Ethical Interviews // Jessica Matthew of Power of My People
Power of My People is a British Columbia, Canada-based brand specializing in the ethical design and production of quality button-ups. I’m so proud to have been working with Jessica for the past year in sharing her brand and beautiful garments with you.
Q: Talk to me about when you started Power Of My People. What was your tipping point to jumping in?
A: I was nearing the end of my tether at the design job I was doing at the time. It was a beautiful afternoon in May and I had managed to sneak out of the office to take a break at a coffee shop on Main St. in Vancouver. I remember sitting there, staring out the window thinking “I’ll be so disappointed if I don’t go for it by the end of Summer”, and I think I handed in my notice later that week! It was quite spontaneous and felt kind of instinctive. I worked on Power Of My People for 6 months before we launched our first set of shirts, at which point Kyle came on board officially as well (though he had been by my side since the start). I can’t believe that was only 4 years ago, because it feels like a lifetime!
Q: Your clothes have such brilliant structure, care, and attention to the architectural detail of a garment. If you could name the filters and criteria with which you evaluate any clothes you design, what would they be?
A: To me, a successful item of clothing must be comfortable, versatile, and structurally sound. Beauty comes from the marriage of these 3 elements along with the material components used and the proportion in which all of these things are applied. Details are very important to me. I have strong opinions about hem width and pocket placement that I’ll spare you from for now!
Q: Assuming you wear your own designs – which piece have you owned and worn the longest? How’s it holding up?
A: I wear our shirts almost daily and have a growing collection in my closet. My own collection is somewhat eclectic – I have at least 1 shirt from every season we’ve released – including the very first run of 50 shirts that Kyle and I made together in our 400 sq. ft apartment back in 2015.
I have a Friend shirt in Wayward Fit from that first season that’s really taken a beating over the years, but it’s still in great shape and I probably wear it once a week on average. I’ve mended a hem that came loose on one of my shirts once but other than that, they have all held up really well through consistent wear.
Q: What’s the most meaningful thing someone has said to you about your clothes?
A: Every review or email we receive from a happy customer genuinely makes my day. I still pinch myself when I think about all of the interesting people walking around in their Power Of My People shirts.
The owner of the production house that sews our shirts is a very hard working business woman with extremely high standards and very little tolerance for nonsense. A while ago, I was thanking her for the beautiful work her team had done on our recent batch of shirts, and how grateful we were for their support. She responded by telling me that she sees the passion we have for what we do, and that she shares that love as well. I respect and look up to her so much, that hearing her say that meant the world to me!
Q: Talk me through how you decide on new styles and how often to release them. How do straddle keeping up with what’s “in” vs being reliably classic?
A: We tend not to try and keep up with current stylistic trends. We obviously want to provide items that people see value in and that will work with the rest of their wardrobe, so things like fabric colour and how we style our photoshoots do matter to a certain degree. But apart from pocket details, we haven’t changed the design of our core pieces since 2015.
Our strategy for adding new items is more about items that we will continue to supply from season to season – rather than what pieces are popular at any given time. Trend/novelty items have their place, but that’s not an area of the closet that we’re interested in.
Q: Your naming conventions are really neat. The “Philosopher,” the “Friend,” to name a couple. Talk to me about these personas you’ve embodied in garments, and where they came from.
A: We’re quite a people-centric company. A mantra we adopted from the beginning is that our shirts are defined by the people who wear them. They are such classic pieces, true clothing chameleons and each person is inherently unique in the way they wear them. In turn, we liked the idea of each shirt adopting their own persona, as somewhat of an ode to all of the interesting and inspiring people we’ve interacted with because of Power Of My People. Both Kyle and I are fascinated with people’s expertise and vocations, so I love searching for new names or characters every season and writing a little poem in their honour.
Q: What were some of the challenges to overcome in launching and running a garment business in Canada?
A: We aren’t able to compete on price the way other companies can that produce offshore or source their fabrics from lower priced parts of the world. Kyle and I want to ensure that everyone that touches an aspect of our company receives a fair wage, works in a safe environment, and is able to go home after their workday. We choose to source and operate in regions that value the same expectations that we do for their working populations.
I consider myself lucky to be a business owner in the hay day of e-commerce. We have the ability to reach so many more people than previous generations, and can run our business without the restraints of a wholesale or brick and mortar business model. This reach means that we can be specialists within the niche of slow fashion and still be a successful business.
Q: Personally, do you ever struggle with not being able to afford clothes? As a business, what considerations do you bring to making your pieces affordable as possible while still being profitable and honouring a conscious process?
A: I definitely have financial restrictions when shopping for my wardrobe. I enjoy keeping my wardrobe small and wearing most things in it very frequently. Apps like Cladwell are a great tool that help me to expand the creative limits of my closet. My first aim when shopping is to support local companies like ours (Iris Denim is a great Canadian denim company that I love, for example), but if I don’t have the budget to do so, I will thrift (I’ve found most of my beloved Winter coats this way). This is the balancing act I apply in order to love what I own and stick to both my values and my budget.
My thoughts on affordability and slow fashion are that a person’s wardrobe is very personal and intertwined with their own lifestyle and priorities. There are a million solutions and zero rules when it comes to the problem of over consumption. As a company we like to promote the ‘buy less – wear longer’ approach, while keeping our prices as low as possible by selling direct online – but we don’t expect our customers (or ourselves) to adhere to this formula only. Sometimes it does feel restrictive – especially when you feel ‘priced-out’ of certain slow fashion strategies or specific clothing items. But if this is the case, I hope it sparks creativity and perhaps the discovery of more ways that we can challenge the status quo.
Q: What do you see for the future of Power Of My People and the slow fashion world?
A: I love supporting other small slow fashion companies. The idea of scattering the fashion industry into a plethora of micro brands that all bring a different approach to the industry really excites me!
As far as Power Of My People goes, I’m having the time of my life working on this company – I just want to keep going and to do our part pushing the industry in a positive and sustainable direction. I want to continue to meet and collaborate with people that share our vision, I always want to be proud of what we produce, and I want people to feel confident and powerful when they wear their POWER OF MY PEOPLE clothing. If we can do all of that, I’ll be more than fulfilled!
I hope you enjoyed our Q&A! Jessica’s answers really gave me a warm feeling about the future of fashion, the democratization of it from both a business perspective and a consumption perspective. If you got this far, thank you for reading!
Click here for 20% off full-priced items on Power of My People’s site until April 31, 2020 with code PETRASPRING
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