retail

meet jason matlo

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photos courtesy Jason Matlo

Jason Matlo makes clothes that make women look good – and not just in a day-at-the-office kind of way (unless you work for a certain Condé Nast publication, perhaps). We’re talking slinky, shiny, drapey dresses, sleek cigarette pants and sharp jackets. The Vancouver-based fashion designer sells his creations in select locations from Edmonton to Boston to San Juan, but everything is designed and manufactured in Canada.

Born in Calgary, the 39-year-old, self-described “blackaholic” usually wears darker tones than the women he dresses – witness his Jet Set Barbie resort collection for spring / summer 2009 – but he’s got a famously sparkly personality and a dead-serious work ethic.

Jason made his first splash in the fashion industry when, fresh out of school, he won the 1998 Smirnoff Designer of the Year Award. Since then, high-powered clients have worn his dresses on red carpets at the Academy Awards, Gemini Awards, JUNO Awards and Leo Awards. He also appeared in an episode of the Life Network / Oxygen reality TV series, Making it Big, winning the opportunity to display his designs in the chic windows of Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City.

The Jason Matlo brand currently includes his main ready-to-wear collection, a bridal collection and a new line, Babe, which retails at about half the price of his ready-to-wear pieces. His style is a mash-up of cultural, aesthetic and historical influences, with a special eye on the modern femininity of the 1930s. But the women who wear Jason’s clothes are not exactly fanning themselves in the back garden. These are bold, confident creatures who are writing their own rules – much like the designer himself.

1. What fuels your work?

There are so many variables and components that fuel my creative process. I think the process seems insane to people who look into my world, but there is an order and structure to the chaotic madness.

First, there are timelines and deadlines. It is not easy to be creative on a deadline, but I am energized and fuelled by deadlines and a fashion market with a voracious appetite. I’m very inspired by the women I dress: my private clients who are very strong, successful, confident women; my mother, who has always had an amazing sense of style; Edie Bouvier Beale and the Grey Gardens documentary.

LADY GAGA!

I’m a bit of a cultural voyeur. My eye is fed by movies, architecture, books, magazines, drag queens, senior citizens, Starbucks and my friends. It is all a massive tapestry of eclectic inspiration that somehow results in a collection each season.

2. How do you organize the less creative parts of your business so you still have time, energy and focus to practice your craft?

Running a successful fashion design house today — and I qualify that statement with “today,” because the industry has changed so much over the last decade — can be illustrated as follows: 98% perspiration and 2% inspiration. There is very little creativity about what I do, so I have to be really creative to do it. I’m required to create a constant balance between fashion ideas that make a cohesive collection that also flatter the body with razor sharp price points. Creating a collection with design and commercial value is the Golden Ticket!  To answer the question on time and energy to focus on my craft; between midnight and dawn, the eleventh hour, time is my most precious resource. I’m always in a race against time!

3. Is there another creative pro whose business model you admire? Why?

This is such a cliché but here we go: Madonna.

I don’t think the majority of people would see Madonna as a creative pro or a business model. I DO! I so admire her drive, tenacity, bold naked ambition, and unrelenting determination. I believe she is a business person who knew where she wanted to go. She is a visionary.

She is a master of disguises, the media, and promotion. She has created a product that is important and contemporary over a 30-year time span and until recently, was totally relevant and modern. She is a cultural zeitgeist.

4. How many revenue streams do you have in your business?

I’m streaming. I have as many ways to make money as there are days in the week. Ready to Wear collection, Babe diffusion and Bridal are all streams coming from the same body of water, and there are also my private couture clients. I’m not afraid to work hard, so I’ve always been able to earn money.

5. What is your bread-and-butter income source?

Private couture clients. I have a group of fashionable ladies in Vancouver that have supported my work even before I received any critical acclaim. They are true devotees of fashion. They have never faltered in their loyalty to me. They still support me, even now that the clothes are available in stores. I love them!

6. Do you have a passive income stream?

NO!  Everything I do involves a lot of hard work!

7. What tools or money-making opportunities & ideas do you think most artists don’t fully exploit?

Frankly there are not enough tools or funding available for creative people in Canada. I’ve looked, I assure you. There is so little support for the arts in Canada, with exception of Montreal, which very much supports the arts. It is actually disgraceful how the arts and creative people are under-funded by our government in this country. It is why we lack the rich creative history of other countries.  If you want to do anything creative in Canada, good luck to you!

