I’d had a few very random part time jobs whilst at school (concession stand worker, receptionist in uni dorms, security for the Toronto International Dragon Boat Festival) but my first proper job was during my summer hols between 3rd and 4th years of uni…I think I may have been 21.
I’d lived in Toronto almost all my life before uni; my parents and I had moved to Canada well before the influx of immigrants from China and Hong Kong. There’s a massive Chinese community now (including not one, but two Chinatowns), and my dad had heard through the grapevine that the daughter of the premier cheongsam maker in the city was looking to hire someone for the summer for her boss…a designer with a studio near College and Spadina.
No interview, I just turned up on my first day and was asked to shadow one of the pattern makers – it was such an unbelievable experience, from having no working knowledge of the fashion industry other than an incurable interest…to getting right into the thick of things.
I was responsible for (along with two other girls, Carrie and Sith) everything from making a rough pattern from a sketch, pattern adaptation, grading, some draping, sample cutting and production…and we also took turns working in the retail shop. Our studio produced pieces for two other retailers, and one of the most amazing things to me was the ‘pattern store’ – a library of all past patterns organised by type – trousers, skirts, jackets etc. There was every feasible shape and style in there, and when making a new pattern these were used for reference.
I loved working there, the girls were lovely and it was fabulous getting such an opportunity to work in fashion on that level. I got to know so many people in the garment district – primarily in fabric wholesale and retail – who I still speak to today. When I’m in Toronto I can still get a wholesale discount on dressmaking material, over a decade later!