A graduate of Ryerson's Fashion Design Program, the 29 year old business woman just celebrated Victory Patterns' first anniversary.
I had the pleasure of making her acquaintance after capturing her delightful vintage street style no less than 3 times last year. Recently, I visited her studio in Chinatown to talk about her personal life and latest success.
TorontoVerve: Tell us a bit about yourself before Victory Patterns.
Kristiann Boos: I was born in Trinidad and mostly raised in Leduc, Alberta, where you had to make your own fun. I was crafty – always making stuff and taught myself to sew. There was this great second-hand store where I lived and it was my favourite place to shop when I was 10 years old. My mom would really get mad at me for buying other peoples’ clothes, but since then I converted her so she’s all about Value Village. I was always interested in making clothes and looking for thrifty places to shop and find treasures.
TV: That's interesting because when I was that young, I always thought of ‘other people’s clothes’ as hand-me-downs and didn’t want to wear them. I always wanted to wear new clothes. So how does someone so young see the value in vintage clothing?
KB: My dad always loved to take me to garage sales when I was a little kid and I think I got the bug for looking through people’s unwanted stuff and finding really awesome things. And when I realized that there was a store for that, it was great. So, essentially, I could go to a garage sale whenever I wanted. My parents also exposed us to old movies. We weren’t really allowed to see new releases because there were so many wonderful old ones like Cary Grant's Arsenic & Old Lace, Betty Davis' Whatever Happened to Baby Jane and every Danny Kaye movie under the sun. So I guess I grew an appreciation for vintage styles without realizing it. I still wear clothes that I bought when I was 13.
[Kristiann is wearing her original Nicola design -- a simple wrap dress for beginners that features floral detailing throughout with a petal skirt and sleeves. A second style option incudes a waist length wrap blouse with a waist sash that ties into a bow.]
TV: And they still fit?
KB: (Laughs) I guess I’ve been the same size since I was a kid. I had my growth spurt really young. It’s funny – I was wearing this coat the other day and a woman asked ‘where did you get that’ and I told her that I had it since I was 12 – that sounds really weird, but it’s true (laughs).
TV: Did you make a lot of your own clothes growing up?
KB: Yeah, I did. When I was a kid, it was customary to go to a seamstress to have your clothes made so I was used to going through pattern books, but then I realized that I could make my own clothes exactly how I wanted them. Obviously, starting out, my creations didn’t look very good because I wasn’t a good seamstress. I even experimented with materials that you wouldn’t normally use for clothing – like curtain fabrics.
TV: What was the first outfit that you were most proud of?
KB: When I was 11, I first made a terry cloth shirt with my sewing machine. I thought it was amazing. It was a towel so it didn’t have any stretch. I made it to fit me exactly and I could squeeze into it, but the only problem was that I couldn’t get out of it so, in the end, I had to cut it to free myself.
TV: What were some of the creative jobs that you held?
KB: I really love art and painting and being creative in any way. I worked freelance in fashion as a stylist and designing costumes. I used to make mascots for children’s theatre and sport teams – like the Raptors.
TV: You made the Raptor?
KB: I made the Raptor.
TV: That’s awesome!
KB: I also made the Kraft Peanut Butter Bears and the Kool-Aid Man. When I was a kid, I always wanted to work for the Jim Henson Creature Shop. That was my dream job, but if I wanted to live in Toronto, building mascots was the closest I was going to get to it. I did it for two years and it was really fun, but in the end, I wanted to start my own business.
[Kristiann is wearing her original Simone dress -- a semi-fitted style featuring a front contrasting placket and tab detail with pleats extending from the placket. The back features a contrasting racer cut yoke. Style variations include a dress with an asymmetrical hemline and tank top.]
TV: When did the idea of Victory Patterns begin to take shape for you?
KB: Two years ago, Etsy was really taking off and all these people were starting small businesses and they were doing well – doing something that they really loved and I wanted to do that. So I had all these ideas for Etsy shops - like a vintage store. I spent a lot of money collecting vintage clothing, but it didn’t go anywhere because it wasn’t what I really wanted to do. I teach sewing lessons at the Workroom and one day I noticed that they were selling a lot of Japanese pattern books that provided instructions to create your own clothing. There was something really special in the way that these patterns were presented. They were similar to a lookbook for a clothing line. I loved the concept so much that it inspired me to start my own online DIY clothing collection.
TV: How did you come up with the name Victory Patterns?
