Grab some clothes from your closet and check the labels. China. Hong Kong. Thailand. Macao. Odds are that the average fashion fan has very few pieces that actually hail from Toronto.
Thieves designer Sonja den Elzen wanted to change that and make clothes that aren't hard on the earth--or the eye--and are made right here in the T-dot. Now, her store--also called Thieves--has survived its first, recession-nasty year to emerge as the city's best spot to find clothes that are the definition of made-local eco-chic.
This ain't no hippie burlap.
After a half-decade of designing streetwear and a few years dabbling in documentaries, den Elzen wanted to start a high-end line. "The eco-stuff was starting to surface then, and I started researching eco-fabrics," said den Elzen. "I thought I might do a sub-collection, as it would be tough to go from a plethora of fabrics choices to no choices!"
But den Elzen, who acts sustainably in her personal life, didn't want to run her business in an eco-unfriendly way--fabric choices be damned. She started her line, Thieves, in 2006, and, after a successful capsule collection done with fellow eco-friendly line League of Lovers, opened up League of Lovers & Thieves with League's Dana Kiyoko Takeda on Queen West last May. (Takeda pulled out to focus on other pursuits, so now the store is dubbed simply, Thieves. Although, if you're a League of Lovers fan, den Elzen still carries a few of her pieces.)
And the fabric quandary? It's not so bad. den Elzen has at her disposal organic and sustainable fabrics like organic wools and cotton (no pesticides), hemp (doesn't need pesticides), bamboo (sustainable), and peace silk (allows the silk-making moths to live). And there isn't a Chinese-made garment in sight--everything Thieves is made locally. (The store also carries a few other Canadian lines that also adhere to her sustainable mandate, such as Ashley Watson's recycled leather bags.)
den Elzen counts Denis Gagnon and Rick Owens among her influences, saying, "I want my pieces to be unique, but something someone can have in their wardrobe and pull out at different times in their life and it won't be dated. So many designers are continually looking to the past, but I want to design for today's woman. She has a lot of things to do in a day, and I want her to look polished while doing it, but with an edge."
And there are some breathtaking dresses here--a light cream silk mini-dress ties behind the neck, with low, looping pockets that form the skirt ($498), a slouchy t-shirt dress in the same creamy silk ($454), and the spaghetti-strapped mini with a loose, halter-necked overlay. Then there are the effortless separates, like the A-line skirt with the accompanying obi ($142), the high-fashion ruched leggings in organic wool and cotton ($130), and the variety of beautifully draped organic cotton tops in soft grey organic cotton.
The very small men's section is also worth a look, from the cool dark gray organic cotton half-trench [$548] to the gray linen pants with the look of scratchy black denim [$196].
For the more casual customer, there's the usual, less exciting, assortment of screen-printed sundresses, slouchy tanks, and sturdy frocks that feel a little more streetwear.
But the part I loved the most? (Well, after the peace silk dresses.) Each and every Thieves pricetag reads, proudly, "Made in Toronto with love."
Photos by Eugen Sakhnenko