Valérie Dumaine is a slow fashion designer based in Kingston, Ontario. Her preference is to use natural and eco-friendly fabrics when possible. She designs each collection herself and works with a team of Montreal-based contractors to manufacture each piece of clothing in small batches. Printed fabrics are made in a Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) facility. Clothing scraps are brought to a textile recycling program. All orders are shipped using eco-friendly Eco Enclose packaging and biodegradable/recyclable poly mailers (which customers are encouraged to reuse). Shop pieces made by Valérie Dumaine.

 We are on a mission to learn more about slow fashion and get to know our designers! If these topics interest you, check out our informal interview with Valérie below.

The term ‘sustainable’ is becoming more important to designers, manufacturers, and consumers. What does sustainability within the fashion industry mean to you and why is it so important? 

Valérie: The definition of sustainability is quite broad, and different for each designer. For example, sustainability can be choosing to design and manufacture products locally. For others, it is about using ecological fabrics. Some will say that it is about incorporating sustainable initiatives throughout the entire creative and production process. 

In my daily life, I do my best to reduce consumption (including packaging) and reuse items. I felt that I could also do the same at work with fabrics and raw materials, and pretty much every aspect of my business. It is, of course, difficult to be a 100% sustainable, but I feel that it is still something that we should all try to achieve, establishing our own priorities according to our values and resources.  

For example, designers that prioritize not using animal by-products would not use wool content in upcycled fabrics received from a supplier. I prioritize minimizing waste. If I have left over upcycled wool fabric, I would rather use the roll then let it go to waste. There are many examples like this where designers may differ in their values and priorities. Some designers use sustainable leather with natural dyes. I do not use leather in any form. But everyone’s effort counts. I design and manufacture my collections locally. It is important to support the local economy. And I feel it is important to have a personal connection with the people that I am working with, to know their working environment is safe, and that their work conditions and wages are adequate.

Each of us within the industry must minimize our impact because the world of fashion, especially fast fashion, can be very damaging to the planet. We are heading in the right direction with many big and small players taking action. It is motivating that consumers are urging us to do more by asking for sustainable clothing.

What are some of the benefits and challenges of small-batch production?

Valérie: First, producing small runs is a way to keep operations at a scale and pace that is manageable, and allows me to stay in close contact with everyone involved in the process. More importantly, it is a quality-of-life issue for me after doing this for 18 years.

But if it’s okay, I would like to answer your question about slow batch production in relation to my use of upcycled fabrics, which is also one of my sustainable practices. I have been using eco-friendly fabrics as part of my collections for several years, even though most are quite expensive, and the selection is limited. But this is a manageable challenge when working on small productions. My slow-fashion, small-batch approach is also well suited to the use of upcycled fabrics, meaning unused leftover stocks obtained from local textile resellers, other designers or from my own inventory.

Creating using upcycled fabrics is time consuming, and therefore potentially more costly, and it does create headaches sometimes because of limited quantities and unreliable supply. For example, I aimed to use 100% upcycled fabrics for my Fall/Winter 2021-22 collection. To my great pleasure (or not), some styles sold well, which meant that I did not have enough of the upcycled fabrics to fulfil orders. I therefore had to buy new rolls from one of my suppliers. As a result, some of the styles in this latest collection are 60% upcycled and 40% new fabrics. But in the end, most of Fall/Winter 2021-22 is made of upcycled fabrics, which is a big achievement. However challenging, small batch production, using upcycled fabrics, is consistent with my values. I am now working on my next collection with the same goal in mind.

How many people are involved in making a garment before a customer purchases it in a boutique? 

