it every day,
P.S. If you’d like to hear some djembe playing, as well as a really lovely story, check out a little film called “The Visitor“.