It's well known the fashion industry is dominated by male designers, even when it comes to women's wear.
In Canada, male designers have historically held the spotlight (think Joseph Mimran and David Dixon), but now more and more women are starting to make names for themselves. Despite the lack of representation at some fashion weeks, Canada can attribute several of its commercial successes to women, including Kit and Ace founder (and former lululemon athletica Inc. lead designer) Shannon Wilson and Tristan co-founder Denise Deslauriers, as HuffPost blogs editor Nicholas Mizera notes.
For International Women's Day, we spoke to female Canadian fashion designers to hear their thoughts on what it's like to be a woman in the industry — where they face challenges because of their gender and where they see it as a strength.
Bojana Sentaler, Sentaler
"When I became a mom, I did not fully go on maternity leave as most women do. Being an entrepreneur, you can never stop working, especially in the fashion industry, which is so fast-paced and demanding. Both required a lot of passion and dedication, and sleepless nights.
"As a woman designer, I understand what women want and what they really need. I know what they look for in a luxury coat."
Antoinette Di Carlo, Di Carlo Couture
"While being a female designer/entrepreneur in the fashion industry is beneficial to my namesake brand, it isn't without its pressures. Long hours are involved in pursuing a career in fashion design and when coupled with owning your own business, it can be a struggle to properly balance business and personal life.
"Appearance as a women working in the fashion industry can also be daunting; all eyes are on you. A pressure that I have long realized existed, and has inspired me to make change.
"Since the inception of Di Carlo Couture, I have built a reputation for producing one of a kind pieces that perfectly reflect and compliment women of all shapes and sizes. At Di Carlo Couture, we celebrate women each and every day. It is my mission to empower women by helping them look and feel their very best. "
Felicia Burke, Bazzul
"I could share many sexist encounters that I’ve experienced on the job but who wants to read that tired story again? Pas moi. Instead, I’d like to remind us women that it begins with us. It begins with us teaching others how we are to be treated and also, that you may have to work a little bit harder to get your foot in the door.
"For myself I don’t see it as working harder rather than positioning myself on an equal ground with others no matter who they are or what they do.
"I become most frustrated when it’s women gate-keeping other women, usually out of jealousy or fear of the other doing better than them, and P.S. — the gatekeeping is never subtle. We should be more focused on building an industry that serves all and not one. Nothing can evolve from one.
"Being a female designer designing for women is an obvious advantage. I know what women want to feel like, look like, act like in their clothes. There are things a man — sorry guys — simply cannot understand. A lot of the biggest brands have a male designer behind them, but let me tell you behind him are many exceptionally talented women. Now let’s support each other, ladies and get to the front of that line with style and grace!"
Hayley Elsaesser, Hayley Elsaesser
"I was raised by a single mother, so growing up I had no idea that there were people out there that did not believe that women are capable, amazing people who are worthy. As I grew older that changed. I have seen men’s opinions taken over mine, when I was more knowledgeable on the subject, just because of their gender.
"Occasionally I am not taken seriously as a businesswoman because of my gender, especially dealing with people outside the fashion world.
"Right now I am focusing on helping my fellow women in the industry. I have heard one too many times from healthy, beautiful models that their agencies are forcing them to lose weight or they won’t get work or even be put on their roster. It is so wrong that in 2016 this is still an issue, and it needs to be stopped. This is why I am doing an all open-casted show next week at Toronto Fashion Week. I am showing all different shapes and sizes to prove you don’t need to be a very specific size to be able to show clothes beautifully."
Hilary MacMillan, Hilary MacMillan
"One of the biggest challenges I find being a woman in this industry is lack of support from other female entrepreneurs. We are definitely getting better as a society to have women-supported events, awards, mentorships, etc. but as a whole, women can be more critical of other women. We should be supporting each other and celebrating our accomplishments instead of trying to tear each other down.
"Being a woman designing women's wear brings a personal understanding of the way women want garments to fit. For example, I am always hyper-aware of how undergarments will work with each piece I design. I think it has helped differentiate me from men in my same field because I'm not only thinking about the look, but always the practicality of each garment and how it will transition into a woman's wardrobe."
Ellie Mae, Ellie Mae Studios
"To be totally honest I haven’t had a single moment where I’ve given any thought to how my gender may have factored in to my business challenges. My father and grandfather were amazing business role models for my sister and I. Their steadfast business ethic always demonstrated that everyone was treated with equal respect.
"Truthfully, the creative process is different for everyone; all the little idiosyncrasies that we all bring to the process are not gender-specific in any way. I’m the girl who refused to wear matching socks as a child and that’s what I bring to my craft. Whatever that is, that quirky, intuitive desire to create my own rules, has less to do with my gender and more about trusting my creative process."
Rachel Sin, Rachel Sin
"I think male and female designers face the same challenges in the industry. I don’t think either gender faces any more challenges than the other.
"One benefit of being a woman is being able to try on the clothes and create a proper fitting sample. Fit is so important especially with our line of work wear and the clientele that comes with it. We really want women to be comfortable in our dresses and for it to take them day to night. There is no other way to test that other than trying it on."
Ifigenia Papadimitriou, LaMarque Collection
"I would say that one of the challenges in being a woman, and a young one, would be that I wasn't taken seriously. It definitely is a challenge when it comes to negotiating pricing with factory owners that not only are men but also older than me. We also have factories that are overseas and their mentality is also different. I don't have this issue so much anymore because I have been with the company for many years and I've earned my place.
"On another note, being a woman designer definitely has it's benefits. As a woman, I know what I need out of my clothing. All these wardrobe issues that we have, I always have these in mind and always try to better my product. I know about them because I wear the items and know what feels good and what doesn't. For example, this season for FW16, I decided to make these silk top bodysuits that are perfect to wear with your trousers. They are so perfect because you can bend over and not be worried about anything."