Canada is the third largest country (in terms of land mass) in the world, but it has a population of only 30 million. The expanse of land that many Canadians are blessed to live in, its rugged terrain and its diverse ecosystems have shaped our distinctive character. The bitterly cold winters have made us resourceful, the kilometres of land that we’ve had to dig, blast and plough through have made us a determined bunch, and the country’s unique beauty from coast, to coast, to coast has inspired many of us to be renowned artists.
I consider Megan Duffield of Duffield Design to be one such artist. Duffield is a local eco-fashion designer who is the epitome of slow fashion. She designs, cuts and sews almost all of her pieces in a quaint studio on her wooded property just outside of Ottawa. Her fabric is sourced primarily from a Montreal-based manufacturer of eco-textiles and she collaborates with a local dyer to create the most beautiful and organic-looking colours and patterns.
Duffield has just launched her spring 2015 lookbook, which I had the honour of styling and directing this past fall with Throne Photography, Ashley C. and Heidi S. from Models International Management and Leslie-Anne Barrett of Beauty Bartender. Take a look and visit her online shop to get your fave pieces.
To celebrate her latest collection, I asked Duffield to answer a few questions so that you may get to know her more and truly appreciate her work.
EF Magazine (EF): When did you launch Duffield Design?
Megan Duffield (MD): I launched Duffield Design in November 2011 when my husband and I moved from our studio apartment on Catharine Street in downtown Ottawa into our country home in Dunrobin Shores.
EF: What is your educational background?
MD: I studied Fashion Design at Fanshawe College in London, Ontario from 2002 to 2005.
EF: Where have you worked in the past?
MD: When I returned home from school in London I started working for a boutique in the market called Frou Frou. I quickly developed an interest for visual display and was promoted to assistant visual merchandiser for the company’s seven stores at the time, including Framing and Gift Wear, Bank St. Framing, and the clothing stores Frou Frou & Pom Pom, and The Sassy Bead Co.
I was trained by Brydie Hyndman who has worked for such companies in visual display as Holt Renfrew. After a few years of working together, Brydie retired and I took over her position as head visual merchandiser. I also apprenticed with Marie Moscatel, a local Ottawa designer and Stan Boil a period costume specialist.
EF: What do you like most about working in your studio at home?
MD: I like that it’s a separate building from our home that enables me to focus on my work of designing and creating clothing with few distractions. The land that we live and work on is also a great source of inspiration for my collections. Being so closely connected to nature, I am reminded on a daily basis of the importance of creating products that are in tune with our environment. Our natural world is a great teacher on keeping a balanced order, understanding that everything is connected and affected by everything else. Respecting that balance and all of the living things within it helps us to preserve our environment and ultimately our future on this plant.
I believe living and working in Dunrobin has helped me to set a vision for the company that encompasses and reinforces my core values, prompting me on a daily basis to stay true to my beliefs and responsibilities as a designer and manufacturer.
EF: What are the cons of working from home?
MD: There are no cons.
EF: What are the challenges of designing with eco-fabrics?
MD: One of the challenges I have experienced being a smaller design company has been access to Canadian-made eco-textiles. We have some amazing mills in Canada creating quality eco-textiles, unfortunately, to my knowledge, there are no middleman companies buying these textiles and selling them at smaller minimums to designers such as myself. Mills have minimums which run anywhere from (on average) 500-1,000 meters in one colour on one fabric. For smaller design companies, this is an impossible order to meet. So we have little other option but to purchase textiles that are produced overseas, albeit from reputable sources, but it would still be nice to support Canadian-made products when available, and they are available but just not very accessible.
Another issue at the beginning for me was having access to printed eco-textiles. It’s extremely difficult to find them and when you do, most often every other eco-design company is using them. Prints and patterns are one of the ways design companies differentiate themselves from one another so it’s very important to have access to a wide variety of them. Luckily for me, I met Maureen Ballagh and the world of prints revealed itself to me in technicolour.
