Ottawa isn’t exactly the capital of fashion in Canada. The people of this town have a reputation for dressing conservatively. I’d argue that we do have style, but that we don’t look for it here. Our economy is strong and salaries are steady but we’re more likely to travel to Montreal or even the States for good fashion finds, and less likely to look in our own backyard. This isn’t an easy city for budding designers, but if anyone can make their line successful, it’s Amir Zargari, owner and founder of local streetwear line, Babes & Gents.
We haven’t officially met in person but from our email correspondence, creeping him out on Facebook (you have to know who you’re writing about!), and word of mouth, Amir is a passionate entrepreneur with a big heart. His clothing, much like him, is youthful, patriotic and fun. The experienced retail worker and current student of Business Management & Entrepreneurship at the University of Ottawa has launched a line of simple wardrobe pieces (manufactured by American Apparel) infused with his own art. More artist than designer, Zargari has targeted Ottawa’s student population, offering them affordable and unique designs on much-loved styles. I’m looking forward to seeing how he’ll expand his artwork in the coming years, perhaps to other media too. After the jump, read my interview with Zargari about his line and launching in Ottawa.
EF: What is your background and why did being a designer appeal to you?
Amir Zargari (AZ): I come from an art background (painting). I got into designing clothes because a friend of mine suggested that I put my art on shirts and sell them. I have always loved fashion and I shop a lot, but I hadn’t thought about creating my own line. The spark went off with my friend’s suggestion. It wasn’t about being a designer – I actually wouldn’t call myself a designer. I wanted to make clothes that I loved and hoped that other people would love them enough to buy them.
EF: What have you learned during the process of launching Babes & Gents that you didn’t know before?
AZ: I learned a lot about everything! I’ve learned about the legal side of registering a business, about all of the different types of businesses, about taxes, etc. I’ve also learned about marketing and branding, and how to utilize those tools on social media in order to convert them into sales. I’ve learned about different methods of printing, different types of fabrics, garments and manufacturing methods. Running a business is a true learning experience.
EF: What void does your line fill in the street-wear market?
AZ: Babes & Gents is a combination of fine art and cool CANADA which are both missing in the street-wear market right now (especially the cool CANADA one).
EF: Where do you source your fabrics from and where is everything made?
AZ: I buy the tops from American Apparel’s Montreal headquarters (they make all their products in a sweatshop-free factory in Los Angeles), and I have them printed in Ottawa. I sourced the drop crouch pants and long t-shirts from South Korea.
EF: There’s a very patriotic spirit to your clothing, is this something you want to define your label?
AZ: Yeah, for sure. Again, I truly believe there is a lack of cool Canadian clothing. I really want to fill that void with my brand while still producing art pieces that align with brand.
EF: Ottawa isn’t known for its fashion. Why did you decide to launch the line here?
AZ: I really had to think about whether I should launch the brand here or in Toronto. I decided on Ottawa simply because I saw huge potential for the market and the culture here to grow. I think I can gain my true fan base in Ottawa, which would ultimately make it a lot easier to break the brand into other cities.
EF: Do you want to keep your line in Ottawa as it grows to help establish Ottawa as a fashion hub?
AZ: Definitely. I would like to keep the headquarters of the company here, but it’s all up to the people, they have all the power. If they support the brand and buy the products, then Babes & Gents will stay in Ottawa.
EF: How important is it for your line to support Canadian manufacturing?
AZ: Very important, but unfortunately that is not an option for a small clothing brand like me. For example, there is only one Canadian manufacturer in the GTA that provides the quality that I would like to offer my customers in the whole country. This manufacturer doesn’t even answer your calls unless you want to order 200+ pieces of one garment. For a small Canadian brand like mine that only produces five-10 pieces at a time, local manufacturing isn’t an option until my fan base grows.
EF: What images come to mind when you design a collection?
AZ: Every collection is different and inspired by different things, but in the Ottawa collection for example, some of the inspirations were Givenchy, Kanye West, Pyrex, etc.
EF: Where do you want the line to go in the next five years?
AZ: In the next five years I would like to have a full Canadian collection (head to toe) and also expand the fine art line into its own full collection.