envelop: Clothes for women who read

Here's why I think Jim Smith, designer and proprietor of envelop clothing, is different than other fashion designers in the city.

When I asked him about his thoughts on Toronto's fashion culture he said, "Clothing is fun and it's great but it's not important. When people have a Gucci something or other people think they're important but they're not. It's just a bag."

That maturity and experience are what's evident in his designs. Jim's passed the phase of being influenced by larger designers so it's obvious he's only designing clothes that he truly loves.

The shirts that hang on his racks demonstrate what can be accomplished using clean and crisp lines. The fabrics he chooses couple richness with simplicity and I don't think Jim would have it any other way.

He laughs when he tells me of a friend of his, who works at a cafe down the street, overhearing customers saying his store offers clothes for women who read. Maybe Jim's laughing because its been over a year since he's opened his Danforth location and in that time he's surrounded himself with a diverse community eager to try on what he offers.

What has been surprising about owning a store on the Danforth?

Well, the clientele is amazing. It's the diversity of people coming through because in this neighbourhood you automatically think of young families. But then there are people who are coming in to get their yoga fix or their health food fix. Plus, there's a really good gay clientele. There are a lot of gay couples as well as lesbian couples and the lesbian couples were actually a surprise because I never thought it would be a market here. But it's a big market for me.

Where were you before opening envelop?

Before here I was in Yorkville and that was just an awful and horrible year. Before that I was on Church Street for five years and that was really nice because Church Street is like here, it's a community. That's the thing about the Danforth there's a community.

Yorkville was soulless; you didn't feel like part of a community and I just hated it. It was a disaster. It's surprising how few clients there are there. On a Sunday, in the winter in Yorkville, it's dead. Look, this is a vibrant neighbourhood. There's always someone walking up and down the street. Here on the Danforth people really like shopping.

After owning stores on Church and in Yorkville what's your take on fashion culture?

There are a lot of negative things about fashion. The whole branding and the fact that a label becomes important to someone is not something that I really like. Fashion has made it so that it really doesn't matter what a garment looks like. A Prada bag is a Prada bag but it doesn't matter what colour it is. It's Prada.

The importance is put on what you own. Which to me has taken the importance out of designed clothing. So if J.Lo can design a piece of clothing then fashion design has become almost embarrassing. Empty branding happens when something becomes important because of its advertising budget.

Having said that it sounds like I'm a little negative but I'm really not. I love designing clothing and I love selling it. That's why I've set myself aside from the fashion industry.

Do you have a preference in designing for men or women?

I've designed for both for a long time. I really do like designing for men because I can wear it but on the other hand designing for women allows me to be a lot more creative.

Designing for men is really regimented so you have a harder time selling things to men.

Women are more born and bred to shop. It's exciting to them and they do it as a pastime. Women go out and they just buy. But men, there's just not as many shoppers.

Do you think there's a squeeze on designers owning their own operations?

Maybe five years ago everyone was all thrilled that H&M was coming and Zara was coming. Everyone was thrilled, thrilled, thrilled. Now in this neighbourhood people are coming in because they like to know that their clothes are made in Canada.

If you go into some of those huge stores, it's cheap which is fine, but it's not an enjoyable shopping experience. I'm finding that there are people that would rather pay a little more to have a nice shopping experience. Here's you've got a dog, you can have kids running around and toys on the floor and it's really friendly.

311 Danforth Ave.

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