Design Forward Vanguard: Annie Thompson


We’re really excited for Design Forward 2017 which is happening tomorrow night. Not only because 10 semi-finalists will compete on the runway for a spot in the finals, and eventually the title of Canada’s Sustainable Fashion Award, but because tomorrow night we will also recognize a Canadian fashion icon with our inaugural Vanguard Award. Toronto based designer Annie Thompson has been a leader in Canadian fashion for more than 35 years. Despite the economic challenges and temptation to produce offshore, Annie has always sourced and produced her garments here in Canada. In fact within a 35 km radius. She has been reusing and reworking materials before upcycling was even a word, and she incorporates sustainable materials such as organic cotton and hemps into her collection when possible.

Annie’s pieces are built to last. I can personally attest to this, as I sit here typing while wearing my very first pair of Annie Thompson Sam and I pants purchased 13 years ago. Sure they were a big investment piece at the time, but when I do the “cost per wear” I can’t help but smile. Annie makes clothing that can be worn for any occasion, at any time of the year and for many years to come. It is quality made and won’t fall apart. You will never find Annie Thompson in a landfill, and that to me is a true sign of sustainability!

Let’s learn more about our Design Forward Vanguard Award recipient!

What inspires your design?  

Basically, I find most anything and everything to be inspiration for design.  Living with eyes open and looking closely at the tiny things that normally pass us by, are fodder for inspiration.  Cracks in the sidewalk inspire new stitching lines on a sleeve or bodice.  The body of an insect may inspire a new colour combination.  A great music beat conjures up fresh silhouettes on the catwalk.  A true need for a design element – a pocket to fit and hold something securely, a need for comfort in the shoulder, tummy or thigh areas of a new style inspire thought and calculations in order to bring about the desired effect.  Open fields, views for miles, people and their ideas…life itself is inspiration.

What is your greatest accomplishment?

Being in business for 36 years and producing all of my goods in and through our (Toronto) atelier is one of my greatest accomplishments. I have the wonderful privilege of dressing and sharing in the lives of many exceptional women and their families.  Those personal connections are so enriching.  They impart happiness and satisfaction as well as inspiring new designs.  

Your hardest lesson learned?

One big lesson learned has been that you can’t just make great products and expect to make a success of yourself.  The word has to be OUT THERE!  You must spend as much time promoting as you do designing.  Spreading the word authentically is the next challenge. Maintain a code of morals.

What advice would you give a new designer?

Put your heart and soul into your designs IF you want to make a mark and make a difference in people’s lives. Stay true to your vision.  

What is your favourite hobby?

With the myriad of things I enjoy, there is no way to choose just one!  The list would include: the expressionism and physicality of dancing to seriously great music, swimming in open water, riding my bike into the sunshine up and down the country roads, stopping to befriend the horses along the way, being open with strangers, exploring new places and understanding people and their cultures.  Fabric shopping!

Do you think sustainability will ever be the norm in fashion?

If sustainability does not become the norm, than there will be serious consequences to this planet. We must make better buying decisions now. There is just too much waste created by the fast fashion industry.

How long will it take for all land and sea creatures to die from consuming our plastic waste?  Can our landfills take any more of our trash?  How much poison can we withstand in our waters and our air and in our soil?   Progress is not always progress.  People would be happier, I believe, with more human interaction face to face – knowing the person or people who grew their vegetables and made their clothes.

What do you find most challenging about making sustainable fashion?

Designing and producing fashion in Canada, locally, in small numbers (originality for patrons) is just one level of sustainability that is becoming less and less of an option.  The world is geared towards mass everything including mass production.  Cutters and contract sewers often outright refuse to make one-offs or small production unless their prices are through the roof.  The cost of producing top quality, original, Canadian-made styles is often higher than what people expect to pay now that off shore fast fashion has, for the most part, replaced originality and craftsmanship. It takes many skilled professionals to create a great garment: from designer to cutter, sewer, buttonholer, presser, merchandiser and more. They all need to be paid a Canadian living wage – one more level of sustainability.  

Re fabrics: It would be great to find interesting, sustainable fabrics within Canada and low purchasing minimums on those fabrics.  In Canada, there are fewer and fewer companies offering organic, breathable, good quality, high end fabrics.  Cost can also be a factor. Volume is where the money is made and suppliers are not yet selling heaps of sustainable fabrics.  Prices can be higher than other fabrics.