by Camille Hollett-French 

What’s better than finding that perfectly fitted, high-quality, nearly one-of-a-kind hoody?

When it’s made in your city. It’s an anomaly in the clothing industry, but it’s something for which Clothing Brand Experiment (CBE) is slowly being recognized.

The Toronto brand is the creation of OCAD sculpture graduate, Elly Greene, who’s been developing the Toronto brand since 2008.

She doesn’t have much time to sculpt anymore, but considering sculpting and sewing are both three-dimensional arts, her skills from college years come in handy on a daily basis.

The West-end studio is modest, housing a staff of three employees, one intern and Greene’s two dogs (on days when they’re up to making it in to the office). They share the space with a few Toronto photographers.

It looks like a mostly unfurnished bachelor. Long planks of light-colored wood flooring add a soft creak with every step, a charming touch for the warehouse unit. Along one wall sits a rack of past, current and upcoming hoody and T-shirt lines.

Promo literature is grouped neatly upon the broad table that gives a true sense of the brand, communal and collaborative.  In the back of the room is a kitchenette. A sheet off to the side, hanging from the ceiling, separates the show space from an alcove of boxes and – a refreshing token of a clothing designer’s workspace – fabrics. The whole scene is simple and tidy.  

From conceptualization to finished product, every step that can be completed within a 50-km radius of the space is.  There are no cotton mills in Toronto, this is true, but once the cotton has made it to the city, it’s sewn, treated, labeled, packaged and distributed within its walls.

It’s a well-planned feature of the brand, one Greene wanted for her product to ensure the facet of not only Toronto fashion, but also of sustainable fashion, a development for environmentally and economically conscientious clothing producers and purchasers alike.

It’s a slowly building wave that focuses on minimizing the carbon footprint of the clothing industry.

It seems a difficult task to make one sweater to fit both male and female body types, but with CBE’s super soft cotton and longer fits, it’s a task accomplished with ease: the hoodies and T-shirts either fall nicely around men’s straighter frames or comfortably hug ladies’ more feminine features.

With a specialty in marrying comfort and style, CBE also sets itself apart with its unisex feature: every T-shirt and hoody can be worn by – and is made for – both sexes.

She’ll even get your little dog, too. CBE’s got its own line of hoodies for your pooch. From XS to XL, if you want your pup to be warm (and stylish), CBE’s got you covered.

Human hoodies are comparable to those of other Canadian companies, like the goliath Lululemon but are less stiff and keep their form long after having been “broken in,” something which doesn’t always happen with hoodies made with stiffer and more industrial fabrics.

While a classic Lululemon hoody and a signature CBE hoody from its most recent winter line both go for around $130, CBE customers can rest assured their cash is going to local production and not the pockets of company CEOs after a product is produced for a much lower cost in a third world country.

“It is a little disheartening that as they grew their production had to move. I mean, I get it: It’s cheaper and it’s sustainable in a profit-only margin.”

Greene emphasizes CBE’s values.

“One of the biggest perks of CBE is that it’s more than just a line, it’s a collaboration with artists.”

CBE recently took to the cutting board with Canadian sculptor Lauren Hall, to work on a (totally sustainable, totally unisex, totally reversible) T-shirt. As part of the Limited Artist Lines, this colorful, speckled T can be worn with the scoop neck or crew neck in the front: two looks in one shirt for $45.

Other recent projects include the collaborative work of photographer Suzy Oliveira, illustrator Nik Dudukovic, animator Scott Hayward, street artist Mike Parsons, and illustrator Josiah Gifford, whose super multi-functional T is unlike anything you’d find at your local H & M.

A bearded, perhaps morose, dude drawn in black against a white T, standing pensively with his hands in his pockets, X-ray screen hanging from his neck, bright red organs shining threw. The catch? Wash the shirt, red comes out, start again. Every T-shirt comes with a marker to draw whatever you’d like every single time. Genius.

Every CBE piece comes with some sort of unique feature, be it bold retro colors from the Winter 11.12

Primary Line, the painter’s attire look from the Galaxy Line or the classy yet comfortable finish with the Crew Line.

Whatever the T-shirt, hoody (or matching pants from the Sweats Line) you choose to purchase, rest assured, you won’t see too many fellow Torontonians wearing that exact model. Depending on the line, CBE releases 30-100 pieces, and that’s it. This isn’t your typical Gap or Club Monaco buy.

Pop-up shops around the city are one way to get CBE clothing off the hangers and on the backs of customers looking for something different yet affordable.  CBE had shop at Dundas and Ossington last October to December, a booth at The One Of a Kind Craft Show at Exhibition Grounds in March and, most recently, a booth at America’s Next Top Model Live show at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre this month.

Its main sales hub, however, remains its website, which means worldwide sales and international markets in places like Chicago and New York.

Still, the middle ground between sustainability and growing as a company is a promised land easily found.

“A couple decisions that we’ve made makes us more of like a core mind, makes us more of like a staple, makes us more of like an artist collaborative,” says Greene. “So [selling internationally] does cause limitations but it also does involve us in different communities.”

Regardless of the city, collaboration is key and is essential in accomplishing CBE’s most important feature: a home-grown feel. Besides, with such a provoking and thoughtful product, growth will inevitably ensue.

“Every year people find out about it, and every year it just continues to build and build and build.”

CBE will continue to grow as long as education about the clothing industry continues. Greene says competition lies within the cemented minds of consumers, not in the success and growth of other local producers.

“We don’t really know how industry works in the same kind of way. I feel like the biggest challenge is the everyday person’s thought and perspective on cost, quality and sustainability.”

Greene believes it is changing but “it’s hard when things are easy.”

She says the simplicity and convenience of buying a shirt for $5 at a big-box clothing store then throwing it out not long afterward if it shrinks or rips is something that hinders not only the idea of sustainable clothing industry, but the mentalities which need to change in order to pave the way for such an awakening. But she says it’s all worth the effort and the price.

“You’ve got to think about it, and you’ve got to set aside a couple extra bucks for a product, which is exactly what we do in our business: We think about it, we set aside extra money for our production.”

Greene’s well-rounded background in arts is just the right foundation for a clothing company.

“I have sewing skills because I’m a fashion school dropout and an art school graduate.”

The first hoody took shape when she took some time off after graduation. Greene made herself a hoody, which family and friends soon came to admire, so she kept sewing until she found a niche for herself and her designs, which she soon discovered were “unique, lasting products.”

This made her realize she was on the right track, that she could make something important of her hoodies. Greene wanted to keep it local because it began local.

“That sort of just took over the whole vision.”

To shop CBE visit clothingbrandexperiment.com

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