A Victoria-based fashion line is breaking with industry norms and is inviting people to see how their clothes are made up close.
Ecologyst, a company started in 2013 as Sitka by René Gauthier, is expanding downtown with a new outlet that serves as an all-in-one factory and storefront.
At their new location on Store Street in the historic Powerhouse building, ecologyst’s stitchers and sewers will be upfront and visible, making the products that are sold in-store and shipped worldwide.
This visibility is a business practice that Gauthier says is about raising people’s awareness of where their products come from.
“A big part of what we’re trying to solve with this space is, we find people are very disconnected to a lot of the goods that they purchase, but clothing, particularly,” he says.
“And hence, they’re willing to pay $20 for a T-shirt, right? But they don’t see the true cost of that.”
Roughly eight full-time workers will be employed at the new store specifically to make clothing. Gauthier says the profession requires a great deal of training to become proficient, with thousands of hours needed to become an expert.
In addition to creating the clothes that ecologyst sells, these employees will also offer services in repairing and maintaining the company’s products after they’re in the customer’s hands.
It’s part of a philosophy of sustainability that is key to Gauthier’s business.
“Your average garment, they say these days in North America, lives two years from purchase to in the landfill,” he says. “That’s something we’re trying to change too.”
The CEO of ecologyst says his worldview was deeply affected by an accident that nearly claimed his life in 2013. Gauthier was riding his motorcycle on Bay Street and Douglas and was hit head-on.
He was rendered unconscious in the incident but miraculously escaped without any life-altering physical injuries. His outlook on life, however, was permanently changed.
“One of those areas was around business and just how we were doing it, and how the values of myself and our company just totally didn’t align with how we were making our goods,” says Gauthier.
“At that point in time, we were protesting a pipeline… Yet, we were making clothes with polyester and nylon. Those two don’t go together, right?”
Ecologyst now uses all-natural materials, sourced from locations like New Zealand, Ireland and the United States. In addition to their Victoria factory/storefront, they also produce goods with partners in Ontario, Quebec and the U.S.
But perhaps most importantly, Gauthier feels that this new store can be an industry-setting example for how to conduct ethical business in fashion.
“I’m quite proud of it,” he says. “Our industry is a really messed up one right now. I think people know the solutions, but it’s so entrenched in a way of doing things. We’re proof that it can be done in a different way.”
Ecologyst’s new store and factory opened to the public on Friday, July 16, at 2110 Store Street.