The elevated ethical loungewear you need for your self care days.
Toronto-based designer, Sammi Smith, created her first capsule collection in five months. After her work contract ended in the summer of 2017, Smith decided to pursue her idea of Soft Focus. She blocked out a few months to work with patternmakers and a production see if she could focus in on what she wanted.
In conversation with Smith, second year journalism student Heather Taylor-Singh discussed the ethics of her brand, and how her background in fashion helped her startup.
Where did the idea for Soft Focus come from?
Sammi: The name was one of the first that I came up with. I think I saw it on a editorial campaign, but it was so clever, and something about it struck me. It was what I trying to do with the brand. The product I’m creating is soft, easy and comfortable.
I worked in the fashion industry for just over 10 years and in the earlier part of my career I was working for different brands. In 2014, I decided to freelance, and I started thinking about if it would be possible for me to start my own line. It was something that had been tinkering mostly in my head for a few years and then in the summer I decided to give myself some time to focus on it 100 percent. Then, I launched my first collection for the holidays in December 2017 and now I’m sort of eagerly diving into the new year.
Why sleepwear and loungewear?
It’s sort of my own lifestyle. I’m naturally a homebody and I like to be on the couch or in bed. When I started freelancing, I was working from home and my routine was to get up, grab my laptop on the couch, and start working. I realized that I had to make some sort of structure out of this, because it would be 6 pm and I still hadn’t changed clothes. I asked myself ‘What is getting dressed for work like now?’ and sleepwear felt like natural extension of where my life was now. It became important for me to invest in my style at home.
Do you have a background in fashion?
I do! I graduated from Ryerson University from the fashion design program in 2007. And since graduating, I worked pretty steadily. What was great about doing freelance was that I got to work with smaller, independent brands in the city and many female entrepreneurs who all inspired me. I would say that with my background in the industry I was familiar with the kinds of fabrics I wanted to use and I had a knowledge of eco-fabrics because I had used with them with brands I had worked with in the past.
Did it take a lot of research? In terms of production and target audience?
Again, because of my background in the industry I had a general idea of what I liked. I knew tencel was my dream fabric, and it was just a matter of finding the buyers that I could work with. When I was building the brand, I knew I wanted women to feel like themselves. There’s a lot of pressure on women constantly to look a certain way, and be a certain way and we always want to look so put together and I always was confused by how comfort and appearance can’t go together. I want women to feel comfortable, and like an easy version of themselves.
What does your first collection consist of?
It’s basically lounge sets and robes, and I have three colour waves in each. I liked the idea of breaking up the sets and thinking about how you would incorporate the individual pieces into everyday life and wardrobe. We’re also doing a limited series of graphic tees, the first one was with Brooklyn illustrator and designer, Lauren Tamaki. We’ll be doing more of those in the future.
Was it important to make your pieces ethical/sustainable?
Yes. It isn’t something I’ve fully explored with my brand storytelling, but it’s coming down the line. I didn’t want to brand In Soft Focus as an eco-sustainable line, I just wanted it to organically be what the brand was about. It’s a really important thing as a business owner and in an industry like fashion that has so many issues around it, like environmental concerns. The way that I approach it subtly is by the fabrics that I’m using.
I’ve always wanted my sets to be made out of natural fabrics and fibres and I just want to work with fabrics that have a positive environmental impact. In terms of manufacturing in Toronto, as a small brand it’s a beautiful way to get the product off the ground. I think if I ever were to take my production outside of Canada, I would have to be working with an ethical factory.
What was the process of creating your first capsule line?
I think this had been living in my head for a few years so when I finally started getting down to actually designing and developing samples and the fit, I had a fairly focused point-of-view for it. From start to finish, I started working with a pattern maker in February 2017, and then in August 2017 I finalized the patterns and got the production ready and that takes 6-8 weeks. It was about a year to get it from concept to production and out into the world. Doing a small, introductory collection was a great way for me to start out.
How are the garments made?
I did all the design and then I worked with local pattern makers to develop them and get my samples made. I have a great factory downtown in Toronto that I’m working with for production.
The denim sets in the collection are made of rayon, but the Palomino and After Midnight sets are made of tencel. Tencel is a dream-eco fabric. It has a nice soft drape like silk and it’s part of a manufacturing process by a company called Lenzing. It’s made of a close loop cycle of production for the fabric, so all waste from the production cycle isn’t carried over into the next. There’s less water waste and material waste. It’s a really fantastic fabric to work with.
How did you justify your price point?
I really wanted to make a product I could afford myself. The sleepwear market is interesting. There’s this gap where there’s really expensive pieces, that I can’t rationalize buying, and then there’s the mass production pieces, and those are great too, but I always looked up to cool, contemporary brands. I wanted to be able to purchase pieces and feel comfortable living my life in it and not be overly precious about it because it’s so expensive.
What are you hopes for Soft Focus?
I’d like to build my online presence and community through social media and the website. I do want to work with retailers, and I think that’s important to building the brand’s identity and awareness. And it’s such a great way to connect with cool shops and the customers. I think especially now, it’s really possible to create these unique ways of making products, selling products, and engaging with the customer community. I also just want to be an awesome female boss.
Purchase from Soft Focus at https://insoftfocus.com/.
Interview & Copy by Heather Taylor-Singh
Photography by Helen Mak
Model Nicole Outkine for Want Management
Assistant Claire McCulloch