Jack Yan is publisher of Lucire.
We first came across Canadian designer Heather Chapplain at the Secret Room earlier this year, with our US west coast editor Elyse Glickman calling her the event’s ‘fashion star’. At a time when H&M is getting headlines for its Conscious Exclusive and its recycling efforts, we have to be reminded that these really began with independent designers like Chapplain, taking those first steps to prove that there was a market for socially responsible fashion.
Chapplain’s work differs from those who are sourcing responsible fabrics such as Stella McCartney and H&M Conscious; instead, her speciality is upcycling, and creating beautiful and often intricate denim designs, kimonos, and accessories, blending the best of vintage and art. By deconstructing and reworking pieces, she’s found a niche that celebs and the fashion-forward are embracing. People want to be seen to be wearing responsible fashion, and they want to know the story behind what they’re wearing. Chapplain’s casual-luxury designs successfully scales both conscience and style.
She designs for what she calls ‘out-of-the-box thinkers’. ‘They are the new era. They don't have an age but an attitude. A way they chose to show the world who they are that day, where they are and when they are,’ she tells Lucire.
She began with wearable denim art, and created two jackets. ‘I sold both of them instantly and realized that not only I loved unique fashion pieces but the women around me loved the vintage and authentic parts of the jackets, and longed for pieces like it to make their own,’ says Chapplain. ‘I felt like I had broken hidden rules and other people wanted to, too, they just needed to find a way like me.’
While those two jackets sold quickly, starting the business took a great deal of effort. There were ‘a lot of personal battles being simultaneously fought that I would have to push through while building my business from scratch. But in the moments of dark, I would be reminded from the little things that inspired me like colours, flowers, music and young people owning their own styles. Inspiration can quickly turn into motivation if you allow it,’ she recalls.
She describes working in her own business as a ‘huge learning process, a learning curve with business and financial growth, and learning to hone my creativity by working with different materials. Every day is different and every day I’m learning something new.’
Chapplain faced a major personal challenge when her husband needed a stem-cell transplant. On her website she describes the period as having to put everything on hold. But when she came back, and the operation on Bud was successful, it was with renewed vigour. ‘That’s where the Golden Thread line was created. When he was sick, I needed a creative outlet so that’s when I tried to really paint on denim for the first time. I really got into over-dyeing and just really playing with the materials I had in my studio. Bud is well, he continues to help support me and our growing business—he’s even taking up dyeing denim!’
Chapplain’s process is organic. ‘Usually, after I see some materials that intrigue me, it starts this popping process in my head, and sometimes it's hard to turn that popcorn machine off! There are times when I have a dream or vision of something completely new.’
Those can include some highly intricate designs. The Golden Threads pieces was a labour of love. ‘It took myself, my head seamstress and a small team of other fabulous ladies about four-and-a-half months to create and produce our Golden Globe thread line. On average I would say it took about three to four weeks to create one piece from start to finish. For a costume piece it takes around five months with fittings and updates on your one-of-a-kind fashion piece!’
Her denim line presently features one-of-a-kind pieces, and she plans limited-edition runs with a ‘restricted quantity in a few different sizes with minor detail features.’
Chapplain says, ‘Our whole idea is to empower women to show up being their authentic selves, in what they wear and how they wear.’ No wonder there’s a promising market as more discover her work. •
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