Truth is, we’ve all been doing the most to make do the last few years – zoom birthday parties, FaceTime dates, virtual showrooms & yes, lots and lots of online shopping. We’ve loved seeing our favourite brands and designers develop more robust online presence, a rise in Instagram Story sales and an opportunity to connect with designers and brands in new ways.
Today we’re shining a light on INLAND, Toronto’s ever-evolving curated, online and IRL fashion design marketplace.
Launch back in 2014, they showcased eighty of Canada’s most exciting design talent in fashion, jewelry & accessories, emphasizing both diversity and sustainable collections. In 2020, they launched an online platform, including designers who have participated in the IRL events, plus new designers, in a widely accessible, curated, and consistently up-to-date shopping experience. It was a perfect pivot to continue to expose local talent, to connect and sell during the heights of lockdown.
This year, partnered with Fashion Art Toronto, INLAND hosted their 3-day in-person event at the Design Exchange building in Toronto. At long last, we finally had the opportunity to touch and feel intricate jewellery, funky hats, fine leather bags, and bold expressive garments. A display of how challenging times have been all but a limitation on creativity.
Check out our highlights from this year’s pop-up below.
Ora-C really is in constant exploration and evolution – forever based in a foundation of the imperfection of the hand-made, honouring both tradition and innovation in craftsmanship. Designer Caroline Pham has been immersed in the world of art and design for the last two decades. Starting in NYC as a student at Parsons School of Design she contributed her creativity to a wide variety of industries before returning to Montreal to found Ora-C.
The line captures her expansive creativity, the work itself has evolved greatly since 2015, and there’s magic in Pham’s ability to play in form, weight, and material – how silver and brass are transformed into the most gentle, organic, fluid bows and florals is truly special.
SIDEWALK HUSTLE: How much does IRL experiences – including sales, showcases, markets, or anything else mean to you & Ora-C? How did it affect you to have time away from them? And what did you do during this time? We’re there any opportunities to do anything IRL? Did anything surprise you during that time? And has anything been surprising in the return of events? Anything you’ve noticed about IRL now?
Caroline Pham: I was never a brand to focus on much IRL sale pop-ups over the years to get by. I probably did about 1 or 2 small in-person sale events per year and one big one in Montreal, which was Souk@sat (now called SoukMtl), but that was it. It was never really my main source of income, but more a way to promote my work locally and socialize for a limited period of time.
In fact, before Covid I was putting most of my attention on trying to make my brand visible during the regular cycle of market calendars, and selling my work on a wholesale basis to select stores abroad. I was going to New York, Los Angeles and even went to Paris once to participate or attend in tradeshows specifically catered to wholesale buyers. Over the years, I sold in stores across the US, Canada, multiple stores in Japan and even in places like Panama. I was fortunate enough to have a good run, but this cycle was hard work, expensive, and in retrospect rarely gratifying, as stockists could drop you at any moment, and reaching new store buyers was harder every season.
Of course, this all came to an abrupt stop 2 years ago, and to be honest, for the better in my opinion. When Covid hit, I lost almost all my wholesale accounts. This seemed terrible at first, but became a blessing as I was able to focus on selling directly to my clients via my website and Instagram, instead of relying on brick-and-mortar stores.
I was able to gain recognition online on my own terms, and sell my work for a better margin directly to the people who cared the most about my work. I was also able to focus on creating a showroom space in my own studio, and inviting a masked up / purell disinfected public to come directly in my work space to purchase my jewelry. This slower pace gave my work a new breath of fresh air, offered my clients a much more personal experience (in-studio or via DMs) and opened the door for customization and experimentation.
Now “post-covid”, with shows like Inland, which are slowly making a come back, I am happy to leave my studio to meet people outside my own little space, where I have been hiding for the past 2 years. This IRL experience seemed even more genuine and heartwarming. People have been seeing me grow over the past few years online, and can finally come and meet me in person, and try on my work in person. Some I have been communicating over DMs for months, and I could finally put a face to their instagram handle. It’s like seeing old friends, but while never having met for real. Truly, that is a warming feeling to know we have all made it through a traumatic event, and can rally around pretty jewels to feel better 🙂
SH: Ora-C, and you as an artist is always seeming to evolve in your practise, changing greatly – but carrying such a you thread (tassel pun not intended 🙂 ) throughout – is it intentional to actively change, what is the process of creative exploration to you? And how do you see “brand” or “creative” identity as part of this?
Caroline Pham: Well I see my brand as an extension of myself, and as an artist, I do design my work with the intent to evolve shapes and ideas, like a research project. It’s important to me that I put the journey of my thought process in the forefront of my aesthetic. Resulting in an ongoing directive to create new pieces (but also frankly to avoid being bored by my own work lol). Unlike some other brands, I don’t rely on a few styles or only use my logo to assert my brand. Instead, in order to keep things interesting while solidifying my creative language, every collection is an evolved version of the previous one. That way, there is forever space to evolve, all the while there is no denying that my designs are mine. And so far it helped people recognize my pieces even after years of evolution. At least that is my goal.
