We caught up with Canadian designer Wes Spencer to learn about what drove him to create West Spencer, a brand that embodies clean lines with a sense of modern sophistication. His love for design and fashion have always been at the forefront of all he does, here’s his story.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’ve been living in toronto for a little more than 10 years. I started out working in clothing retail and amateur modeling for friends which really opened the idea of fashion to me. In 2011 I broke a favorite belt I used to wear pretty much every day and needed a new one. After being unable to find anything quite like what I wanted I decided to make one for myself. The whole process came pretty easily and before long I was making and selling dozens of belts and other one-off pieces in fur and leather. Outside of fashion design I have launched several different seasonal business, and now I find that my experience and knowledge have sped up the process for fashion design. The biggest step was developing production partners, even though I have always thought of design more as a hobby than a business.
Tell us a little about your work.
Working more with leather and fur has opened my eyes to materials behind construction. It is relatively easy to find a quality tailor, but finding people who are also able to understand quality in materials as well as construction is difficult. This took about 5 years plus traveling all over Asia and North America. For me it is not just business and these were goals which just happened to be facilitated by my interest in textile manufacturing and production. My growing perspective towards ‘luxury’ materials is what led me to my current outlook. I like to blend luxury with updated looks that can be worn primarily casually, but are subdued enough for the work place. My initial pieces focus on things that get worn daily and can be blended into most wardrobes starting with outer wear, accessories and shoes. I hope to be expanding into fabrics for my fall 2018 production season.
What 3 words would you use to describe your work?
Tell us about the Canadian aspects of your work.
I am a bit of a history nerd, and the idea of the founding of our country by traders makes me think of adventure. When I was in grade school I did a lot with the native community in my home town and traveled between Southern Ontario and Upstate New York visiting various reserves and centers. Memories from the field trips and learning to make things like arrow heads or drums by hand are what started my interest in leather and fur. I have had/used several different skins and furs for projects in the past, but my first fur was a rabbit pelt I bought to make mittens and the first thing I remember sewing was a leather medicine pouch.
What motivates you?
To be perfectly honest I just did what I liked in life at those particular moments and it kept turning me back towards the fashion industry. I loved the idea of being a manufacturer and importer so I followed that passion which led back to fashion and textiles once again. In 2014 I had the realization that fashion had really been what I liked doing all along and decided to pursue trying to produce my designs. Traveling to new places, seeing new materials, and having the garment come out exactly how I pictured it in my head are what motivates me.
What do you find most challenging about operating your own business? What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs?
Pretty much everything I have ever read about being an inventor or an entrepreneur or an artist says don’t give up. So I guess this is my best bit of advice, if you’re lucky enough to find something that you would do for fun and you would do for free, then giving up is not really even in the picture. The biggest challenge is finding something that is your interest and not getting tempted by all the get rich quick ideas you’ll have in the mean time, but give up on because they were only about money. This is life experience, not business experience. When it comes to business realize that most businesses fail and even if you love something it might not make money, so don’t quit your day job. You’ll have a rush order or a big mistake that leads to a cancelled order and that bit of income will help you stay out of debt at first.
What has been your most fulfilling experience so far?
My most fulfilling experience so far was finally making my entire belt from scratch, including a custom buckle. Belts were my original start to making clothing and I have been trying to get custom buckles made since 2011, a month after I made my first belt. It has taken nearly 6 years to finally produce my own buckle. Seeing the completed belt feels like a real milestone marking how far I have come since I started cutting a strip of leather off a hide to make the first belt.
What are you currently Reading? Watching? Listening to?
Currently reading animal fiber textile analysis papers while watching Billions and Last Kingdom. T-shirt by Migos references the fur trade so many times plus I can’t avoid hearing it almost daily, but Tragically Hip is a work time music go to.
What does “style” mean to you?
Style is something that means separate things depending on who you ask. To different people style can be comfort or fit or even what social group they identify (or want to identify) with. I think style is being able to judge a crowd and take the temperature of the room, but be able to make it your own. A bit like fitting in, but by doing it not quite the same as everyone else. For me this is the biggest difference between style and trend. Fashion on the other hand is more about being able to forecast trends in color, cut, and novel ideas in order to synthesize something that is new at the same time the upscale market wants it. When I re-read that last sentence it seems like I’m talking about predicting the future…
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Photo: Wes Spencer