Owner of travel clothing company Helene Clarkson knows that perfectly packable clothes matter
Travelling light is a goal for many of us, but it’s not always easy to pull off. “I was frustrated by how difficult it was to find clothing that would work in a carry on. I wanted clothes that could be machine-washed and could go from day to night,” says Helene Clarkson, owner of Helene Clarkson, a women’s clothing company for the urban traveller. While she didn’t have a design background, she knew her idea was a winner, and she launched her clothing line in 2014.
Drawing on her love of fashion, style and travel, she came up with her ideas for chic, travel-friendly dresses, shirts, jackets, skirts and pants, many of them designed to be worn back to front or inside out. Then, she hired talented people. “I have an incredibly gifted pattern maker and I have a really wonderful contractor who does my sewing. Sometimes I say I want to try something and they look at it and say ‘that’s impossible,’ but I say ‘let’s try it’ and sometimes it does work!” says Helene. “It’s about working with people who are willing to try through trial and error, and there are not a lot who are up for that.”
Helene designs collections for spring/summer and fall/winter, as well as holiday and resort collections. Each piece is named after a city or an airport, and is made in Toronto. Helene says that she’s dealt with challenges every step of the way, as she’s learned about online business or exploring new markets. “I just did a pop-up in Vancouver, which is a completely different customer from Toronto. It’s trying to figure out where I fit, how it all works, who are my customers. There’s always the learning curve.” Next up: planning a plus-size line.
Helene gets inspiration from her own travels to cities like London and New York, and also closer to home in Toronto at the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Royal Ontario Museum. “Whatever museum or gallery you go to, there’s always something that makes you go ‘wow,’ and leads you back to design.”
On a recent trip to Vancouver she took in an exhibit by Chinese designer Guo Pei. “It’s just the most stunning, creative, gorgeous exhibition you can imagine. When you see that level of design, it’s just astonishing.”
Still, it’s her customers who make the biggest impression, whether it’s seeing a picture of two women in Morocco (who didn’t know each other before their tour) wearing the same item styled differently, or a customer who stocked up before a major cruise for her anniversary. “She sent me photographs of her wearing my designs in different cities and venues,” says Helene. “She literally took me on her trip with her, and told me just how much her clothing helped her enjoy her trip even more. I was thrilled.”