PARKTEN Interview - Anneke Forbes
Anneke Forbes has been working hard to change the way we view clothing. She wants people to buy fewer, better pieces and wear the heck out of them. If they can stand up to the use, or the original owner outgrows them, she wants her daughter to commandeer it and proceed to also wear the heck out of it. To create jackets and coats worthy of this ideal, Anneke uses luxurious natural fabrics, bespoke tailoring techniques, and classic design. A mother of one son, she is currently pregnant with twin boys but still not-so-secretly hoping for at least one girl in the future so her jackets will get to live a second life.
Your line was inspired by a coat that your mother made in college and later gave to you - how old were you when you began sewing, was it before or after the coat? Was being a designer the career you always envisioned for yourself?
My mother taught me to sew when I was 10 years old. I can remember not having much patience for it at the time. I would get frustrated and cry, and she would tell me to take it out and try again. Over time I grew more mature and patient and soon there were, and continue to be only smiles at the sewing machine.
I didn’t receive the coat until I was much older, maybe late teens. I was a tiny kid and it took me a while to grow into it, but it has fit perfectly ever since. I’ve completely worn it out over the years. I loved it so much and hope to re-create it one day.
I didn’t think fashion design was a legitimate option for me until part way through a Sociology degree at St. Francis Xavier University. I was attending and enjoying classes, but much preferred making hoodies out of towels, designing my own cross-stitch patterns, and developing mood boards for non-existent collections. When writing papers for class, I would reward myself for finishing a page by watching a fashion show on style.com. Once I realized I wanted to make design my career, I convinced the Dean to let me fast track my degree from 4 years to 3, and after graduation in April, began fashion school that July.
What impact have they had on you as a creative entrepreneur?
I launched my collection’s very first jacket at PARKSHOW 2015. It was just me and my dress form, each wearing a colour option. I had a measuring tape around my neck and maybe some flowers on the bare table behind me. My set up was far from fancy, but PARK showed faith in my brand in its infancy, and that support pushed me to keep going.
PARK has been responsible for 40% of my sales as of 2017-year end. They have connected me with photographers, stylists, and other designers. I actually met my studio-mate and PARK10 campaign companion, Nina, through Kara. They have exposed me to new markets in Edmonton and Saskatoon. They have provided me opportunities to see my jackets walk down a well-lit runway on stunning models. And really, more than anything, they have made me feel like my success is their personal mission.
How does it feel to be apart of PARKTEN?
Even before I launched my collection, PARK and I collaborated. I had a personal style blog and would promote their events through editorial content that my husband and I would create together. We took Paul Hardy’s sequins and shearling into golden farm fields. We helped attendees choose the perfect outfit. We shared our love of PARK and what it stands for because we knew that Calgary’s fashion community would be a pale comparison without their organization and its ambitions for our scene.
Having attended, promoted, popped-up, and shown with PARK inspired the team to invite me to participate in the campaign. Not many designers began and grew with PARK, but I really see our brands evolving together, each doing what they can for the other because we know that a high tide raises all boats.
In your point of view, why is an organization such as PARK important to Canada’s fashion industry?
In my experience, emerging designers don’t have the capital, reach, or resources to show and sell their collections alone. PARK provides a space for us to connect with an audience that believes in shopping local and supporting small businesses.
How do you want to see PARK grow in the next 5 years?
I’m a big believer in growing slow. I would love to see PARK focus on the events that they truly love and make them even better, rather than branching out into different markets or event types.
Currently, you specialize in jackets - do you have any plans to expand your collection to other clothing pieces?
Outerwear is definitely my favourite clothing category by far. It is the one item that can be worn repeatedly without judgment from others, so it is most in line with my slow fashion ethos. I also just love working with outerwear fabrics. Sturdy and shape-holding, leathers and wools are a breeze to sew compared to airy chiffons that are a rectangle when you cut them and an oval when you pick them up. I really want to feel like I’ve designed all of the classics before transitioning into other categories.
A lot of people ask me if I plan to make menswear or children’s clothing, but I think my heart will always be in womenswear. It is definitely a bit selfish, as I wear most of my creations, but I just don’t get as excited about creating clothing for men, children, or pets. Although the thought of our studio dog Charlie in a biker jacket is hilarious! If and when I do expand my offerings, it will be to items that hold true to my filter of “is this worthy of becoming an heirloom?”. Handbags, hand knit sweaters, and housewares like quilts and wall hangings are all things I’ve considered and hope to one day realize.
Who are some of your inspirations within the fashion industry?
Menswear line Berluti is a huge design inspiration for me. They generally stick to classic shapes, their tailoring is impeccable, and when they have fun, they do it with colour and layering. I emulate these qualities when I am designing most true to myself. The leather and velvet pieces Haider Ackermann sent down the Fall 2018 runway had me pining to touch them in person. Anyone who knows me, knows the hand of the fabrics I use are paramount; only the softest!
I also admire the integrity of French brand Hermès. When I was in fashion school, I visited the Bloor Street shop to witness an artisan hand stitch a bag. With the buttery soft hands only experience can grant, he guided waxed thread through sturdy cowhide. The fact that they continue to hand-stitch every bag while their competitors have sacrificed quality and integrity for profit is a standard that inspires. Anytime I feel pressure to change my dedication to natural fabrics, bound buttonholes, or pursuit of the perfect fit, I think of Hermès.
What are some of the most important lessons you have learned since launching your brand? What was the biggest tip you took away from this past PARKFORUM?
Oh goodness, so many lessons!!! Because I have never worked under another designer I‘ve had to learn quite a few - the first being work for another designer before going it alone! Haha!
Another big one for me was learning to check everything that comes through my door. I have received fabric with flaws, dirt, or discolouration, snap shipments that are short on parts, zipper shipments that are too long or had the wrong pullers attached, patterns that aren’t trued, markers that aren’t printed properly, and the wrong type of just about anything! Attention to detail is not as common as one would hope, but in the end, if you check other’s work it can save a lot of headache and money.
Another big lesson I’ve learned is that relationships are everything in the fashion industry. I once had someone tell me that I will not be successful because I smile too much. That might be the case in the corporate world, but in fashion, I’ve found it to be the opposite. Collaborators come over on Sunday mornings for waffles and bacon. One of the reasons a loyal client buys from me is my openness on social media. My stylist is taking Ken and I for dinner and a movie next week. My studio mate and I meet for lunch, where we share stories of runway collections and changing diapers. My makeup artist is one of my closest friends. I find it difficult to separate my professional relationships from my personal, because in this industry, they are one in the same.
As for PARKFORUM, the top lesson I learned is that treating your customers well is the best marketing strategy. I find PARKFORUM is full of reminders. I know I should prioritize client experience, but it is so easy to get your head stuck in production, administration, employee management, or sourcing that you forget that without your clients, the rest of it is redundant. The weekend pulled this important truth out from behind the rubble of running a business, dusted it off, and placed it neatly and directly in front of me, where it was impossible to forget.