When you were 17, what did you want to be?
At 17, I had not a clue because, even as young as that, my lifestyle was more important than work or studies. I didn’t have to do much to get good grades, so I found a way to do as little as possible. I went [to school] maybe 50% of the time and then was just hanging out with my friends or doing other stuff. I did enough so that I still had good grades, but I found it very slow.
So I was working, studying, and enjoying life as much as possible. I was working for my father’s company in the fur industry. I was just helping out in every field like accounting, repairs of the fur coats, customer service. Maybe that’s what gave me a taste later on, to aim for that creative path.
And I had my [own] apartment at 15 years old. It was hard to be at my parents’ home when I felt like I had all the capacities and the maturity to do it on my own, so it felt right to be on my own. I was just lucky enough to find someone who would take me as a leaser at 15. And I stayed eight years at that apartment.
How did you decide to attend Collège LaSalle Montréal?
I finished high school at 16, and I went a few years without going to school; I was just working, so I was maybe 18, 19 years old. At some point I realized, ok, I guess I need my [own] career. I’m not going to work for my father all my life. I first tried to study dance. I think, instinctually, I wanted something creative and fun, not too serious. I tried dance, and that wasn’t for me. I don’t even remember what the name of the school was - I literally spent two months and felt straight away that it wasn’t right.
I’m a really strong believer in knowing what’s right for you. If you listen to yourself, it’s okay to take wrong steps, as long as you keep listening and you don’t go in that direction forever. Just listen to that and say, “It’s okay, there are other things.”
So then I started looking at other options, and I don’t know how it came to be but I was deciding between fashion design - I saw myself drawing everywhere and I thought that was cool - and hairdressing because I thought that was creative also. I think I made the right decision going toward fashion.
In Montreal, there were three schools for fashion. There’s one public one where you need a bunch of other classes as well as your fashion classes, like philosophy, etc. And this is what kills me, that’s what killed me in high school. I need a goal and then I need to do it as quickly as possible. Because other parts of my life are more important. The other one was a private school, but it’s not very well recognized; as far as I could see, no one would hire me from there. And I went to the semi-private one, Collège LaSalle Montréal. The program in fashion design is usually three years, but they offered a two-year program. It’s more intense, but you get it done more quickly, so that’s what I picked.
What kinds of classes did you take to learn to be a fashion designer?
You do a lot of pattern-making, like how to do a suit. All the construction behind it is really technical; this wasn’t so interesting to me, but you need to know what’s behind [a piece of clothing] to be able to design something. Otherwise, you’ll design something completely impossible. And then you need to learn to sew, because if you’re going to tell someone what to do you need to also understand the behind-the-scenes stuff. So it was a lot of those classes, and the history of fashion, why we are where we are now, and the restrictions of certain fabrics. But a lot of pattern-making.
The entire second year, which I didn’t do, you’re working on your own collection to do a runway show. I found this useless because I already had all the knowledge I needed – it’s just applying it - and it would cost a lot of money. So [I decided that] I was going to try to find work, and if it worked I would just go with it, and if it didn’t, I’d go back and do the second year. And it turns out I didn’t need it.
How did you get from college to where you are now?
From school, I started with a new company, Aqua Di Lara. They do swimsuits on a very high level, luxury swimsuits. I just found that job on the internet, on the equivalent of Jobboom or something like that. So I started with them, and I did their first collection.
When you’re just out of school you have basically nothing in your portfolio, so that’s probably the hardest part. But if you’re ready to start from the bottom, you just work your way up, and then you’re fine because there are so many jobs. For that particular company, I put photos of their runway show in my portfolio. I did the pattern-making for them, and it was very complicated swimwear. And as I went, I accumulated stuff and built a portfolio over the years.
I was at Aqua Di Lara just for the first collection, and then I went to a very good lingerie company in Montreal called Elita. I evolved a lot in that company. I started as a pattern-maker, and then the boss was quickly very impressed with my work and I quickly moved to assistant designer, and then designer, and then manager of the whole department of design within that one company over a year and a half.
So I made my way as far as I could go there, and I feel sometimes that when you want to move - I’m all about moving fast - sometimes doing it in the same company is not the easiest way. Sometimes it’s hard to negotiate a higher salary or to get a new position when you’ve been in that particular company for a while. Whereas when you apply for another company, it moves a lot faster. I’ve always taken the fast track, so off I went again and I just fast tracked through a bunch of companies, every year from one company to another. It was always better and better, and I would say the company where I am now is the best.
I did swimwear companies or lingerie, because at some point when you specialize in fashion, you sort of have to keep on that path. Since I had started in swimwear, I had to keep going on that path. And then lingerie made sense after swimwear. I knew I wanted go into swimwear straight after school, because it’s a lot of prints, a lot of colors, and I’m a beach person, so that’s why I chose that.
I did a bunch of things at a few different companies, and then following my intuition of doing what I want to do in life, I ended up moving to Australia and was not able to do my job there. I think it’s hard to get hired in another country when you only have experience in a different country. Why would they hire you versus someone who has a lot of experience in Australia with their clients, and their specific fashions? So I was like, “What can I do to keep doing what I like, having this freedom to move around?”
I spent five years there doing a bunch of stuff like working on banana farms, and starting my ice cream company. I thought, “I’m going to be my own boss and I’m going to like that.” But I didn’t like that, because it doesn’t give you freedom. I couldn’t take holidays when I wanted. I had to find employees to replace me, and that wasn’t easy. And then could I trust them? Then public holidays you’re working and you have no life, otherwise your business just dies. So I kept the company for a year and a half or two years, and then sold it.
Going back to the goal of trying to enjoy life as much as possible, I decided I was going to go back to Montréal, to my job to get more freedom. I came back to fashion after four or five years of not touching it with a different mindset of getting freedom. I started freelancing through a placement agency that specialized in fashion, and it worked out and that’s what I’ve been doing since then. I work for a company called Jammers doing sleepwear now. It’s been four years with them - the longest I’ve been with a company ever.
I’m hoping to work less and less, finding a way to make money passively instead of having to work a certain number of hours. I don’t need much money, but the money I need, I would love to do less for it. And it doesn’t have to be fashion. I’m not passionate about fashion; I appreciate the creative side and the newness in every season, but if it’s going to be a passive income I’ll do other stuff. I just want to enjoy life, travel, hang out with friends, hang out with cool people, play sports and go camping, hiking, that kind of stuff. Whatever you enjoy in life, be sure there’s enough time for that.
Looking back, what seems clear to you now?
When I moved to Australia, something was not right where I was. And people were like, “But you’ve got a good job here!” and “What is it that you’re looking for?” And you can’t explain it because you don’t know the future; you just feel that you need to do something. And if you’ve got the courage to do it, you’ll be rewarded with a very pleasant life.
[Australia] just fits my personality. It’s warm, it’s got a lot of landscapes, beaches, it’s all about the outdoors and animals. Maybe I could have gone there and been wrong, but then I would have gone somewhere else, followed whatever it was I was attracted to. But it turned out I was right. And now that I’ve got that freedom, I can go back for 6 months at a time, skip Montreal winters. Now I don’t have to decide on one place, commit to it for so long.
I don’t feel like any of this was hard because I followed my instincts. That’s the advice I would give. So because I did that, nothing was hard. It could have been hard if I hadn’t done that. And when you’re on the wrong path, if you feel something inside you, just change that quickly and you will find where you need to be. I think that’s just the best advice for anyone.