Welcome to My First Year as a Creator, a series where we ask creators how they got started, and how they have gone full-time doing what they love the most.
“I always knew I [wanted to do fashion],” says designer Jamie Dawes. “There was absolutely no question about it.” Jamie is the mind behind Fyoocher, a Vancouver-based clothing label as well as “a movement, a positive shift, and a community,” as the brand’s manifesto reads. Sustainability has always been a number one priority for Jamie, who studied at British Columbia’s Wilson School of Design before going on to work for a number of companies within Vancouver’s tight-knit apparel industry.
After a design stint at a less-than-sustainable startup, Jamie decided to go solo, quietly launching Fyoocher in 2020, with the help of a handful of friends. “The main goal when I started this company was finding a way of balancing my love of design and creating things with my contradicting feelings about our already oversaturated fashion industry. How do I do what I love, without creating any more waste?” she says.
Each of Fyoocher’s one-of-a-kind garments — including the brand’s viral Wave Pants and U Tops — are produced in small batches, made from upcycled and deadstock fabrics, sourced from thrift stores and local manufacturers. The goal is to reduce textile waste, first at a regional level, and then globally.
In the eye of today’s breakneck, social media-driven trend cycle, scaling an independent fashion label while remaining sustainable isn’t without its challenges. Regardless, it’s not something Jamie’s not willing to tackle. “I’m still trying to figure it out,” she admits. “But I definitely will not compromise sustainability to grow my business.”
Between sourcing fabrics and sewing her latest creations, we caught up with Jamie to talk the ups (and downs) of Instagram, as well as beating burnout as an entrepreneur.
Can you tell us a bit about your career journey before launching Fyoocher and becoming a full-time entrepreneur?
I always knew I [wanted to do fashion.] There was no question. I went to Kwantlen, the Wilson School of Design in Richmond just outside Vancouver. Then I worked in the industry for a few big companies in Vancouver, for a big outdoors company, and then ended up being the head designer of another upcycling company here.
You worked for a few big fashion brands in Vancouver before launching Fyoocher. What pushed you to leave your 9-to-5 to build your own business?
After working for a big outdoors company in Vancouver, I ended up becoming the head designer for an upcycling startup company. Unfortunately, they were starting to do some shady stuff in terms of sustainability, and I didn’t really want my name associated with them. I’d been wanting to quit for a year, and had been looking for a new job at another company in the city. But sustainability has always been such a big thing for me and there was nowhere, really, in Vancouver that had the same values as mine. I was really torn between just going to work for another big company and getting a good paycheque, or trying to do something a little different. Eventually, I started toying with the idea of starting my own brand.
How did you prepare yourself to launch your business?
About four months before I quit, I really, really started to focus on my brand. During those months, I tried to save as much money as I possibly could. I started Fyoocher in my apartment, so I already owned all the sewing machines. I just started out small: I designed three pairs of pants and started selling them to my friends rather than having this huge launch.
Could you tell us a bit about how you grew your business during its first year?
I don’t have a huge business background, and I’m definitely more on the creative side of things. I’ve found out that running a business is extremely difficult!
In terms of growing my business, however, I’ve found that having an Instagram presence has been key. My business really grew from a few core products that became really popular on social media. I gifted a pair of the Wave Pants to an influencer in Atlanta and that did so well for me. I woke up to 1,000 new followers and I was like, “Holy sh*t, this is really cool. Maybe the influencer thing does work!”
Social media is crucial to getting your work out there. Can you tell us about the unique experiences and challenges you’ve faced using social media as a small business owner?
In the beginning, I would always be on Instagram, telling myself it was for research, keeping up with trends and seeing what people are wearing. I would just be constantly looking at images, but it was actually really detrimental, because it would just cause me to doubt myself and what I was doing. Trying to stay on trend isn’t what you should be thinking when you’re designing something, because by the time you see it on social media, it’s already old.
I think social media is a necessary evil. At the end of the day, I wouldn’t have a business if it wasn’t for Instagram. That’s where all my audience and customers have come from, so it’s a really positive thing as well. It’s just about using it in a way that’s beneficial for you in the moment — which, right now, is always changing. Sometimes I’m really into it, and other times I don’t want to look at my phone [laughs].
My advice would be to just really focus on what you’re doing, and try not to get overwhelmed by how quickly other people are working.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your first year?
I think the biggest challenge for me has been figuring out how to sell an X amount of product every month, while still allowing myself to be creative and explorative as a designer. When you own your own business, you have your studio rent to pay for in addition to the rent on your apartment. I have these bills to pay, but in the end, I don’t want to lose sight of why I started Fyoocher in the first place.
Can you speak with us about how you handle burnout as an entrepreneur?
I think setting boundaries with yourself is super, super important. Like telling yourself, “I’m going to try to only work from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. today.” In the morning, I’ll allow myself time to do things for myself, like working out or just sitting there and having a coffee. Those small things balance out this crazy work life that I have.
I think it’s about not taking things too seriously, as well. The fashion industry is always so “go, go, go.” There’s so much pressure on designers because every day, you’re bombarded with so many amazing designs by other creatives on social media. Trying to take it all with a grain of salt is hard, but at the end of the day, I think working at the pace you feel comfortable is important.
What’s the most important thing you learned in your first year as an entrepreneur?
It was learning that there are things I want to design, and then there are also things that make sense to sell. As a designer, I have all of these ideas of things I’d love to create, but when I actually start making them, I realize that they’re actually too time-consuming to produce and sell. For example, I can’t sell a product that takes 12 hours to make. That just doesn’t make sense, financially, within the market I’m in. If I were to pay someone $25 an hour to make this garment, will it end up being at the price point I wanted?
Before I put out the last dress I designed, I made a bunch of them in quick succession, and hadn’t timed myself during that process. Afterwards, I realized the dress took way too long to make, so I was backtracking, having to tweak the design. That was a huge learning curve for me, learning about time management and realizing what actually makes sense to sell, as opposed to what you wanted to create back in school.
What are some tools or services you’d recommend to small business owners who are just getting started?
It’s so important to understand the ins and outs of Shopify. It’s where I learned how to design a website, track my sales, and get reports at the end of the year for taxes. It’s the number one program I use on the daily.
If you’re just starting a business, I’d highly recommend getting QuickBooks Self-Employed. It’s $10 a month, and it’s literally the only way I know how much money I’m spending on running my business, and how much money I’m making. You review every transaction and separate it into business or personal, which gives you a better understanding of whether you’re making money or not.
I’d also recommend working for a startup company or having a mentor company as a model for how you’d like to run your business. It doesn’t need to have the aesthetic you’re going for, but it gives you a better understanding of whether you want to put out full collections or one style at a time. It also gives you an idea of how often photoshoots are done, how often garments are released, and how often brands interact with their customers online.
What is some advice you’d give to someone who wants to pursue a career similar to yours?
I kind of jumped into Fyoocher wanting to wear all the hats, which I don’t think is the best move. I love designing, but can I sell a product? At the end of the day, you need to know how to sell what you’re making. If you want to start your own company, I’d recommend finding a partner: someone who complements your skillset, and someone you can share responsibilities with, so you’re not doing everything on your own. If you’re a designer, partnering up with a friend who’s a photographer, or a friend who loves marketing would be absolutely ideal.