By Hannah Yakobi
Photography by Tara West
Golnaz Ashtiani broke onto the Canadian fashion scene when she won the Toronto Fashion Incubator’s New Labels competition in 2011. A creative and stylish woman, she was able to build her brand quite quickly after that, and has already participated in the Toronto Fashion Week several times, as well as in numerous charity fashion shows, including Cashmere and The Heart Truth Show.
Her modernistic and clean-cut take on clothes inspired by a classical era, has made Ashtiani a favourite amongst various British celebrities, including Cheryl Cole. We caught up with the designer on a sunny spring day in her Toronto studio, as she was preparing to go on another month-long trip to London, U.K.
1. Which collection are you working on right now?
We’re working on spring/summer 2014, and we are moving forward with the silhouettes and colours, adding more details and embellishments. It’s going to be a fun season.
2. How many people are helping with your brand?
I have a few interns: two girls have been working with me for almost two years, and others come in from different schools when it’s busy before and during fashion week.
3. You are based between London and Toronto. What does that mean for your business?
I have my studio in both cities. I source fabrics from London and Italy, but all production is actually done in Canada. The creative process depends on the season though. Two seasons ago, almost everything was made in the U.K., but last season I was based in Toronto so most of the production happened here.
4. Tell us your story. How did everything start?
I always wanted to do fashion design. But I never knew that you had to do sewing and pattern cutting. I was thinking it’s just a sketch – you give it away to someone to do for you.
I did my boarding school in England and then went straight to London College of Fashion, completed the foundation course and got into a B.A., which specialized in womenswear.
When I came back to Canada, after graduating from the best school in the U.K., I had experience working for Jasmine De Milo and Jenny Packham. I was hoping to get the same here; I wanted to get a job. But it was very shocking – nobody knew where I had graduated from, they were looking at my portfolio as though I was some kind of an alien. It was just too fashion-forward, too colourful. It was all pastel colours, velvet, silk jersey. So even though they liked it, it wasn’t suitable for the Canadian market. Most of the companies here wanted someone with experience in production rather than in design.
5. Were you looking to gain more experience?
Yes, I wanted to get to know people. I came here with no connections and didn’t know anyone in fashion. So it was very difficult to start on my own and I was scared. I was 25 and thought I needed to get some experience before I start my own label.
6. So you worked for several companies before entering the TFI New Labels competition?
I did. I wasn’t even thinking of winning the competition, I was trying to go back to school and get my master’s. But once I won it and got wide press coverage, everyone said: “You can’t just leave right now, you have to stay and do another season.” And now I’m on my fifth season!
I’m so happy that I decided to do TFI – it gave me the confidence to start on my own. If I was in London, I think I wouldn’t have been brave enough – it’s difficult, it’s expensive, it’s not the best place to start on your own.
7. You said when you arrived in 2007 people weren’t ready for your designs, but judging from your current popularity they clearly are now. So what do you think has changed?
I remember I had a meeting with a marketing consultant and she said, “You have to change your aesthetic because it’s not suitable for the Canadian market.” But I didn’t do any of what she said. I think Canada has grown so much since 2007 – in terms of fashion, you can see Toronto has stepped up.
But I would say in terms of fashion markets it’s difficult for people to accept you – once you establish yourself and do a few seasons, then people get to know you. It’s not like Europe or New York, where you either make it or not. Here, you have to be consistent. It’s very gradual in Canada.
8. So how do you try to target both markets?
I’m constantly working all day. I send e-mails to the U.K. and I don’t have a P.R. agency working for me except during fashion week, so I work by myself.
9. What do you think has been one of the biggest successes you’ve experienced so far?
The biggest success is having my own label. I have a few stockers, and they like my clothes in Canada and in the U.K. I think that’s good, because it means that it’s something that is presentable.
10. And lastly, how would you describe your brand?
Fun, feminine, young. I wouldn’t say edgy but a bit futuristic, with a hint of 60s in it as well. I’ve always loved the 60s. I think the colour palettes back in the days were so great!
In the studio