Meet our newest Muse Monday feature: Laila, founder of Harly Jae, a Canadian slow fashion house, born from a desire to bring change to the fashion industry. By carefully selecting fabrics and working with a local manufacturer in Vancouver, BC., Harly Jae creates conscious pieces for you to cherish for years to come. Learn more about Laila and how her journey as an entrepreneur began.
What is your story?
I grew up on the countryside of Quebec City, raised as a true small town girl! I somehow always knew I would move away as soon as I could - which is exactly what I did. I drove across Canada to come study Fashion Marketing in Vancouver. After completing the program, I had a totally different view of the fashion industry. I had uncovered its dirty secrets, from unethical manufacturing to the use of fossil fuels in the cheap clothes we throw away after a couple of wears, and I could no longer see myself pursuing a career in that field. So, as many early 20-somethings who are unsure what to do next do, I enrolled in Communications at University. By the time I graduated I had a job in the non-profit sector doing what I thought was going to be my new (and second) career choice. That was until I realized that this industry was not for me either and that I was not destined to work a 9-5 desk job for the rest of my working life. Needy millennial - I KNOW!
What inspired you to start your business?
I started being unhappy at my job right about the time when I discovered the (very new then) ethical fashion movement. It was a couple years after Fashion Revolution was founded and when general consumers started asking “Who made my clothes”. I became passionate about being part of this group of people, stopped purchasing from fast fashion brands & relied solely on thrifting to satisfy my shopping needs. I absolutely had no idea I would end up wanting to start my own brand until I spent a weekend with a group of creative women who ran their own businesses subconsciously showed me that I could also do it. I became obsessed with the idea as soon as I returned from this quick trip to Tofino, and began my research. I wanted to start a clothing brand that would align with my values: be locally made & favour sustainable practices. I have to credit Factory 45 - an accelerator program - that taught me everything I needed to know to launch my clothing brand.
What does sustainability mean to you?
I like to say that harly jae simply would not exist if it was not trying to be as sustainable as it is. I say trying because it’s obviously hard to be perfectly sustainable, a lot goes into manufacturing clothing but I do try my best. The first way I do this is by ensuring that I design pieces that are truly timeless, the kind of clothes that won’t be out of style next season. I want people to cherish their harly jae pieces & pass them down to the next generation. We also produce locally and in very small batches which ensures that we never have overstock. We focus on sustainable fabrics, and we only use eco-friendly packaging.
What does a typical day look like?
Right now it’s a bit different… I mean, what a weird time to be alive! I feel very grateful to have the flexibility that comes with working for yourself. As soon as the virus hit in Canada, my full-time intern who was a student from Montreal, had to fly home. So, it’s back at being just me! It’s felt a bit lonely but also good to have more freedom. My days are rarely the same but I would say that my weeks are usually split between computer work (emails, social, website work, marketing, production planning) and the other filled with errands, deliveries, meetings with our pattern maker and factories, pickups and packing orders. We usually operate from our Gastown office full-time but right now I am only going there a couple times a week to pack orders.
Your pieces are simplistic yet so beautiful and modern. Take us through the thought process of your ideation phase all the way to final completion!
Creating timeless pieces has been at the core of the brand since the beginning. When I still just had the idea for the brand, I looked for the pieces in my closet that had made it through so many closet purges. Those were the kind of pieces I wanted to create for harly jae - the ones you don’t get rid of. It turns out it’s all about creating a perfect combination of great fit, neutral colours, and feminine silhouettes. I am also deeply inspired by vintage pieces. I love thrifting and sometimes I will design something based on pieces I have collected.
Favorite part of your job?
Photoshoots because that’s when you see all your hard work come to life on a person & also events. I love doing studio nights where I get to meet customers, and again, see my clothes on them!
The most challenging part about running your own business?
You can get in your own head a lot. There’s ups & downs and if you don’t surround yourself with people who get it, aka other entrepreneurs, it can be lovely and discouraging.
Best advice for someone just starting to learn how to transition into a more conscious, intentional lifestyle?
Be gentle with yourself. Give yourself the time & space to achieve your end goal slowly. Sometimes the littlest things will end up leading to bigger shifts and you have to honor that. I’m saying this because when I started wanting to be 100% eco friendly by only shopping thrifted, I became miserable after a while. None of my clothes fitted properly and I did not get excited to dress up anymore, which for me matters. I buy new things now, from ethical & sustainable brands obviously, but so so rarely. Thrifting taught me that I was overconsuming and I slowly realized that as my house became filled with thrifted finds. It held a mirror in a way I did not think it would and now there is so much more balance in my buying habits.
If you weren’t running your own business, what would you be doing?
I think I’d be working for a branding & marketing agency. I love that line of work and I am really good at giving advice I should take for my own business ;)
The best piece of advice to others that are wanting to start their own business?
Just start. Don’t wait for anything to be perfect because it never is. Perfection is an illusion & at heart businesses are meant to evolve as you get customers because that is why you exist: to serve your customers. I definitely got hung up on details when I started and now I laugh when I look at things I put out there. Just launch it!
Life motto you live by?
The one I am thinking of right now is: “The consciousness that created the problem is not the one that can solve it”
Keep up with Laila on Insta at @harlyjae :)