hat if instead of trying to do everything at once, we took a moment to slow down and slip into something a little more comfortable? What if we allowed ourselves the complete freedom to flow into acceptance, to live fully and wholly without the expectation to consume?
For Nicole Purdy, the moments that exist in-between reflection and nostalgia are what continue to inspire the Squamish-based designer's artistic practice. After spending the day fishing in the Squamish River—a hobby she’s recently picked up—Nicole joins me to chat on a rainy Friday night.
It’s impressive that after almost two years of moving into virtual spaces that this would be her first Zoom call, but it provides a little insight into her world; she knows when to tune out from the digital world when it counts, though she wouldn’t say this practice has necessarily been easy. She shares that by moving with a little more simplicity, connecting with nature, sticking to boundaries, and being a good friend to herself and the planet, the experience of disconnecting from the online sphere has become more rewarding than ever.
Nicole discovered that the gift of sewing was an intergenerational offering passed down by her grandmother. They would go through old photographs together and reminisce about old memories, which included her grandmother revealing that the dresses she would wear in those photos from so long ago were clothing that she made with her own hands. Memories like these influenced how she cherished the slower, warm moments: to create products that embrace simplicity, catering to the longevity of our pieces, and timeless design.
Nicole began taking lessons at Sheila Wong’s private sewing studio in Yaletown, where she quickly excelled. Sewing suddenly became the only focus, and her purpose was to create timeless pieces, primarily for herself, to live in. And she did—she would wear her new designs while working as a server and bartender. But soon after she began designing her own clothes, the demand for a “Nicole Purdy” custom fit took off.
From there, Nicole began filling orders with tight turnaround times, and once during a particularly busy period, she discovered what is now her trademark: white pockets. “It kind of started as a bit of a fluke to be honest,” she admits. “I had run out of pocket lining for one of the colours of pants that I was making when I was first starting.” After running it by her client to see if the mismatched pockets would work, she figured, “This was kind of a cool way to get a peek at my pieces without plastering my name,” and it then became her trademark. “There's been a couple of times where I've been walking downtown Vancouver and I've seen a pair of pants and I'm like those are my pants! Then I see the flash of white and I'm like oh yeah, those are my pants!”
It wasn’t out of the ordinary for the artist to create clothes that were uniquely made for herself. Thrifting became a practice that she picked up as a teen and continued when she started her business. “I was just kind of going in [to thrift stores] and finding cool things and being like, this is awesome but if I just tweak this a little bit, say even take out shoulder pads, or—I don't know—make it a little bit slimmer than it will be a little bit more modern. I thought [a garment] had so much potential, and I could change [it].” She reveals, “Then, as my business grew, I found it hard to grow with vintage and that's how I ended up moving into natural fibres.”
Nicole transitioned to using heavyweight linens, specifically using Certified Oeko Tex® textiles. Oeko Tex® approved fabrics contribute less harm to the environment and are ethically sourced, guaranteeing that the textiles are processed without harsh chemicals and dyes. Using natural fibres that are Oeko Tex® approved, paired with her mandate to only produce what she needs through a made-to-order ethos, ensures an end product with zero-waste. “I find having things made to order [means] I don't have any waste. As a matter of fact, I don't have an inventory at all, which is really helpful because I'm never sitting on extra things.''
As we continue to see the influx of trend-based online marketing and the urge to buy quickly and frequently, she admits that she has never tried to push a sale. “I genuinely just want to make things for people and I feel like clothes are something that make people happy.” The connections Nicole makes through crafting a pair of trousers or custom-fit overalls that are unique to her client go deeper than turning a profit. There is an inclination to create a story behind her pieces; for her clients to take home her work and feel like they know just as much about it as they do about her personally. “I want to be a part of that process rather than just making a sale and moving on,” she states, assuring that she crafts each piece individually with complete intention, so they withstand trends and last a lifetime.
“I genuinely just want to make things for people and I feel like clothes are something that make people happy.”
A part of this intentional process is setting boundaries. When we begin to think of sustainability, we seem to only apply it to how we consume. How can we reduce our impact? How can we make small meaningful changes with the materials that we use? And while this is all Nicole’s focus with only using natural fibres, she also emphasizes the importance of self-sustainability––to take care of mental health by implementing healthy boundaries.
“That's [how] I came up with the webshop opening. I started saying that I would only allow a certain number of pieces to come in and then once that number hit, I would close my website,” she recalls. “That was my way of saying,Okay Nicole, you're not going to work more than eight hours a day, you’re going to figure out how many pieces you can make each day, and then you're not going to make more than that.” What started as a method to preserve her mental health unintentionally became a brilliant marketing plan. During a webshop opening, she finds that sometimes her clothing sells out in ten minutes. “I definitely need to figure out a system because I also don't like fast buying,” she says, emphasizing the importance of having her clients and friends think critically about the desire to buy quickly and frequently. “But for now, my mental health is my number one priority.”
Sustainability applies to all facets of being—from the way we take care of the planet, to the way we take care of ourselves. The moments that require us to slow down become a workshop of trust to create tighter bonds all around us. “I’ve never wanted to be a big brand that is constantly trying to push you to buy something. At the end of it all, I just want to be your friend,” Nicole says. “The friend that happens to have strong values and sometimes has the more tough conversations about buying less, loving Mama Earth, and slowing down to take care of your dang mental health!”
“I’ve never wanted to be a big brand that is constantly trying to push you to buy something. At the end of it all, I just want to be your friend,”
The effortless moments where the intersection of comfort and familiarity meet is what Nicole brings us back to: do not overcomplicate the process by doing too much and do what's realistically possible instead. What if we did take a moment to slow down to take in the pleasures and small joys that simplicity brings? Nicole tells us that those moments and memories are the ones you end up reminiscing on and cherishing for a lifetime. “I try to bring that to my designs by creating pieces that are simple and effortless. Where you feel comfortable, relaxed, and most yourself when wearing them.”