The night I did the comp exam for my graduate degree in education, I was doubled over in pain. Shortly after that, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. Having a chronic illness unlocks this incredible creativity you never knew you had, and it led me to question what I was doing and where I felt the most lit up. I’d been teaching for 10 years, but I had this dream that kept resurfacing of being involved in fashion. I read about an intensive fashion program run by Condé Nast, and on a whim I decided to apply. There was a huge business component, and I realized that’s what got me most excited. So I started to write my business plan for Smash + Tess.
Crohn’s gave me some insight into the importance of accessibility. It’s called the invisible disease, mostly because you can’t see from the outside what people are going through. I can tell you it’s debilitating and very painful. Wearing constrictive clothing can really hurt, so part of where the romper came from was that dream of being able to live a big life with ease and confidence. The fashion industry is notorious for tearing down women’s self-esteem. Smash + Tess is the antithesis of that. It’s about uplifting women, making people feel good in their own skin, no matter their shape, size or colour.
I’m very lucky to work with both my mom and my best friend. None of us had a strong fashion background, and in some ways I attribute our success to that, because how we approached the brand wasn’t so much on the creative side, but more looking at what women need. I believe in strength-based leadership—making sure that what you do daily is what you love and what you’re good at. I’m the passionate spokesperson for the brand and lead the team day to day. My mom, Teresa, was a pioneer businesswoman in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and is financially focused, so I have a built-in CFO. And my best friend, Mercedes Laporte, is our style director. So we all do what we love, and it works for us.
One of our core values is responsibility. For us that means we give back to the community that has helped grow and sustain us, whether that’s through charitable donations or using our platform to amplify voices that otherwise struggle to be heard. We also consider our impact on the Earth, so we do small-batch production and made-to-order. The fashion industry is such a culprit of mistreating and underpaying workers, so we keep a careful watch on our production, all of which is done in Vancouver, so we can ensure these talented sewers are getting paid fair wages.
It’s a challenging world right now, but we’ve managed to weather a lot of the pandemic storm. We were in a good position in a number of ways: The product we offered was the right product, and we were offering it through the right channel, which was online. And British Columbia never did get locked down. As a result, we saw a ton of growth. But we continue to be deeply affected by fuel surcharges and the global shipping crisis. Now that people are going back into the office and travelling, Smash + Tess has been focused on leading the charge for new work wear. Because what we all learned in the pandemic was we actually don’t have to sacrifice comfort for style.
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