OOAK Maker Spotlight: AW by Andrea Wong
Spring is just around the corner, and so is market season! There's something grounding about shopping handmade—it's in the simple act of shaking the hands that made the products you're welcoming into your life. It's not just another bag produced in the masses, it's one designed and sewn by Andrea. Shopping handmade facilitates a deeper connection between you and the "things" in your life, which encourages us to consume more consciously and preserve more mindfully.
Join us and shop handmade at the One of a Kind Spring Show (OOAK) this March 28th - April 1st. Every spring and holiday season, Toronto's Enercare Centre buzzes with energy as hundreds of artists and makers enthusiastically share their work. In anticipation of the show opening next week, we've teamed up with OOAK to spotlight 3 participating vendors—just a glimpse of the incredible talent you'll find at the show.
meet Andrea Wong
Andrea Wong is the owner, designer and maker of AW by Andrea Wong, a handcrafted fashion accessories line. She holds a degree in Design from Ryerson University. Prior to starting her own line she spent over a decade designing in the UK and Canadian fashion industries, with her main focus in denim.
Tell us about your background in the fashion industry. What kind of work were you doing and what led you to pull back and start your own brand?
Prior to starting my own label in 2011, I worked as a lead designer in the fashion industry for over a decade, holding influential positions at some of Canada’s top brands. My resume includes positions such as Denim Designer at Silver Jeans, and Head Designer at Aritzia’s in-house label, Talula. They were important cornerstones to my career and stretched me as a designer. At Silver Jeans I had a very hands on experience as a designer, making factory visits and getting involved in the sampling process on the factory floor to create each season’s denim styles and washes. Artizia prided themselves on hiring people with entrepreneurial qualities, and this became my stepping stone to starting my own business. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to travel extensively while working in the fashion industry, with trips ranging from factory visits to inspiration trips. Over time, the long hours and travel took their toll and I began to feel exhausted and burnt out. I was compelled to reassess my ethics and values, as well as my need for better work/life balance. The latter was the impetus for me to leave full-time designing in corporate fashion. I chose to do this despite my lack of a plan; I didn't even know my next step.
I stopped to breathe and to try to figure out what it was I truly valued. I still loved designing, but I wanted to create products that were sourced and produced ethically. Starting AW by Andrea Wong was my counter-response to fast fashion. It was important to me to make items that would be cherished and used over the years. I shifted my focus from designing clothing to accessories, and working with materials like quality leathers that are durable and are enhanced aesthetically with use and age.
What did the transition period look like? Did it take some time to arrive at your new path?
When things came to a head and I left my well-paid design job, I had no plan. When people asked me what I was doing, I told them I was in early retirement. I wanted time to live and figure things out. I spent the summer clearing my head by exploring the outdoors of the Pacific Northwest, but eventually my hands became restless and my mind wanted more. I got into my home studio and started using the materials that I had on hand, which happened to be leather and handwoven textiles I had collected on my travels as a designer. I started working with these materials and making them into large tote bags. A visiting friend insisted on buying one of my totes and wore it for the rest of her trip. I was guiding her around the city one day and we came upon one of my favourite boutiques when she, unbeknownst to me, began to promote my tote bag creation she was wearing. By the fall, my ‘organically grown’ line was in stores across Vancouver.
It seems your time in the fashion industry was important in shaping your current values. What does AW by Andrea Wong stand for, and what kind of products do you seek to put out into the world?
During my time as a designer in the fashion industry, I had first-hand knowledge of how products can be mass-manufactured overseas. It became apparent to me how disconnected you, as the consumer, can become with the items you have in your life. Do you know how the things you have are made? Is this process aligned with your values? I wanted to educate people on the differences between overseas inexpensive mass-production and slow-process fashion. AW by Andrea Wong is grounded in slow-process fashion and involves ethically sourced materials and locally handcrafted production. We seek to create well-designed, functional everyday quality leather goods with the intention of making your life a little easier; pieces that will be with you over time.
We’re surrounded by some pretty incredible landscapes here in Vancouver! We have the mountains hanging off in the distance, and some wild rainforest hikes just a quick drive away. Your IG tells me you spend a good deal of time outdoors! Where are some of your favourite places to escape to?
Coastlines are essential for my escapes, so I tend to spend time exploring the gulf islands as well as Vancouver Island. The forest and the coastlines feel immediately lusher and richer than the mainland. Last summer I went on a backcountry trip around Northern Vancouver Island that took my breath away. Between the incredible wildlife, the changing coastal terrain, rich tidal pools, and camping on a surf-able beach, it was hard to choose a single highlight of that trip. Being remote in the backcountry was more in line with the way I want to continue to explore in the future.
How do you think the local geography has shaped your creative journey?
The incredible environment that surrounds Vancouver has been good for me in finding balance in my creative practice. I can get overly focused and absorbed working in my studio. Being outdoors and being removed from my studio work gives me a chance to clear my head, and get some fresh air and perspective. In the winter, I am fortunate to go snowboarding during the week on our local mountains, which have some of the best winter sunsets. In the summer, when I am not in the studio I am usually on my bike or exploring the mountains and islands.
I like that you might not immediately think ‘west coast’ when you look at your line of accessories, but it’s clear that nature is a huge part of your creative practice. What elements of your work in particular borrow inspiration from your surroundings?
My design lines are clean and restrained, focusing on functionality and design. However, my material choices reflect my west coast roots. One of the first materials I used and continue to work with is a waxed cotton canvas. This material is water repellent and perfect for the wet climate of the Pacific Northwest. My rugged surroundings have also inspired me to choose leather qualities that age well with use from exposure to life's elements. My product names draw inspiration from the surrounding gulf islands and environmental landmarks. For example, the Galiano pencil case is named after a gulf island I biked from end to end on a camping trip last summer.
As a first time vendor with One of a Kind, you must be getting excited for the big show! How has the preparation process been going? What are you most looking forward to?
This will be the furthest that I have traveled to exhibit for AW. It has been an exciting and nerve-racking process. I will be launching my latest collection for 2018, so I am looking forward to seeing everyone's reaction to the new totes and bags. I have often been told that my more contemporary aesthetic is even more suited to the Toronto customer. I am hoping to confirm this comment.
Aside from the OOAK Spring Show, what’s next for AW by Andrea Wong? Are there any exciting projects or happenings you can share with us?
I have a few collaborations with local small businesses in the works. Nothing confirmed I can speak about, so you will just have to keep watching this space.
Let’s close it off with a couple wild cards, ‘cause they’re always fun! Something you’ve always wanted to try but haven’t yet?
I would like to try backcountry split boarding. I wonder how long I would last since I am not the best hiker in the snow, but I think the fresh tracks and views would be more than worth the challenge.
If you could hop a plane tomorrow and travel anywhere in the world, where would it be?
If I could hop on a plane tomorrow and travel, I would go to Madagascar. I had a childhood obsession with this island after a basic geography class. I would love the opportunity to explore this unique ecosystem.
For more of Andrea's work visit awbyandreawong.com, or meet her in person at the show! We've got a set of tickets to give away! Join us Friday March 23rd on @makersmovement Instagram stories for contest details.