Vancouver Eco Designer Thrives in Railtown
by Louise Aird
A stroll through Railtown barely takes a minute; it’s pretty much one block of ugly old buildings facing the Port of Vancouver. It is, however, a busy creative hub. And it is here that you might be surprised to stumble upon one of North America’s most successful Eco-Fashion designers.
You may not have heard of Diane Kennedy, but you’ve seen her work—she was, for many years, the pattern-maker for Lululemon, among other clients. After several years as an outer-wear designer, she went to work for fashion-industry service bureau FashionMark. Then, in 2003, opportunity knocked. Kennedy found that she was able to buy FashionMark and, in 2007, she started her eponymous clothing line.
Kennedy began with three value propositions: Eco-friendly, locally-made, and wearable by women of every size.
“I’m a plus-size woman, and I needed nice clothing that wasn’t cut for tiny women,” says Kennedy. “And there are millions of women just like me. It’s long been apparent that the bodies of North American women are changing but, until I came along, women over size 16 could get only basic pieces. They had to really search for fashionable, comfortable, high-quality garments.”
Kennedy’s environmental bent led her to choose bamboo as her fabric. She started producing ultra-comfortable casual and business wear, using a Viscose knit made from Certified Organic Bamboo.
The third part of Kennedy’s credo guarantees that her customers aren’t bothered by ‘sweat-shop guilt’, the ever-growing and wide-spread concern about how and where clothes are made. All of Kennedy’s pieces are made in Canada, from fabric knitted in Canada.
“I’ve always believed in supporting jobs in my own country,” continues Kennedy. “Plus, there’s the quality-control aspect: for a designer to be able to run over to her factory when she wants to…that’s just gold. Plus, I know the people who are making my clothes. I know how they’re treated, how they’re paid. Why would I want to be in the position of supporting appalling working conditions in some Third World country? Why go off-shore at all? To save a few dollars? No.”
Kennedy began selling through retailers, and her line was an immediate success. She then hired sales reps and, in 2009, added an on-line store. She’s not a marketer, doesn’t buy much advertising, engages in minimal PR—she’s never even had a fashion show. But she is still doing very well, and is still the only eco-designer in the plus-size field. Others will undoubtedly wade in—the question is whether or not they do it properly.
“A lot of brands are entering the plus-size market; not all successfully,” Kennedy explains. “Designers have to realize that you can’t cut for size 6 and think that you can just exponentially expand the pattern to size 2X. It doesn’t work that way. I design for the plus-size woman, and then adjust downward. My clothes are made for curves. They’re made to make women feel good about what they’re wearing—and look good while they’re wearing it.”
To view Kennedy’s line, go to www.dianekennedy.ca. You are also welcome to shop at her studio, by appointment.