Made-to-order, Canadian luxury. While these words may summarize Natasha Patten’s design work for her outerwear brand mycoatisblue, her inspiration and process are not so simple.
The Toronto-based designer leverages 15 years of design experience to craft elegant and sleek winter-wear for the chicest cold-weather clients. We connected with her over Facetime to discuss her business and the importance of shopping local in a COVID world. Naturally, we began at the start of her design journey.
Tori Nergaard: What was the moment that really drove you to become a fashion designer?
Natasha Patten: In Grade 7, I made this pair of shorts in Home Economics and got an A+. My teacher told me: “You did a great job!” I really felt like I had a knack for sewing, so I just started making sketches from there. It really solidified [that year]. I liked architecture too, but as far as fashion was concerned, it was those pair of shorts and that A+.
What sparked your interest in designing outerwear?
I have really long arms. Everything that I buy is short, it always comes above my wrist bone. One year, I was thinking about how sick I am of having short arms in jackets, so I decided to make a spring jacket. I made the arms nice and long, and I just loved it, I still have it, I still wear it. After that, I realized that I’m pretty good at outerwear. The market is really saturated with pants, tops and skirts, but I feel like outerwear hasn’t really developed much. Usually, brands that make outerwear make other things. There are, of course, outerwear brands, but overall it’s pretty similar across the board, so I felt like I had some good designs and ideas that hadn’t really been seen.
What’s one thing you wish clients knew about buying local?
I don’t think people understand how the supply chain works and how each link goes into the chain. When you buy a coat for $100, that’s the end price. At the beginning of the chain, somebody got paid a wage that could not have been a lot of money. The people who run the factory did not get paid a lot of money, or maybe they did and it wasn’t disseminated to everybody who works for them. There are so many little pieces that we just don’t see and care about because, well, we got a cheap coat. That part really is dear to my heart.
If companies went to Asia and made life better for locals, I’d be all about “Made Overseas” because we’d actually be enriching people’s lives around the world, but we’re impoverishing people by our presence. That’s the part that I don’t think people really see. We have to be more mindful about who’s making our garments, and the cost, not only financially. Are mothers bringing their babies to work because they can’t afford childcare? It’s a link in the chain that’s broken. I also pay taxes as a business, which enriches my neighbourhood and enriches this province.
Have you, as a Black-owned business, seen an increase in interest and sales following social media campaigns encouraging buying from Black-owned businesses?
Definitely! I see that it’s dying down a bit, so I’m hoping it wasn’t a fad. I do know a lot of people who are thinking: “I actually have to make better choices, conscious, intentional choices.” The story across the board with Black-owned businesses like mine is that we don’t want to be patronized because we’re Black, we want to be patronized because we’re good at what we do! It shouldn’t be that because I’m Black that you want to buy from my business.
I also think that in fashion, Black designers are expected to make streetwear. I’ve been at functions [with other outerwear brands], and people ask, “Are you [their] division?” and I’m like “No! We don’t even have the same aesthetic!” But it’s these questions like, “You run the business?”, where I know what they’re getting at. Black women can be talented designers who do something other than streetwear. Not that there’s anything wrong with streetwear, but that’s not the only category we can do.
What’s the most exciting moment you’ve experienced in your design career so far?
When Kardinal [Offishall] wore one of my pieces. I reached out to him and he didn’t respond right away. Then, when he actually connected with me and wore one of my pieces, I was like: “Oh my God! Someone who isn’t a family friend likes my stuff!” That really got the ball rolling. After that, a lot of on-air personalities liked my pieces, so I think that was a defining moment for me. I realized he doesn’t know me, so he actually likes my designs, which is really cool. And [recently] a lot of magazines have covered me, which is really exciting. I feel so blessed that that’s happening.
What has your experience been like creating custom, tailored pieces as a small business, during an era where sustainability is on everyone’s mind?
People are educating themselves more and they’re looking for things that are made in Canada. They’ll ask me specific questions like: “Is all of it made here?” because they know that you can have a Made in Canada label where some of your parts are made in other places. I think that the more educated we are, the better, and that I’m attracting those types of people who really want to know.
What are your goals for mycoatisblue going forward?
I’m working on a very exciting new style of coat that I can’t wait to launch!
Designed and manufactured in Toronto, mycoatisblue™️ retails between CAD$495 – $525 and is available online at mycoatisblue.com.
All photos are courtesy of mycoatisblue.