Valérie: In my case, there are three companies involved in the process. The steps are: 

  • I create the designs, do the patterns, and then sew the samples.
  • Once buyer sales are complete, I correct the patterns to make sure that they are ready to go into production and I make new samples if needed.
  • I do the grading and markers for about half of my styles and the other half (the more complicated and time-consuming styles) are done by a grading/marker company in Montreal.
  • The markers are then sent to a cutting company in Montreal. I do cut a few styles as well in my studio.
  • My sewing contractor picks up the styles from the cutting company and brings them to my sewing team of two (also in the greater Montreal area).
  • Once the sewing is finished, my contractor picks up the styles and brings them to finishing and pressing (which is done in-house at the contactor’s facility). Finishing includes buttons, buttonholes, and hems, among other final details.
  • They then do quality control and cut the threads before shipping the finished products to my studio in Kingston.
  • Lastly, I do a final quality control and ship everything to boutiques throughout Canada.

Do you think sustainability will continue to motivate buyer spending patterns? 

Valérie: Yes, over the last few years the trend has become increasingly popular. I think people are becoming more aware of sustainability, especially in the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. People are more aware of spending their money locally, supporting small businesses and restaurants.

However, people are not aware of what is involved in the process of manufacturing a garment. Many believe that $200.00 for let’s say … a dress, is expensive. But it really isn’t when you consider how many people are involved in the creative and production process. It is important to continue educating family, friends, and the general public so they start to think more deeply about who is making their clothes, and at what cost to the environment and workers. The 2013 garment factory collapse in Bangladesh was a pivotal moment that sparked a movement for awareness among consumers and transparency among brands and designers.

Retailers and boutiques play an important role in this movement. Most of the boutiques I sell to are central to their communities and neighbourhoods. They help raise awareness. Some of them have also invited me to speak with customers about sustainability in fashion-making, and the importance of buying local. When I first started 18 years ago, there were only a few boutiques who prioritized these values, and now there are many more. I believe that this is a sign that customers are embracing, more than ever, this movement towards transparency and ultimately sustainability.

Who is someone you look up to in the fashion industry? 

Valérie: To be honest, I don’t follow a lot of what is going on in the fashion industry. Mostly, I read about food, recipes and topics of that nature, but Stella McCartney is someone I could follow. She is a long-time animal advocate and uses animal and cruelty-free alternatives. She partners with companies to use innovative and ecological materials, and she champions circularity and social sustainability. She also makes garments made from vegan, lab-grown (MyloTM) mushroom leather. The way she views fashion appeals to me…  not to mention that I also like her style and designs.

What is your favourite destination for fashion inspiration?

Valérie: I am passionate about arid landscapes and desert architecture. I have visited Arizona and pretty much all of the southern states, and really love dunes and odd rock formations such as those of Arches National Park. There is also something about the vastness of deserts that I find very refreshing and inspiring. In terms of built environments, I am equally struck by the beauty of Palm Spring and Arcosanti. I’d love to visit Morocco. I feel I could be inspired by the architecture and deserts there.

If you could learn something new, what would it be? 

Valérie: I have an interest in food and plants, but if I could learn just one new thing… well, it would be astronomy. Stars, planets, black holes, etc. The universe is so big and we all look at it with complete awe. There is still so much to discover. I find the universe fascinating and would love to learn more about it. Perhaps astronomy is something I could pursue when I retire, but for now I will remain content with watching documentary films on the topic.

Can you tell us more about the Wishing Well Sanctuary and other charitable projects you support? 

Valérie: The Wishing Well Sanctuary is a charitable organization whose mission is to provide a safe place for farmed animals that have been rescued from abuse, neglect, and cruelty. I am a monthly donor to the sanctuary, which makes me a proud sponsor of a friendly duck. 

A while ago, I launched a “Compassion and Design” series, which featured special prints. Each year, I donate 10% of sales from that series to a chosen animal sanctuary or organization. For example, I used a hammerhead shark print in support of Sea Shepherd in 2017. The last project I sponsored was before the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019 and it involved a chimpanzee sanctuary called Fauna Foundation. I would love to have my own sanctuary and help animals one day, but in the meantime, I am trying to help in a way that I can.

Note to the reader:

You can shop quality sustainable pieces made by designer in our boutique! Check out the Valérie Dumaine collection. If you are interested in learning more about the Wishing Well Sanctuary, Sea Shepherd, or the Fauna Foundation, please click the links below:

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