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The Big Picture
After receiving a degree in Fine Arts and Industrial Design from Vancouver’s Emily Carr Institute in 2006, Tabitha Osler — founder and designer behind Dartmouth-based children’s weatherwear line, Faire Child — spent a year and a half exploring the globe. During her travels, she found her interests piqued by the textiles she encountered along the way. Her interest eventually lead her to the renowned, and highly competitive, Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, Belgium. Osler graduated from the gruelling program — one that cuts nearly half its students each year — with her Master of Fashion Design in 2012.
“The school gave me the tools I needed, the confidence, and the ability to become a designer with my own ideas,” she says. “I don’t think I would've gotten that at other schools. It was a perfect fit.”
After graduation Osler knew she wanted to start a children’s wear line that encouraged outdoor play, and assumed she’d be working with sustainable fabrics like organic hemp and cotton, but, in the end, she found those materials lacking. Organic cotton isn’t as good for the environment as we might think — it requires a lot of water to produce, and fabrics like hemp and linen are prohibitively expensive. She was also concerned about durability — kids are hard on their clothes — and Osler wanted hers to last.
The solution, she found, was a high-tech fabric manufactured by Germany’s SympaTex, that is breathable, washable, and durable — and made from 100 percent recycled plastic bottles. Although it came with its own challenges — it’s quite expensive — Osler wouldn’t have it any other way. “I wouldn't choose any other fabric,” she says. “It’s the only one that did what I wanted to. It’s magical.”
Finding the ideal fabric was only the first step. Next Osler also needed to find a company to do the seam sealing. Even magical fabric needs a little help — which, in this case, involves applying heat and pressure to a special tape placed along the seams. She found this answer in her own backyard — at a company located in Burnside — but they went out of business this year, causing Osler to invest in a seam sealing machine, and move production into a studio she opened in her home.
The change, while costly, has made the business economically sustainable — lowering the cost of manufacturing and making wholesale a viable option for U.S. customers.
“Margins were 30 per cent selling direct-to-customer,“ Osler says. “I would not have survived. I couldn’t sell wholesale. Moving production in-house means now we can sell wholesale to U.S. customers. We want to grow, too. To have an impact you have to grow.”
Closing the loop
Sustainability, for her business and the Earth, is vital to Osler. Anything else is counter-intuitive, she says, and she is committed to ensuring her products don’t wind up in the landfill through brand’s partnership with Mini-cycle (a Canadian company that buys back their pieces for resale), and their own Take Back program — which offers a discount on your next purchase when you send back items at their end-of-life.
“That’s the only way to get people to return the garment,” she says. “It’s not huge; maybe it covers the cost of their shipping. But its an investment in the environment. If they really do want to be part of the difference, maybe they're willing to pay the $10 to ship it back.”
That commitment to sustainability and the earth is getting Osler and Faire Child noticed. The brand just won Canada’s first-ever FedEx small business grant garnering a cash prize, business services and other perks.
“We won the grand prize, which was amazing — $25,000. And we got great FedEx rates, which is the best part. Reliable shipping! That was a huge gift,” she says.
“And they made a great video that profiles the business. It focuses on sustainability and why they were attracted to the business.”
Check out the video profiling Faire Child at FedEx.com.
Want to hear more from Tabitha on closing the loop? Watch her TedXNSCAD talk.