Tell us about yourself – familial/personal story, education, and prior work.
Born and raised in Vancouver, BC, my love of fashion started at a very early age. By the age of four, I received my first real sewing machine and I enjoyed a lot of mother-daughter bonding as she taught me how to sew.
A moment stands out in my memory of a time when my cousin and I were playing with Barbie. She disappeared into the other room and quickly reappeared with a miniature bathing suit she had sewn herself! The idea delighted me and I honestly think that’s what planted the seed in my mind that I wanted to create fashion.
After graduating from Kwantlen University Fashion Design program and several design and patternmaking positions, I bought a patternmaking service bureau called Fashionmark. In total I spent 20 years perfecting my craft and honing my ability to design excellent fit across all size categories before starting my first fashion brand; Diane Kennedy
What is the importance of ethical and sustainable fashion to you?
Along with fashion, my other true love is gardening. When my son was little, he would play in my backyard often as I gardened and I realised very quickly that I absolutely did not want my young child sitting and playing on a lawn pumped full of chemicals and pesticides. This lead me to think more about what we put in our body, as well, and I made the decision to change our lifestyle to one of a more organic nature.
I guess you could say that when I became a mother, I became a bit more “Mother Earth”, too. From how I take care of my family to how I take care of my business, I want to make sure I am leaving a positive impact on our environment.
In terms of the ethical qualities of my business, when I hear tragic stories of factory accidents in Third World countries, it breaks my heart and only bolsters my resolve to uphold my social responsibility to the global community as a business owner and consumer.
I strongly believe that it should not be anyone’s goal to make a profit at the expense of another’s quality of life.
In general, what is the company Diane Kennedy – its mission, productions, and vision?
Diane Kennedy’s mission is to provide comfortable, yet flattering clothes to mature women of all sizes. We endeavour to accomplish this by ethically working with local factories & vendors and using Canadian made goods where possible.
Being a plus size myself, my vision for Diane Kennedy is a fashion line dedicated to making women feel beautiful no matter their size. We want our garments to find women who have struggled to find clothing that’s tailored to them. We want our clients to feel included and respected by the fashion industry (and by everyone!) by giving them something everyone wants: choice and inclusivity.
Aside from those basic descriptions, what makes the company unique?
Diane Kennedy is unique because nearly everything we sell is made from Certified Organic Bamboo that is knitted in Canada. As well, we only work with Canadian vendors and factories, so we can proudly say we’re truly “Made In Canada”.
The Canadian-made bamboo itself is incredibly luxurious and comfortable to wear because the fibres are very smooth and non-irritating, making it an excellent choice for those with skin allergies. The weight of the fabric gives a very elegant drape without being too clingy. It’s a high-end, luxury fabric with the comfort level of your favourite pyjamas.
On top of that, our line is well known for our fit. While many fashion lines use one pattern to cut their sizes, we create 2 patterns; one for Regular & Plus Sizes, to ensure the best fit.
You sell sustainable, eco-friendly, and organic clothing. What is the importance of these fashion trends?
It’s funny that you should categorize them like that. What others may consider a “fashion trend” has been part of my business model since the very beginning, nearly 10 years ago.
“Fast Fashion” is a real problem in the industry right now. I think it’s incredibly important that both business owners and consumers make choices that contribute to our global community and does not support the manufacturing of poor quality, “disposable” garments. I want to be part of an industry that isn’t the 2nd largest polluter on the planet. We are a business in this industry that creates quality, timeless fashion.
You use organic bamboo. What are the benefits of bamboo for selling clothing?
I love the fact that the bamboo fabric we use is knitted right here in Canada, at a mill that uses eco-ethical practices such as Hydro-electricity and dyeing methods which meet high Canadian Standards. The fibre holds dye remarkably well, and the colours on our fabrics are rich and deep. Our black bamboo fabric is such a gorgeous, true black.
This means that, in addition to being incredibly sustainable (bamboo is incredibly flood/drought resistant, does not require pest/herbicides or water irrigation to quick grow high yield crops) it is also incredibly resilient, making it a long lasting textile, perfect for garments that are expected to be worn often!
You aim to create figure flattering clothing. What does this mean in more concrete terms?
My experience as a plus size woman, in addition to my extensive design and technical background gives me great confidence in my understanding of a woman’s figure and how to highlight our best features.
In my years of dressing women, I pay attention to how we dress and how we wear our clothes. For example, mature women like to have freedom of movement in their back & shoulders, while still having coverage for their arms. As well, women like to have a choice of pant widths to accommodate areas of varying sizes of bumps like at the hips, thighs and knees. A smooth silhouette in the front to accommodate a curvier bust and torso as well as extra fabric in the tummy area are all considered. These are just a few of the things I need to keep in mind when designing to flatter all body types.
What is the importance of a plus-size movement and plus-size garment niche?
While other brands are starting to finally recognize the Plus Size community as a relevant market, Diane Kennedy has always had all inclusive sizing from Small through to 3X.
When I began research for my brand, I came across some very telling comments from women in our target market. It quickly became clear that Plus Size women wanted to shop for the same clothing and brands that are readily available in regular sizes. It was dismaying for them to have to shop in the back corner of the top floor of a department store. These women wanted the respect of not being treated differently because of size.
And so, it became my mission to focus on providing a fashion line geared towards great fit on both plus and regular sizes.
You work out of Vancouver, BC. What benefits come from having the company there?
Vancouver has a burgeoning but thriving fashion industry, fuelled by such local (but internationally recognized) clothing companies like Lululemon, Arc’teryx and MEC. These companies are very well known for their social/eco-conscious practices and it’s wonderful that we are all based in a city that is quickly becoming one of the most well known “green” cities in the world.
Our studio and warehouse is right in the heart of our garment district, where many of Vancouver’s clothing factories are located. This is such a boon for us, as it means we are within walking distance to many of our factories, giving us the ability to oversee production easily.
Where do you see the company heading into the future?
While the Fashion Industry is constantly evolving and developing new fabrications and technology, we like to keep our roots firmly planted in the idea that the fabrics we use are proven to be of exceptional quality. Our clients appreciate the classic look of our items (like our Flex Pant & Serene Pant) and while we are always updating our catalogue of styles, we owe it to our loyal customers to always stock favourites. We are looking towards options for allowing a more personalized experience for our customers.
What other work are you involved in at this point in time?
Several years ago, we launched a brand new fashion line which we can also proudly say is “Made In Canada”. Cherry Velvet Dresses is a line of retro-inspired dresses geared towards women of all sizes (from S-3X) who love the classic look of Vintage/Retro/Pin-up style.
While Diane Kennedy’s core values center around Eco/Ethical practices, Cherry Velvet revolve around challenging the mainstream beauty ideal by catering our designs towards underrepresented sizes and providing empowering content with our social media presence.
What meaning or personal fulfillment does this work bring for you?
I feel so incredibly lucky to be living out my childhood dream. While so many people are tethered to their 9-5, it gives me great joy knowing that what I do every day will make so many women happy. It’s such a pleasure to see my clients in my designs and hear them talk about how great my clothes make them feel (both inside and out)! It’s a satisfying feeling to know that every design I produce is created with love, thought and consideration for how they’re made and who they’re made for.
Any feelings or thoughts in conclusion?
Thank you for the interview. It was a pleasure to chat with you about my passion for size inclusiveness and eco-responsibility in the Fashion Industry
Thank you for your time, Diane.