Designer Interviews: Julia Grieve of Preloved

We had a great time at the Sow to Sew Conference this past Friday at NSCAD University. One perk of the conference was that two of our designers, Barbara Starr of Terra Cotta Clothing Design and Julia Grieve of Preloved, spoke as a part of the 'Fashion and Clothing Production' stream.

On Saturday both designers came to Lunenburg as a part of the Sow to Sew Speaker Thinktank. I sat down with Julia Grieve and got the scoop on how she got started, what's new at Preloved, and what she does in her spare time. 

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A: Julia, can you tell me about the inspiration for your design process?

J: Our design process is quite unique, because of what we do. Because of the fact that we take the vintage clothing, completely deconstruct it and use that as fabric. It means that we are working with a lot of different things than regular designers. Part of our design process would always be being inspired by the original vintage clothing. Finding the shirts, the jackets and things that we can use. Having said that, we're not that much different, we still follow all the trends, we do all the trend forecasting. We still need to figure out what's going to be in, we [still] need the long sleeves, short sleeves, jackets, and then we pick the ones that we like, and sample. You know, it's a long process. 

A: Do you ever use photos or inspiration boards? 

J: Absolutely. When I get home on Monday I'll see the first presentation for Fall 14. So that is it. My designer and his team will go off and think and look and do whatever [they do] and get inspired. They put together collages for us to say 'this is what's trending for next year, here's the colours. So I'll be looking at [Fall] 14 right when I get back. 

A: How do you begin researching and designing for a new product, other than that, other than your inspiration boards? 

J: There's some steps that become, mathematical. You can't start until you know what the colours are going to be, you can't really start until you sort out the shapes. But then some stuff happens very organically, that's my favourite part. All of a sudden Peter [Friesen, Preloved's Creative Director] will come out with this dress that just came to him, and I'm like wow, we've got to figure out how that's going to fit in. That is a really fun process and I really encourage that because that's the creative part. Something like designing can't always be mathematical, it kind of has to be a little bit because we have to run a business, but we've got to allow for that creativity to come. 

A: Where do you do your work?  

J: We're based out of Toronto, so all of it is done in Toronto. We have a clothing store in Toronto as well, and our design studio is a part of where our clothing store is, so we are right there with the product all the time.  

A: Where do you source your materials? This is actually a question a lot of our customers ask us. 

J: Oh gosh, honestly, if I can get this on tape you can show everybody this. I'm constantly being asked 'Where do you get your stuff, where do you get all those old clothes?'. What we do is we buy all of our used fabric from a rag house. A rag house is basically a clothing recycler, it's a massive warehouse. What they do is they are sorting used clothing. Unsorted used clothing doesn't really have a lot of value. But once you can get 500 pounds of cotton t-shirts, 700 pounds of men's pants, now there is value because you can send it to third world countries, you can sell it to me as fabric, so that's where we get it. The largest area of rag houses in the world happens to be the greater Toronto area. Who knew that? Not me. Eighteen years ago, that was quite a nice surprise. 

A: How did you decide to start using reclaimed fabric? 

J: It's always been a passion of mine. I absolutely love vintage clothing, always have, but I always find that it looks vintage, it looks dated. It looks sometimes costume, you know, if you put on that dress that your grandmother wore. But if you were to take in the side seams, change the buttons, throw a belt with it, all of a sudden now you are fashion as opposed to costume-y. I used to do that to my own clothes, that's where the idea came from.

A: What's your favourite trend for Fall/Winter 13? 

J: Mixed media. I'm so into that right now. All the different fabrications together, stretch with a woven, sweater with jersey. It's so great for my brand, and it's so hot right now on the market. I love it.  

A: How did you get started in clothing design, what's your background?  

J: It's funny, it's not clothing. That's the big joke with my staff, I don't even know how to thread a needle. I was talking about it today [at the Sow to Sew Conference], I'm so embarrassed, I don't know how to sew. I used to model full-time, so that was my job when I was living over in Europe, that was what I did. I wasn't into the typical model scene, but I loved clothing. When I finished modelling and living everywhere, I wanted to come back to Toronto, but didn't know what and I wanted to do and I had figured out that I really knew how good clothing should fit, having worn some of the most amazing brands in the world, that I could never afford to buy, but I got to wear. So I got an idea of how clothing should fit, and construction from [my modelling experience] and I decided to give it a go. 

A: How do you like to relax when you're not working, what's your guilty pleasure?  

J: Running. I'm a big runner, I love to run. I love cooking, I love eating. I have three kids, so hanging, running with three kids is great. A bottle of wine is not going to hurt [laughs]. 

A: As a fashion designer, what do you believe is the recipe for success, what's your recipe for success?

J: Flexibility. I think that's the number one thing. Flexibility, and being able to put your ego aside. I think a lot of entrepreneurs, designers we've got this idea, and it's gotten us so far, if you didn't have that sort of ego and direction, you wouldn't be able to get so far, which is an amazing characteristic, and I'm not saying to get rid of that, but you need to be able to put it aside and be flexible, and learn. You never stop learning. I learn that all the time, I'm in events like where we are today, it's amazing. So flexibility, that's the whole thing. Being flexible, you can try this, and try that, otherwise...the industry is moving all the time, and you have to bend with it. 

A: Thank you very much Julia!

J: No worries, nice to meet you, and have fun selling Preloved!