KB: I wanted a classic name -- something that described the feeling of excitement and success when you accomplish something that you’re proud of.
TV: Your blog says that you desire to create an ethically-produced clothing line. Can you explain what that means?
KB: If I were a fashion designer, I’d want to make sure that every aspect of my clothing line production was ethical. For instance, I’d want the people who were involved in the manufacturing to be happy and treated fairly. I’d want to minimize the waste of fabrics and paper. Sometimes people are displaced to make room for crops to grow certain fabrics, and that would be an issue for me. Also, I’d want to exclusively use organic fabrics. Sadly, there are a lot of corporations that produce clothing using child labourers or cheap labourers in harsh conditions. Sometimes, the bigger you are, the less control you have over those things. If I had a fashion line, I don’t think I’d want it to ever get that big. I’m a terrible business person (laughs) because I should venture into business wanting it to be as big as possible. All I want is just enough to live happily and make sure that everything I do is done in an ethical way. Victory Patterns allows me to stay away from questionable labour practices. The same way that we're concerned with where our food comes from, I think it’s also important to know where clothing comes from, how it’s made and its negative impact. Sewing your own clothes allows you to step away from purchasing fashion that may be produced unethically.
Also, there's a question of disposability. You'll likely wear an outfit longer because you've devoted your time and love into making it. I believe that fast fashion is not practical and sewing your own clothes help keep them out of the dumpster.
Finally, there are so many clothing lines in existence that I would feel overwhelmed jumping into that arena. It wouldn't be meaningful for me nor do I feel my work would be meaningful to potential clients in an already over-saturated market. I support those designers and I'm excited for them, but right now, this is the right path for me. Despite the fact that many brands are not concerned with the environment or human condition, it’s great to see a few clothing companies who share my values and are working towards making a difference.
TV: How would you describe your designs?
KB: The first collection is classic and vintage-inspired with special details. I try to create dresses that have multiple variations from each other. They’re feminine and not as trend focussed as what’s in stores. The new collection is more modern and each design is unique, which will appeal to a broader range of people. I like many different styles of fashion so it’s really tough for me to settle on just one style aesthetic.
When I style future collections, it’s going to be tricky for me because I want to veer off into a completely different direction – something super ultra contemporary, but I don’t want to abandon my customer. It’s like Radiohead -- each album is completely different and the band grows with each one. It’s really nice when you can evolve as long as your customer is willing to evolve with you. I just have to find that balance and make sure that people are ready for whatever changes I make. I’m still trying to figure out my brand.
TV: What’s it like knowing that your designs are recreated by people all around the world?
KB: It’s amazing to think that someone in Australia, Malta or Thailand is wearing something that I designed. A lot of people have sewing blogs so they will often post the final result. It’s shocking to see how different each version can be because people’s bodies, fabrics and prints change each time. Sometimes it really works – other times it doesn’t. My designs change as much as their creativity allows because they can interpret the design in a lot of different ways. And it’s really nice to see the variety that comes from other people’s creations.
TV: Are your designs influenced by what goes on in your life?
KB: Yeah, I think it’s like that with any kind of art or design. Whatever is going on in your life will reflect your art. And this last collection was really hard for me to pump out because this has been a very difficult year for me.
TV: How has it been difficult?
KB: It was difficult because I moved in with my boyfriend the same week that I started working on my business, but when it finally launched, our relationship ended. It’s hard to end a relationship with someone you saw your life with and still have the strength to focus on your business. This whole experience has been a process where I had to invent and discover. I didn’t know how to create these patterns. I had to learn how to do that, which took a long time. Also, I’m not really a business person or marketer so to embark on this journey was very arduous. I also moved 3 times this year and experienced a lot of deaths in my family -- so there’s been much instability in my life. But now, I’m feeling a lot better and more excited about the business.
[Kristiann in her studio]
TV: How do you find the inspiration for your creations?
KB: A lot of it is what I like to wear or want to make for myself -- whatever is missing from my closet. I’m really inspired by delicate vintage clothing. My mom had given me clothing that was made for her in Trinidad from the 60’s and 70’s and they’re among my favourite pieces. I also really love high fashion and Japanese design -- although it’s completely in contrast with what I design. I’m really drawn to vintage because it’s all I ever had in my closet. I love the craftsmanship of anything from 1950’s and beyond, but my most relatable decade for style is the 70’s and it’s what I prefer to wear a lot today.