EF: Who is your local dyer and how long have you been working together?
MD: Maureen and I have been working together since 2013 to create unique hand-dyed pieces. She has a spectacular flare for creating exceptional patterns and designs that add a dimension of life and character to the pieces. She laboriously dyes each one separately. So much time, effort, and care are poured into the dyed garments and no two are the same. Maureen’s fibre art can be viewed online by visiting maureenballagh.ca.
EF: Who are your fabric suppliers?
MD: My fabric suppliers range from small Canadian manufacturers such as Delyla in Montreal, to Canadian suppliers like Kendor Textiles in Vancouver. I also source from a couple of reputable companies in the States, Pickering International and Enviro Textiles.
EF: Do you have any help with cutting and sewing?
MD: For large orders I work closely with my seamstress and master tailor, Sothea Chhay. She helps me with the large cut runs and piecework but for the most part I do the designing, pattern work, cutting, sewing and finishing myself. Regardless, all of the pieces pass through my hands in one way or another. I think it’s really important as a designer to be active in the production process and its one of the ways I maintain a high quality. As the business grows, I realize that my part in the actual production is going to shift dramatically from what it is now, but I also know that surrounding myself with the right people who take pride in their work and share a common vision with me will ensure that the brand grows in the right direction.
EF: Tell me about this latest collection, what is new about it? What was the inspiration behind it?
MD: SS15 is a collection inspired by the Ottawa River and the beautiful beaches that hug its shore. In the summer I spend a lot of time walking the shoreline of this unique area, observing the natural world around me. The reflections and colours of the water, the texture of the sand and stones, the fossils that tell a story of the Champlain Sea that once covered this area. Our landscape is so rich with stories and inspiration and I hope this collection gives you a feeling of its beauty and how it speaks to me.
EF: How do you incorporate sustainability in your designs?
MD: I do this mostly through my fabrics and the choice I make to purchase the best quality sustainable fabrics available to me on the market. I look at many aspects when I’m purchasing but the main factors I consider are natural textiles, quality and source. I also practice the idea that sustainability means longevity in fabrication and design. I design everyday essentials that are versatile, classic and comfortable. All of the garments, as mentioned, are manufactured locally from cut to finish and hand delivered to our retailers with minimum packaging.
EF: What materials have you used in this collection?
MD: When I started my line in 2011 there was a lot of bad press going around about the production process of bamboo and many people were arguing against the use of it as an eco-textile. Needless to say I was apprehensive about it’s use for a long time but after much testing and personal wear “Bamboo from Rayon” as the new by-law insists it be labeled, has become one of my favourite textiles in the Duffield Design Collection, and here’s why. This remarkable plant can regenerate itself quickly and with little to no use of pesticides or herbicides. It’s strong, lightweight and breathable, with wicking and antibacterial properties. It can withstand many washes, maintaining the fabrics integrity and it also takes on dyes very well and keeps the colour strong. Working with bamboo in the collection creates an all around quality piece of clothing that I hope will be worn and loved for many years to come. The spring 2015 collection is produced primarily using bamboo from rayon, modal, (a similar textile using beech wood fibre as it’s base), 100% linen, soy, and yak down which is a new fabric for us this season.
EF: Tell me about a time when a design just didn’t work out.
MD: Ever hear of the expression perseverance pays off? There have been many times when a design hasn’t quite come together exactly as I had expected in the beginning, but I stuck with it and kept trying. There is always a way but it does at times call for patients and perseverance.
EF: What funding support is there in Canada for eco-designers?
MD: I have heard of a grant offered by an amazing designer who has in her very long career blazed the way for eco-esigners in such a graceful and genuine way that I can’t help but love her for it, my idol Eileen Fisher. More information is available on her website about the grants her company offers, visit: http://www.eileenfisher.com/EileenFisher/company/grants/Women_Owned_Businesses.jsp?bmLocale=en_US.