8. What has brought the most opportunities and attention to your work?

This is a hard thing for me to pinpoint. I think I’ve always operated from a critical mass perspective. So my process has always been more revolutionary than evolutionary. By this I mean I would accept several opportunities at the same time. So when you introduce many variables at the same time, it’s hard to track which one or ones are the crucial components. The reality TV show [Making it Big] was probably a big help, or was it the Academy Awards gown? Who could speculate? Maybe it was a combination of it all. Getting attention seems to be the only thing that has not been hard work.

9. What is the best investment you’ve made in your career? What has been the biggest waste of time and / or money?

The best investment that I have ever made in my career was in building my team. I have a group of people who work with me and are the backbone of what I do. I have invested in them, trained them, and taught them tricks of the trade such as sewing, draping, pattern drafting, you name it. They have been loyal and have stood by me when times were tough and the money was lean. You cannot undervalue your support staff and you cannot be heard as a single voice!

I’ve been very good about time management and money. Time is money and I don’t like to waste either!

10. Where do you stand on the “selling out?” debate?

Sell Sell Sell!!!

Thanks, Jason!

posted 18 Jan 10 in: business, design, fashion, interviews, retail. This post currently has one response.

stores that survive

photos by Deidre Schoo for the New York Times

photos by Deidre Schoo for the New York Times

In Wednesday’s New York Times, Cathy Horyn wrore a story called “Yes, We’re Open” about five new fashion retailers that are swimming upstream against the recession. It’s an appropriate topic after Black Friday in the U.S. and the newly-minted Cyber Monday, which offers online retailers the chance to cash in on the holiday binge.

It seems the bruised North American economy has created a predictable pattern where stores close or lay off workers and strip down their inventories. “But nothing quite conveys the confusion and sense of retail sclerosis as the high-end ladies boutique, lights on and empty, its owner selling the same six fabulous designers as everyone else, the same droopy China-made knit that shouldn’t cost $600 but somehow does, and not a chance, barely a glimmer of hope, that enough customers will care to buy something,” writes Horyn.

At the same time, lower rents and longer leases can also help newcomers to open the doors and turn their visions into reality. In New York and its burroughs, stores like Against Nature, JF & Son, Metal and Thread, Self Edge and Victor Osborne are attracting loyal new customers — often with a carefully curated mix of handcrafted, bespoke, vintage and forward-thinking items. It’s small-scale shopping without escalators or loyalty cards.

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Certainly that’s nothing new, and the shift toward actually meeting the man or woman who stitches up your skirt has been gaining momentum for at least half a decade. But it’s still encouraging to read these retail profiles. According to Horyn, “beyond favorable rents, beyond an interest in traditional things, the new stores say a lot about the fashion world. That there is a disconnect between the customer and the people making clothes. That men have replaced women as informed, upward-moving shoppers. That designers will have to take control of how their clothes are produced.”

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Here in Vancouver, those words also ring true. Every day, I walk past a pair of gorgeous-but-empty boutiques that opened in the last calendar year. I’m waiting to see which one shuts down first — even though they’re a beautiful addition to the neighborhood. At the same time, some retailers struggle with crowd control on a busy Saturday afternoon. Stores like Gravity Pope and Plenty come to mind. They can’t keep people out if they try. So what’s the difference? In my opinion, the survivors have these attributes on their side:

scale — small is beautiful. We’re sick of big box, big budgets and overblown, anonymous corporate retailers. Stores like H&M and Topshop are still getting a pass on this rule, but even they’re capitalizing on collaborations with designers such as Sonia Rykiel, Comme des Garçons, Matthew Williamson and Viktor & Rolf.

relative value — buyers will shell out more cash for the cashmere scarf if it’s a lovingly hand-knit, one-of-a-kind piece of fashionable art. Then the extra cost makes sense.

service — the owner who remembers your size and calls when something perfect arrives? That’s always been good business, but somehow it feels more meaningful today. Connections matter. Supporting small business is a social and political statement.

craftsmanship — who isn’t sick of hems that wait for the most inconvenient possible moment to unravel? Well-made products make sense. We’re seeing a long-overdue return to repairing things that were made right in the first place, and spending money on something that won’t be tossed in a month.

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posted 30 Nov 09 in: business, fashion, media, retail. This post currently has no responses.

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