LIKE MOST WORKING PARENTS of teenagers, Donna Smith and Michael Gaughan have their hands full. Donna owns a graphic design firm, while Michael has a magazine production company. Now, the Toronto couple is building a third business together, born out of frustration at not being able to find affordable, high-quality, well-made clothing.
“Clothing has become a throwaway thing,” says Michael. “People are replacing everything, because it’s made so cheaply.”
Donna says her fashion conscious husband “could never find anything that he liked just the way it was, even T-shirts. He’d buy a trench coat, have the collar and cut changed, and everyone would ask him where he got it.”
Last year, Michael became intrigued after reading a magazine article on bamboo fabrics. Before they knew it, the couple began making plans to launch Miik, an eco-centric clothing line named for Michael’s childhood nickname, Mick.
“The idea was to create something sustainable that would last five or 10 years, in a classic style with a little bit of a twist,” says Michael. “People are doing environmental clothing, but they’re not doing it from the style perspective the way Michael is,” adds Donna. “He didn’t want to be one of those companies that just made sacks; he wanted it to be very stylish.”
Michael says that it takes about two pounds of pesticide to make one cotton T-shirt, but bamboo, the world’s most renewable resource, grows like a weed anywhere. It’s also easy to care for and feels scrumptious against the skin. “It has the feel of cashmere, and the drape is really nice,” explains Michael. “It breathes and holds its colour better than cotton. Both women and men like it.”
For Donna, it’s all about comfort. “That’s what won me over. Michael brought me home a skirt he’d had made, and that’s all I wore all summer,” she says. Michael’s the dreamer in the family, while Donna is more of a doer. “We’ve figured out a way to work together, so it’s actually quite fun now,” she says. Donna sketches Michael’s designs, then a seamstress makes up samples out of bamboo fabric custom-milled just north of Toronto. Donna is also the designated fit model, while the couple’s daughters provide loads of feedback.
“Michael is a complete perfectionist, so it’s taking a while to finalize the line, because he wants it to appeal to as many people as possible,” says Donna. Last summer, the couple did a focus group with 50 women aged 18 to 55 to see whether they were on the right track. “That night, we sold about $20,000 worth of clothing,” recalls Michael. “Everyone I’ve shown it to loves it and wants more of it.”
The couple is test-marketing a men’s line at The Brick Shirt House in Toronto’s trendy Yorkville, and have finalized an online catalogue featuring styles named after their nieces and nephews. They hope to introduce the women’s line this summer.
Published in ParentsCanada magazine, May 2010.