On the tassel journey, I have to admit the change towards metal and stones was definitely done with purpose. I had started my work with a fascination for textiles and body adornments, but I simply fell even more in love with metal work as I slowly entered the jewelry world. It felt more durable, and truthfully, I was afraid to be stuck in the tassel corner forever. I became know for tassel jewelry in the ultra hey-days of the tassel trend of the 2015-2018s, and wanted to make sure I would not disappear with this trend’s upcoming downfall. So a slow transition started, going away from textiles and focusing more and more on metal casts and colourful stone combos. I am a self-taught jeweller, and all I wanted was to experiment with my own evolving metal techniques. And I truly never stopped. So here I am, still morphing and forever learning, along side my current floral shapes, girly bows, colourful natural stones and finger-pinched metal casts jewelry.
Wearshop has been a staple at Montreal’s Souk design exhibition since 2018, despite a quality that feels as though it could have existed forever. The ethos of centring Canadian craftsmanship – literally labelling every individual item with the signature of the hands that made it. A vision of a truly circular economy and sustainable and ethical practices with the mission is to extend the life of end-of-leather-production rolls that would otherwise be discarded.
SIDEWALK HUSTLE: How much does IRL ? experiences – including sales, showcases, markets, or anything else mean to you & Wearshop? How did it affect you to have time away from them? And what did you do during this time? We’re there any opportunities to do anything IRL? Did anything surprise you during that time? And has anything been surprising in the return of events? Anything you’ve noticed about IRL now?
Wearshop: IRL experiences are so important for a new e-commerce brand. In my opinion, people love to get to know who is behind the brand. Now more than ever, the world wants to know the values of the brand, and this essentially begins with the founder. I always loved to get to know new people, and one of my favorite things about having a brand is being able to exchange with customers. Their enthusiasm makes all the efforts worthwhile. Wearshop was created for women, and being able to simply bring ease and beauty into a woman’s everyday life really makes me happy. The return of events have been a breath of fresh air. In Toronto, it was the first time I wasn’t wearing a mask, and being able to smile at clients was really nice! We just need to be respectful to one another, wearing a mask is still a sensitive issue. This is the new norm, and we should be respecting the choice of others, whether they choose to wear it or not in a public space.
SH: Wearshop operates out of Montreal & has had such suggess operating locally. We met at Souk & I loved hearing about the adaptations of Souk even throughout the last 2 years – but it was your first visit to a Toronto event. What do you notice about different locations & markets? Do you notice overall differences in locations & their reception to Wearshop specifically as well as their styles of events & event go-ers? What does it mean to have success locally vs. in various locations? Is there anything you’ve done to adjust Wearshop specifically to different places & spaces? What do you hope for the future of Wearshop in different locations and environments?
WS: It was fantastic coming to Toronto, we have a large client base in Ontario, so it was interesting to speak to clients here for the first time. I noticed clients at this event were looking for color, at the Souk, they were mostly buying classic colors like black. Changing location is important, Canadians really respect a made in Canada product, and like I said earlier, there is no better way for someone to discover a brand than with the founder representing it. It allows a
relationship to be created between the client and the brand. Wearshop is open online all over
Canada and the US. We are just excited to participate in more pop-ups and fashion shopping
Admittedly, we were SO excited to see Lo’bat IRL, and paper mache masterpieces were even more stunning than we imagined (and lighter.) The brand is a creative collaboration between two friends, but also a coming together of ideas, industries and varied expertise. Both Golnar Ahmadian and Hediyeh Maadi Tehrani have backgrounds in fashion and jewelry making, with education in Architecture and Chemical Engineering respectively.
Created in 2018, Lo’bata combines diverse interests and mutual passion for encouraging confidence in women – the name Lo’bat comes from an old term used to compliment Persian women meaning “beautiful lady.” Prioritizing their belief that fashion goes beyond consumerism – every piece is handcrafted out of recycled paper, in the most sustainable way.
The work of prolific artist, activist, educator Jason Baerg goes far beyond fashion. However, it was his dynamic line Ayimach Horizons that captured us at INLAND. Baerg is a registered member of the Métis Nations of Ontario, an Assistant professor at OCADU in Indigenous Practices in Contemporary Painting and Media Art, and an internationally shown artist in his own visual art practice (for which he’s been awarded numerous accolades). He brings all of this into his line Ayimach Horizon intended as a “remix of cultural references and projects into spaces of Indigenous Futurisms as materials and pallets share a platform with traditional custom and aspirational visions of transformation”
What we experienced is a connective collection of colour, texture in shape in harmony with energy and story.