Ethical and Wearable Art

Photo by Mark Bergin

Photo by Mark Bergin

One of my Enchanté columns from April 2014

By Mark Bergin

Joanne Langlois has spent much of her career promoting other artists and causes. She excels at it. Now it’s her turn to be promoted.
Always creative, her current project, and destined to be her biggest ever, is Twirl Designs. She first described the concept to me over a year ago. Now it’s taking shape.

Although I won’t be surprised when I see her collection in New York or Paris, Joanne wants success to come from within Canada first.
Twirl Designs is a venture with integrity and class. Joanne Langlois has established a fashion collection and she isn’t searching Third World countries for cheap labor to produce it. She’s got the quality she wants within our own borders.

She wants to reflect the quality of her culture in as artistic a manner as possible. Art is something I can get behind. Even better is art you can wear.

According to international rights organizations, Bangladesh has more than 4000 sweatshops. Hundreds of people have died in them. Fires. Poor working conditions. Industrial accidents. The Guardian (UK) reported that, in a typical incident, dozens of workers jumped to their deaths and more than 100 were injured when a fire swept through a sweatshop that made clothes for The Gap.

You won’t have to worry about that with Twirl Designs. This Canadian company won’t be using exploitative settings to cut costs. You’ll have a clear conscience when you purchase and wear Twirl.

“Know that the clothes are comfortable and flattering on most body types,” said Joanne. “These aren’t cookie-cutter fashions that come out of factories. We have to look at the social footprint we leave. We’re creating jobs and promoting art.”

She said that when she attended a recent event where her fashion line was on display, people told her she could have the clothes made cheaper if she went offshore.

“They’re missing the whole point,” she said. “The purpose is to promote art in an ethical way.”

We sat down last week and wound along an interesting path of topics.

It was interesting to see how much easier it is for Joanne to promote the creativity of others than it is for her own creations. That’s not a bad thing. There are too many people in the world going, “me, me, me.” Still, when the focus is on her, there’s an awkward sense that she’s squirming to get away from the spotlight.

Born in Toronto, Joanne moved to Kingston to attend Queen’s University for a degree in history a couple of decades ago. I asked if she ever sat in her history classes and imagined she’d be launching a clothing line in the future.

She burst into laughter.

“You’re assuming I went to class,” she said.

Thus goes a conversation with her. Behind all seriousness is a playful approach to life.

“I realized pretty close to graduating that I was going to be qualified for nothing after my degree, so I went back to school in Toronto for a post-grad program in public relations at Humber College.”

By then, Joanne had fallen in love with Kingston and a man, Paul. With her heart in Kingston she came back to live and put down roots. Joanne and Paul will be celebrating their 23rd anniversary this June. They have two daughters. Those are pretty solid roots.

She’s established Twirl Designs. It’s mostly local; it’s all Canadian.

“Art has always spoken to me,” she said. “For years, in many ways, I’ve been spoiled by Heather Haynes art. I started to think about her art on fabric. Clothes are something I love. Heather taught me over the years to dream big and to put it out there. There’s something to be said about the way she approaches things. She always said, ‘There’s no reason why this can’t be as big as you want it to be.’ I’ve learned a lot from her about optimism.”

Joanne is living her dream of creating a clothing line. She’s put together a talented team. Twirl uses fabric made in Montreal, which is shipped locally to another site in Montreal where the design is applied. Then Joanne works with fashion design consultant Olivia Coughtrey to get the clothes made.

The inaugural collection features the paintings of Heather Haynes.

“Heather has been kind enough to trust me with her images to launch the line,” said Joanne. “The whole idea behind this is to support Canadian art.”

In the longer term, Joanne’s hopes to see her creations in higher end gift shops across Canada.

“For places that want something less gimicky but want to offer a piece of Canada for Canadians or visitors to take home,” said Joanne. “It would be great for a place like The Bay to pick up a line like this.”

I can see Twirl Designs fitting nicely at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) or the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

“I’d love to see Twirl in department stores,” she said. “I’d love to see Twirl grow large enough that artists are being supported in their work. All the designs are simple with clean lines. The art is timeless. I love the idea of having three or four of the same kinds of dresses featuring the work of different artists.”

Where does she find the energy for all her projects?

“I like to challenge myself and see what I’m capable of,” she said. “As I get older it’s one of those things. I’ve always tried to live by the rule that if I have the thought, I can do it. Like if you have a nice thought, you should say it to someone. I’ve always tried to follow through. I don’t ever want to be in the situation of thinking, ‘what if?’ or ‘if only.’ And in that way, I don’t feel the stress of work. I’m not living with regrets.”

She explained that Twirl now involves a team of Kingstonians.

“They keep me upright,” she said. “I would like to see a centre in Kingston where the products are made. Know that the clothes are comfortable and flattering on most body types. Twirl is on the higher end of affordable. Maybe someone can’t afford a $5000 painting, but they can wear leggings displaying the art.”

The clothing has a diverse and wide age appeal.

“My kids are into the clothing,” she said. “Their friends really love the leggings. At the same time, women who are forty-something can wear Twirl Designs.”

In the next few months, the Twirl website will be launched. In the longer term, Joanne hopes to take things further afield.

“We’ll be marketing outside Kingston,” she said. “I love that we’re able to have niche success in Kingston, but I’m hoping for Kingston to be a small part of the bigger picture.”

For more information: info@twirldesign.ca (future website: twirldesign.ca); http://www.facebook.com/twirlclothingdesign

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About Mark Aidan Bergin

Writer, editor, photographic artist specializing in dance, theater, concert, fashion and street photography....sometimes musician. Explorer of arts, culture and world, and all things Celtic and Gotham. On a good day, or perhaps a bad day, simply a mad (FOOBAR, not angry) scientist.
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