Smythe, makers of some of our favourite coats and jackets, are releasing a capsule collection, created in collaboration with garment graffiti artist Chiara Catalano, on International Women’s Day, to celebrate and empower the feminine spirit and raise awareness and funds, via an online auction, for the Women’s Life Freedom movement in Iran. We chatted with co-founders Andrea Lenczner and Christie Smythe, to learn more about themselves, their business and this new range. —Noa Nichol
What inspired you to get into business?
A mutual love of fashion ignited our friendship in high school. We then both moved through young adult life working within the fashion and retail industries. We always talked about designing and working together, but it wasn’t until the idea of a women’s sports blazer came to us that we knew it was time to act. In 2004, when SMYTHE was founded, men were dressing up their jeans with sports coats, but the feminine equivalent didn’t exist. Almost 20 years later, even with a full ready-to-wear collection, the blazer is still THE pillar of our wardrobes and our collection.
What’s a day in the life like for you?
If it were up to us, we would be in our design studio all day, sourcing amazing fabrics, tweaking fit and designing new silhouettes. Our passion is really in the design process. But as any entrepreneur will share, our days are unpredictable, bordering on chaos. We juggle between fittings, marketing creative reviews, “fun” HR and admin tasks, finance etc. No day is ever the same, but if it were, we’d probably get bored!
How does your brand empower women?
The confidence women get from wearing a structured, tailored piece of clothing can be quite empowering. We decided to focus and build our business on the tailored blazer for its power to inspire inner confidence. Since then, we have received feedback from our customers that our blazer emboldened them in an important meeting, for a special occasion, or made them feel more put together while traveling or en route to school drop-off. We have even received e-mails from customers who equate their SMYTHE blazer to a superhero cape – if that’s not humbling…
What are the current challenges for women in your industry? How do you overcome them?
Like many other industries, you only need to look at the most senior positions at the international luxury groups to see that there are fewer women represented at the highest levels of designer and CEO. In addition to pay equity gaps, it is harder for women-led startups to get financing. How to overcome them can be a personal choice. We chose to take some financial risk and be scrappy and persevere until we could self-finance. Now we take immense pleasure and pride in offering women employment and upward career mobility.
How do you create a supportive environment for yourself and your team?
These past few years have taught us much about creating a healthier culture for ourselves and our team. Born of the necessity to be nimble and flexible, we have experienced the benefits of working more flexibly. Giving ourselves silence to find clear thinking and creative space. On the flip side of that, we have a greater appreciation for the physical presence of our people and the connection and collaboration that it enables. We are more productive when we are together and appreciate the silence when no one is around. We don’t have it sorted, but we feel more comfortable trying and reminding ourselves this elusive/evolving balance is a good thing.
What’s the latest from Smythe?
We’re proud to be releasing an 11-piece capsule collection featuring blazers and jackets with quotes hand-painted by (artist) Chiara Catalano, rooted in female empowerment. The collection is aimed to raise funds and awareness for the Women Life Freedom Movement in Iran. The Capsule will be revealed by installation at the SMYTHE standalone store in Toronto on IWD (March 8th) and then available to purchase exclusively online by auction from March 30th to April 2nd. 100 % of proceeds donated to Amnesty International’s work in Iran, dedicated to fighting for human rights. The Capsule has been receiving such great feedback so far and we can’t wait to unleash the pieces at auction, ONLINE at: auction.shopsmythe.com (March 30 – April 2).