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Infuse met with Cassandra Burrell, the witty and lovely designer behind sustainable fashion brand Cassandra Elizabeth. We sat, laughed, and talked while in her charming home and workspace.
Before Cassandra started her brand and came to Toronto, she made custom bridal gowns, gowns for galas and even prom dresses for her friends! She’s lived from coast to coast, “I’m an east coaster” she says, and later moved to the west coast to get inspiration, specifically Vancouver, where she initially thought she was going to open up her own store. However, it didn’t happen the way she intended. “People weren’t really open there, I thought I would get all these clients that wanted all this custom stuff and it didn’t happen.
So, I went back to Nova Scotia for a year and opened up a store in Halifax where I and one seamstress worked making custom designs. And one day, when I was working the store owner came in and asked if she could buy my clothing line, and I was like ‘I don’t have a clothing line’ so then she taught me how to wholesale, and that’s how I started wholesaling!” Now, Cassandra’s life is packed with busy schedules and a different experience
When did you start sewing?
“I went to an after school program when I was growing up and it was on a farm cause I’m from the valley” she laughed. “No one was allowed to go up to the second floor of the house, so naturally I wanted to go up there. I was like 7 maybe 8 years old and she had a little sewing room upstairs, so I would hide in there and whip out fabric and learn to sew on her sewing machine” which she described it to be one of the old-fashioned machines with a hand crank. “And so, I sewed up a strip of fabric and slipped it on like a tube top and then on like a skirt and it had this green tree print all over it and that was the first thing that I made. My mom figured out I wanted to be a seamstress, so she bought me all of this unnecessary amount of sewing machines when I was a child.” Cassandra says she’s always sewed, but she doesn’t like it anymore because it became work “I actually hate sewing now; I lost the passion and it became work, so now I just focus on the design side.”
Tell us about your design process?
“My process is different compared to other designers because I don’t do seasonal collections,” Cassandra says most designers create collections for two to four seasons a year, and since she doesn’t abide by seasons, she can add or take away pieces whenever she wants. “The only thing that I do is switch up the colours or add a turtleneck. I just try to make clothing that people want to buy, so I keep everyone in mind like men and women; all ages and all sizes.” Cassandra’s clothing is heavily influenced by what people are wearing right now; “I like streetwear and Japanese culture because they are super androgynous; men and women are wearing the same thing all the time and I think that’s so cool”. Always working at cafes or co-working spaces, she says she’ll come up with an idea every once in a while that she likes and add it to her collections. She loves that there’s no pressure for her to come up with a new set of designs at a certain time.
Have you always been passionate about sustainability?
“No.” she answers abruptly. “When I used to make custom designs people would come to her after a couple of years with rips in them and I would fix it for them. I have to be honest, it might have been because my sewing skills weren’t up to par, but it also might have been the low-quality fabrics I was using.” It was when she started wholesaling 5 years ago that she began using bamboo fabric, which she still uses to this day. “I didn’t understand why I loved it so much, but people still have this t-shirt that they bought from me in 2014. It took me about a year of using linen, hemp and bamboo fabrics to realize that there’s a reason why I should be using them, and that’s because it lasts longer.” And so, Cassandra began to educate herself more on sustainability and not just the impact it had on the environment, but how it contributes to slow fashion. She continues to learn more about the environmental impact it does have, and she doesn’t know enough to preach it, but she still continues to educate herself on the subject. Not only is Cassandra’s clothing brand sustainable, it’s ethical and locally made as well. All Cassandra Elizabeth garments are made by a manufacturer in Scarborough. “It’s awesome because I can just drive there and drop by whenever. I want to see how everybody is, it’s more important for my clothes to be ethically made than anything.”
Where do you see the future of fashion heading?
“I think people are jumping on board with slow fashion, and that is exactly what I’m all about.” Outside of designing, Cassandra does closet editing as well. She educates people on how to make the most out of their wardrobes “If you have a prom dress that you want to wear again, I’ll figure out a way for you to make that work”.
“I think people are really into the idea of a capsule wardrobe, so I can see it going into more of a slow fashion route, the only issue is that stores are only going to make what people want, so I think in order to do that more people will need to become interested in sustainability and slow fashion, and when there is an increasing interest, the stores will cater to them.”
What advice would you give someone who is starting to live more consciously?
“I would say do it slowly. Don’t just jump in. People want to make this huge decision and they don’t think of it as being that big.” Cassandra compares it to someone wanting to make a diet change “you can’t do it all at once. It’s a huge step to be more sustainable and I’m not even fully there yet, but I’d like to be in every aspect.” She recommends you start with clothing, “just get one piece that you genuinely love that meets the criteria and replace like two or three things that you don’t really love. If you do that every single time you want to buy say five shirts from H&M, step back and think about it and get one piece that you feel really good about and in some way a conscious decision on your part, and then just continue to do that slowly. After a year you’ll have a closet that you love, a little capsule wardrobe. Cassandra says it can be expensive and that’s why people get discouraged but to them she says, “ yes you can!! It’s been four years for me and I buy maybe two items a year, and I love my wardrobe.”
For those who don’t know, what is a capsule wardrobe?
“It’s kind of like considering your wardrobe as a collection. You use every piece equally and with each other, not wearing one thing more than the other.” Some people say it has to be a certain number of pieces but Cassandra disagrees “I think as long as you’re getting use out of every piece in your wardrobe it works. The one piece of advice I give to people when they go shopping is you have to picture the item with three pieces you already own, and if you can’t then it’s not a part of the collection, it will just stand out and you’ll never wear it.”
Do you think a capsule wardrobe is limited to a minimalist style?
“I don’t think so at all, when I say capsule wardrobe, I don’t include shoes or accessories. If you have 40 items in your closet and you want to jazz it up a little, you just throw on all kinds of accessories, whatever your style is. I have women from ages 18 to 80 wearing my clothing. It looks completely different on everybody, and I wouldn’t consider them to be minimalists.”
Cassandra Elizabeth is a gender natural brand, what does gender inclusivity mean to you in the fashion industry?
“I think what I wanted to do by being gender neutral is to not cut anyone off. So, I don’t even think of it as being gender inclusive. People always ask me ‘what’s your target market’ and I hate that question. I was always trying to describe a person, their features, what they look like and their demographic. And what I didn’t realize is what I should be describing is their interest. So. my common interest is health and wellness in a crowd. They care about what they put in and, on their bodies. I didn’t even have to think twice about it including both men and women.” Cassandra says she’s trying to build a universal collection which is inclusive of everyone; all cultures, all ages, all genders and body types. “I want to make something that represents everyone”.
What have you learned since starting Cassandra Elizabeth?
“This is definitely what I’m going to do for the rest of my life.” Cassandra says she’s certain because she’s tried to give up probably 30 times “if you want to figure out what your passion is, try to give up, that’ll tell you.”
“I’ve just learned that I want to keep educating myself, every year I’ve learned something new and it never stops. I’m pretty sure that in ten years from now I might have a totally different brand, but you’ll still be able to tell it’s me because it will carry through the values that I learn every single year. It just keeps getting bigger and better, I’m going to keep doing this forever.” Her piece of advice to stay motivated in anything you do is to constantly engage with other people, especially those who are passionate about what they do. Finally, she goes on to add, “I think everyone should just get on board of slow fashion!! It’s going to be a while but I don’t think that the retail environment is going to be sustainable until the consumers are sustainable.”
Where can people find Cassandra Elizabeth?
Photos taken by Alyssa Lancaster Photography
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