Laila Bedard-Potvin on the ugly truths of the fast fashion industry and her beautiful alternative.
Harly Jae was born out of Laila’s desire to craft a dream job (and dream life) for herself. She was a Fashion Merchandising graduate who became far too exposed to the disgusting reality of the fashion industry, so she brought her morals to the table and started a company with ethical and sustainable practices at the forefront of its operations. What a woman.
What made you start Harly Jae?
I started Harly Jae for two reasons: to bring change to the fashion industry and to create my dream job. When I was 20, I drove from Québec City to Vancouver, BC. to study Fashion Merchandising. I was extremely determined to get a big career in fashion. I was dreaming of working in Manhattan one day. But by the time I was done the program, my vision of the industry had completely changed. I had discovered its dirty secrets and did not want anything to do with it.
The year following this realization was tough. I did not know what else to do. I finally enrolled in Communication at Simon Fraser University.I always worked in restaurants to support myself while studying. It’s a busy industry with unusual workdays. I was dreaming of the day I could work a slow pace 9 to 5 job. Well, it turns out that’s not my thing either! When I got my first full-time job, I realized it was not going to cut it for me. I could not picture myself sitting at a desk and working for someone else for the next 40 years. Again, I had to come up with another plan.
That is how I reconnected with fashion, something I always truly loved. But this time, with a different eye. It’s after spending a weekend helping a friend with a purposeful fashion project that it all became clear: I could still have the dream fashion job I once desired, I simply had to bring my values to the table. I did some research and considered different scenarios before I decided to create a clothing line. I never thought I would be a designer one day, but it has been one of the best decisions I have ever made.
What has been the most challenging thing you have uncovered since the beginning?
There is a reason why fashion has been done unsustainably over the past decades. It’s easier. Time has been a problem of mine for the past months because I worked a full-time job. When you want to create quality garments, to design styles that will transcend trends and seasons, to only use eco fabrics, and to produce ethically, there are additional steps. The fact that I always need to take the difficult route to ensure that all aspects of my brand reflect my values is a challenge. That said, I am slowly overcoming this issue as I extend my network of like-minded individuals and businesses.
Within the ethical fashion community, there’s a big question that we as which is ‘who made my clothes?’, in the scope of Harly Jae, who made your clothes? Can you tell us a bit about them?
The first production run for Harly Jae was made in Vancouver, BC., in an open concept design and production facility. I got to interact with the sewers, which are paid a fair wage and are lovely ladies! More recently, I started working with an even smaller facility, which is run by an eclectic young Italian woman. This relationship is still very new, but I hope to be more involved in the sewing process by working with this seamstress. Being able to know my sewers has been great. I have learned and continue to learn a lot from them.
Best piece of advice you have ever received?
“There is not much you cannot do or learn to do.” In this day and age, you can sign up for a free online class at any given time. That is a privilege that I believe is far underused. If you had told me a year ago that I would be able to handle most aspects of my business on my own, I would not have believed you! Trust yourself, be willing to learn, and you will accomplish things you never thought were possible.
Tip: Skillshare is awesome!
One tip you’d give to others who are wanting to start their own business?
First I would say: “Just do it!” and then I would say: “Take reactions from everyone, but only take advice from people you would trade place with.” When you start a business, a lot of people feel the need to give you advice. It’s overwhelming. I sometimes have wanted to change my plans or vision because of what someone said. I would become obsessed with a particular comment. I have *somewhat* learned to let that go. It’s important to hear what people have to say and to get their reactions on what you are doing, but don’t let that control or limit you. Take what is constructive and makes sense for your business and let go of the rest.
On the other hand, you may receive harsh critiques from people who you should consider their opinions. That could be because of the experience they have in a specific field or because they run a successful business similar to yours. Don’t hesitate to ask these people more questions about the advice they are trying to give you. Chances are it will allow you to learn from their mistakes and successes.
Where do you envision Harly Jaw in the future?
In the near future, I am excited to release new styles, work on the wholesale side of the business, and continue to build the brand’s foundations. In the further future, I envision Harly Jae to become a Canadian leader in the slow fashion sphere; creating unique and timeless styles, staying at the forefront of new eco-fabric innovations, and giving back to the community by integrating a social aspect to the business. I have actually handed in my letter of resignation at my full-time job this week. I am super excited to begin the transition to work full-time on Harly Jae!
What or who inspires you to do what you do on a daily basis?
My strong desire to make things better, to prove that what is wrong with the fashion industry can be fixed, and the people I get to meet while doing this. It has been a great surprise to discover the community of changemakers and supporters out there. I now feel like I belong to a movement, and that alone is enough to keep me going!
Do you have a morning routine? If so, what is it you do to set yourself up for the day ahead?
I do! I have started doing so about eight months ago, and it has been a game-changer for me. I wake up around six o’clock, pour myself some lemon water and make a soy latte. Then, I write in my journal for 10 minutes. After, I read for about 15 minutes. Then, I look at my to-do list for the day. Because my schedule is often overwhelming, it allows me to relax and helps me focus on what is important. I also do not check my phone for the first thirty minutes after I wake up.
One book everyone should read? Why?
You are a Badass, because everyone deserves to know they are!
Are there any other Movers & Shakers out there in your world that you think people should know about?
There are so many! I am honestly blown away by the people I get to meet since starting Harly Jae. I have a lot of hope for the future of fashion! Shannon Whitehead from Factory45 is the reason why I was able to launch Harly Jae so quickly. Factory45 is an online accelerator program that takes sustainable apparel companies from idea to launch. Shannon is great at what she is doing!