My Journey In Fashion - White Rhino Bags
INTRODUCTION – Fashion as a family business
My journey in fashion started long long ago I was 20 years old and new to the city of Vancouver BC. I had moved there from a small, and at the time undeveloped town of Squamish to pursue acting and modelling. At the time I was a union actress and had been doing well booking commercial and lifestyle modelling gigs and had made a bit of a name for myself in the standup and sketch comedy scene. The opportunities of a bigger city were overwhelming at first but I was driven to get out there and do my best in everything I tried.
Vancouver’s bristling live music scene caught me somewhat by surprise. I hadn’t intended to get involved in the music scene but it’s abundance made in unavoidable and my guitar came back out of retirement rather unexpectedly.
It was during this intense time of discovery and opportunity that my life took another unexpected development. My mother, who nurtured all things creative urged me to consider fashion. At first I was very skeptical, what do I know about the fashion industry? I grew up in a family of many mouths and limited income which meant second hand clothing and hand me downs shared between multiple sisters. My family moved constantly and we were sheltered from the ‘ills’ of popular culture. Growing up we had very limited access to TV, magazines and other trend pumping mediums. I was never a cool kid in school. In fact because we moved so often I was always the new kid and was bullied relentlessly, forever unable to fit-in, relate or build lasting relationships with my peers.
Nevertheless my Mom believed that because of my unorthodox upbringing I had a unique perspective on style and trend that could appeal to the market. It was true that I could build, sew and create my own clothing I thought, and my Mom believed that if I put my mind to it I could take the raw goods to the next level – and she would help me.
THE GOOD TIMES
And so, my mom and I dove into the fashion industry with a family-run clothing collection which we would wholesale to the Canadian market. It was to be some of the most cherished times I had with my mother. There were many successes. We self-promoted and organized a launch party for the line which resulted in a few interested buyers and an invitation to showcase at Vancouver Fashion Week. Sales trips we took together gave us an opportunity to talk and bond in ways we’d never been able to before, and I am so grateful to have had that time with my mother working on a common goal.
With orders coming in we partnered with a local production house for my first run and with the money earned from that I purchased a few more machines and turned my living room into a full blown fashion workshop where I could manage all aspects of the business from sample to production in the comfort of my home.
Eventually we had enough regular buyers to open a small 2nd floor brick-and-mortar I dubbed “The Secret Store’ which operated as both a showroom and a production facility. I’d occasionally host parties there showcasing other artists and collection launches, I’d meet potential clients and take custom orders. It was a great period of my journey in fashion. On the weekends I’d open up for walk-in business to those who wanted to purchase samples and pieces from older collections. It was truly an amazing time.
THE BAD TIMES
On April 11th 2014 my mother passed away suddenly from what would later be diagnosed as an aortic hemorrhage. The loss struck my family with such magnitude it was as if an earthquake ripped through us and stripped our lives down to the ground. Grief is the most powerful force I have ever experienced. The loss of my mother is something that still to this day I can barely think about without falling to pieces. At the time I was so unable to process what was happening I fell into a deep deep pit of avoidance. I shut the whole world out. I buried myself in my work.
Unable to cope with anything I funneled all my energy into working, becoming a full blown workaholic. I absorbed my wholesale company and relaunched as a manufacturing and design company, hired a small staff and took on a roster of clientele. I would sew and consult all day and often all night. I developed a stabbing pain in my shoulder which would get so bad it would leave me unable to stand up and lost partial feeling in my left, dominant hand. I would later find out that an untreated childhood injury and a misshapen vertebrae in my neck had developed into a permanent condition where any prolonged use of my left arm or strain put on my neck would result in chronic nerve pain which eventually, could lead to permanent loss of feeling in my arm. I was advised that I could not operate sewing machinery anymore, play guitar or do any repetitive physical activities which could aggravate the injury further.
Despite my best to push through I had to accept that my days of sewing were simply over. I had no other option but to close the business and sell my machines. My marriage, which had been strained since the passing of my mother fell apart and my husband and I separated. The stress and the agony and the unmanaged grief had taken absolutely everything away from me. Never in my life had I faced such an immense rock bottom.
DEFIANCE AND THE END
So now what? After spending over a decade in the garment and manufacturing industry I find myself physically unable to do the work that I’d dedicated my early adulthood to. Once again, unable to cope with the loss I would implemented my strategy of burying myself in work. A method that ultimately had been devastating to me but it was the only tool I had to work with, and it gave me something to look forward to and make time pass. This time around I dove into my music. Writing and recording with my bands and touring endlessly. My physical condition continued to be an issue throughout this – I had been warned that I should discontinue playing guitar or risk permanently losing feeling in my left hand – but I refused to lose both of my creative outlets. In my mind making music was the only thing I had left and I vowed to hang on to it even if it killed me. Short rehearsals and lots of time being flat in the back of the tour van made it possible to limp through. Considerable amounts of pain control pills, physio and long periods of dedicated ‘rest’ time enabled me to continue to perform and to continue to have something to look forward to in a time when it seemed like everything was lost and nothing mattered anymore.
It was after a month long tour of Europe that my condition sent me to the emergency room. This time was the worst I’d experienced so far. Within a 24hr period the pain had escalated to a point where I was unable to stand up. I remained bed ridden for 7 days. The nerves had become so inflamed that even the slightest movement would send shooting pain throughout my body and into my brain and I’d black out. I thought for sure this time I’d done it, this time I was going to lose mobility for good. This time it’s really over.
STARTING OVER – A Rebirth
It was while lying in bed, unable to move that I finally took a moment to really reflected. I considered where I’d been, what I’d been through and what I’d accomplished in life. I realized that losing my mother, our business, my husband and a career in manufacturing wasn’t what was ultimately hurting my health - it was me. It was my avoidance in dealing with the grief in a healthy way that had done this to me.
I realized that I needed to stop avoiding and start doing. I needed to accept and embrace that I cannot create with my hands anymore. I needed to focus on what I do have - a mind for business, years of invaluable experience, love, passion and goodness to bring to the world.
And that’s where I am today. Not stuck in a room of loss and failure but instead focused on using my experience and knowledge to collaborate, designing what I love (vegan leather bags) and employ the network I’d built up for so many years. I still struggle day to day with my grief, regret and chronic pain but I’ve learnt healthier ways of managing it.
There isn’t enough that can be said for taking time for self-care, self-love and the importance of therapy (both physical and mental) to help during difficult times. I wish I had been more open to accepting help in the very beginning but I know now that dwelling on a regret isn’t the answer – instead I focus on how I can prevent making the same mistakes in the future and helping others to avoid making the same mistakes that I had to learn the hard way.
So that’s my story, my truth, my journey in fashion design. Creating, designing, writing…these are all things that have become unanimous with who I am as a person. Fashion helped me through both the greatest and the darkest times, and I’m excited to see what it will bring next.
For more on how I came up with the idea to start White Rhino Bags click here: https://whiterhinobags.com/blog/vegan-designer-the-story-of-white-rhino-cruelty-free-bags
If you or someone you know is struggling with loss please consider getting help, here are some links that may help getting you started on a journey to recovery and moving forward
Grief Resource Network - https://griefresourcenetwork.com/crisis-center/hotlines/
My Grief Angels - http://www.mygriefangels.org/grief-support-directory-.html
Contact Helpline - http://www.contacthelpline.org/
BC Bereavement Helpline - http://www.bcbh.ca/