TV: I love some of the names of your designs: AVA, CHLOE, ANOUK, HAZEL & ROXANNE -- how do you come up with the names and do they represent someone significant in your life?
KB: Sometimes they do represent someone in my life. Anouk is my best friend. Chloe is my 3 year old niece. Roxanne is an old friend who I think is really edgy and awesome and that particular design has a soft edginess. Madeleine and Simone aren’t anyone I know, but I wanted French names because we’re Canadian and we need to represent the French. Ava is from Ava Gardner. Lola is a really beautiful name that I love and is inspired from the Eric Clapton song, Layla. Hazel is a character from the book Watership Down. And Nicola is a good friend of mine who passed away a few years ago. That pattern is special to me because it gives to a charity that her mom chose for her, Peace One Day. $1 dollar from each sale of the Nicola design is donated to that organization.
I try to create some kind of relevance with the names of my designs. If I’m at a loss, I’ll just pick a name that I like.
TV: Victory Patterns celebrated its first anniversary on November 28th. Congratulations! Take us back to the launch date. What was that day like?
KB: My brother is very supportive and I couldn’t have done all of this without him because he’s my web designer. He was just as committed to Victory Patterns as I was. We had to spend many weeks building the website. We worked like crazy and pulled all-nighters on his couch. There were many times when we were supposed to go live, but we didn’t. The launch had to get pushed back day-by-day. When it actually happened it was so exciting -- especially after I made my first sale within a few hours. And it was amazing when I was contacted by bloggers who wanted to interview me. Victory Patterns slowly began to spread bit by bit.
TV: What would you say is Victory Patterns' highest moment so far?
KB: I don’t really feel that Victory Patterns has reached its full potential because I haven’t put enough energy into it and that’s been bothering me lately. But I definitely feel that having an online following all over the world is wonderful. On our anniversary, it was so nice to receive words of encouragement from people online saying, “you’re my favourite independent designer.” The most important thing to me is having a personal relationship with my clients and my regret is not making the time to connect with them in the way that I want.
[An old photo of Kristiann's parents, Nigel & Jackie Boos]
TV: How did you celebrate your first anniversary?
KB: I babysat my little niece Chloe and my brother came to hang out with me. He’s like my business partner. My sister later joined us and we had Thai food and wine.
TV: To what would you attribute to your success?
KB: I think there’s a lot that needs to happen before I can say that I’m successful. But I think that the knowledge that I built from teaching sewing at the Workroom is a big factor. Teaching inspired me to start my own business and allowed me to talk to people who are in my market and find out what they need and where they’re at.
TV: Now that it's been a year later, what have you learned about yourself and what you've created?
KB: I’ve learnt that I can be a workaholic and I need to work hard to find balance in my life. When you really love what you do, it doesn’t feel like work, but it’s annoying to everyone else who cares about you. So you have to be careful. Also, I’m a little wiser and slowly learning about business and people. Lastly, I’ve learned that I’m a very hard worker when I’m really passionate about something; otherwise, I’m lazy and useless (laughs). But I think there’s still a lot for me to learn.
TV: What can we expect from Victory Patterns in the future and where do you envision the company going?
KB: Right now I’m not working on patterns, but a special project that I can’t share until Spring. However, expect to see new patterns from me in Fall 2013.
TV: So you had a rough year -- are things picking up for you on a personal level?
KB: Definitely. It’s the first time that I’m single in a long time so I’m really enjoying being on my own and doing things for myself. I’m living with two friends in a very positive space. I’m spending more time with people who I really love and I’m making sure that the relationships I have are meaningful. I also feel that I’m a lot stronger, but it’s hard running a business on your own because the to-do list is so massive and sometimes I feel I’m not going to get anything done.
TV: How do your parents feel about all that you’ve accomplished?
KB: They’re super supportive. They’re really happy that I’m able to do something with my degree in fashion (laughs). They’re proud of me no matter what I do and help me any way they can.
TV: Do you have any advice for any budding designers who are still looking for their big break?
KB: I don’t feel that I’m qualified giving advice -- it took me a long time to figure out this niche. It’s difficult getting a job in the fashion industry and very hard to be a designer in Toronto. Aside from freelancing, I’ve never really worked in fashion. In fact, I’ve purposely stayed away from fashion.
I guess my advice would be: if you’re passionate about something, then constantly put yourself in situations where you’re going to get inspired -- like I did with teaching sewing. If you do that, then you will find your path.