I first became aware of Estate Family Guilds when I attended a joint pop-up shop for the brand a few months ago in Toronto. I was immediately struck by the quality of the garments, and the thoughtful structure to each piece. The line is mostly made up of basics – sweaters, tees and sweatshirts- but each one specially made with a special, beyond basic appeal. One of my favourite pieces from the collection was a hooded grey sweater, made from super soft virgin lamb’s wool. That extra craftsmanship is what sets Estate Family Guilds from other lines. I had the opportunity to ask Keith Mcleod, one of the co-founders of the brand, a few questions about the challenges and successes of starting a clothing line from scratch.
Zoe: How did Estate Family Guilds start?
Keith: Estate Family Guilds was started in Halifax back in 2007 when BJ and I started a t-shirt line for the “Wearable Art Show” at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University (NSCADU). I graduated from NSCAD with a Photo Degree, and BJ graduated with a jewellery Degree, yet, after we finished school, we were faced with figuring out how to create work that was both cathartic as well as accessible to the community at large. To make the same art as we did in school is tough because people our age don’t readily have the money to purchase art and keep us creating. As a result, we set out to stylize the t-shirt, and treat that as our medium to reach the masses. We learned the basics of screen-printing in school as well, so we quickly fashioned our own printing machine in bj’s basement. Soled Out Sneakers, the first retailer in Halifax, pushed us into printing a collection of t-shirts to fill the void of home-grown clothing companies. The summer after graduation, we launched the first Estate Family Guilds collection, the proper way.
Z: What is the sartorial inspiration behind your line?
K: We are inspired by a lot of the things we grew up with as teenagers. Skateboarding, Hip Hop, Metal, simple things like that. But after high school we went to art school which showed us things that took us beyond those influences, and into a deeper understanding of the visual world. Our style and influence changes throughout the seasons, but we have a great affinity for William Morris and Aubrey Beardsley, as well as Victorian stylings. If you combine both what we love about hip hop and metal, and look at it through the eyes of the arts and crafts movement, I feel like you can see why we make the things we do.
Z: What are the challenges behind starting your own clothing line?
K: Building clientele is very hard. Your friends will always support you and want to see you succeed, and they will be the foundation of your business, but for us, reaching out and making believers out of strangers is really hard. Exposure through press, pop-up shops and social networking is a huge component to starting a clothing line.
Z: What’s your favourite part of the design process?
K: As a screen printer, the gratification of printing the first sample is always the most outstanding. I can take my idea from my head and onto paper, but the end product is the t-shirt. Seeing that t-shirt for the first time is often where my eyes can see what my brain was thinking.
Z: How long does it typically take for you to construct a piece from initial idea to finished product?
K: We try to curate our ideas into a mass collection every season. Every 4 months we release a product line which is a collection of like-minded ideas or a well-rounded collection of a singular concept. With that we will have a pop up shop, look book, online and in store releases, press exposure and much more. It’s a 4 month long process start to finish.
Z: What’s next for the brand in the next five years?
K: We are looking into a lot more cut and sew products, more serious and heavy duty product. I’m looking at Canadian and US retailers for the next while. But ultimately, we will be working at creating more of the products we love to make.
All images courtesy of Estate Family Guilds. For more information on the brand please visit: www.estatefamilyguilds.com or their Facebook page.
By: Zoe Alexandra Torell, Toronto
You should follow me on Twitter @blueauguste.
Are you an employer? Post your job here.
Are you a job seeker? Find fashion jobs here.