Elly Green: Clothing Brand Experiment

Clothing Brand Experiment is the creation of Elly Green. She’s gone from sewing hoodies in her apartment to a successful Toronto-based company, producing high-end unisex clothing. CBE is committed to sustainable and ethical production, with all products made in a 50 km radius of the company’s downtown studio.

Since emerging in the Toronto fashion scene in 2008, CBE has expanded each year. One of their signatures is their collaborations with artists on limited runs of garments (including Caroline Larsen, previously featured on Pennello Lane). CBE even has a line of hoodies for dogs!


What is your background?

I am an OCAD [Ontario College of Art and Design] graduate, sculpture major which actually aligns nicely with sewing as it is a three-dimensional craft. I’m also a fashion school drop-out.

What led you to create Clothing Brand Experiment?

I was shopping for a hoody just over four years ago, and I wanted it to include a few details and be in yellow. I looked a bunch and didn’t find it, so I figured I would put my sewing skills to use and make one. I did just that, and then the compliments came in along with some custom orders from friends and then friends of friends and so on.

CBE began as a custom hoody business and I made just over 100 hoodies out of my apartment. Eventually I recognized a pattern – many customers would state the colours they were thinking they wanted and then would follow up with questioning me on what I thought would look best. I realized it would make much more sense to make small runs in colour combinations I liked and sell the finished hoodies. This would allow customers to try on the completed hoody, instead of trying to envision what the custom order might look like finished. And so CBE began and still operates in a similar fashion, making small runs each season with a few styles in different colour combinations.

What is unique about the CBE hoody?

Our hoody is loaded and designed well in all the details. We have two unisex cuts, our Slim and Classic fit, which fit everybody from XS to 2XL, and both have a very flattering cut. With all our fabric being pre-washed and dried you never have to worry about how a CBE hoody will shrink, it will maintain its shape and size. The quality of fabric is nice and thick, yet irresistibly soft, which is usually the first thing a new customer exclaims prior to insisting they don’t want to take it off. Every hoody has a high-collar, three-panel double hood, thumbholes, a hidden inside pocket, and you can interchange the colour of pull string. The colour combinations are really great too, rich colours that are a little different than your everyday hoody available.

What sets CBE apart from other clothing retailers?

Everything we create is made locally within 50kms of our studio downtown Toronto – from the milling of the fabric to the printing of the hang tags. We have perfected our hoody and now also make t-shirts, sweats and various limited lines. Instead of operating as a fashion line, CBE runs in a collaborative fashion creating unique collections and collaboration lines.

What is your favourite item you’ve produced?
This is a tough question. Being such a hoody fan I do love my hoodies, especially the worked-in and distressed lines, like our Galaxy line, which I find myself wearing every cool cottage evening. Yet the artist collaboration t-shirts have blown my mind this past season. They are amazing projects to work on and the collaborative creative process with each artist has been so fun and inspirational. I have been wearing all of these t-shirts around this summer with so many compliments!

What are some of the challenges of keeping production local?

As a very small business I was a little intimidated to approach the mill, but I did. A good relationship started and I purchased ends from them to make my first few runs. Ends could be up to 100 meters per colour, which was plenty for me to work with. CBE now orders our own fabric blend from the mill, and the weight and soft feel of the fabric definitely stands out.

Cut and sew, dyeing, pre-washing, embroidery, tags, printing and so on were each a little easier to find in the city since there are a handful of places to go for each. CBE now works with a good mix of these other businesses to make each line. Contrary to production overseas, we are with our line each step of the way, and each step is done in smaller businesses that take care of one step in the production process. We are able to deal with problems quickly and efficiently since all our production is done within 50 km of our studio; the furthest location is a 40-minute drive away.

It is much more costly to pay the rates of production here in Canada, and creating small limited runs is about the worst decision to make when it comes to clothing production and making a profit. The more suppliers and contractors you work with the higher rate you end up paying in the end. This is why most clothing producer eventually end up moving their production off shore.

CBE’s goal isn’t mass production and fashion fame – we are more focused on wear-able, well-designed and collectable clothing. This is also why CBE is now more of a collective with a few of us taking on different tasks to pull off each collection and collaboration. It allows everyone, including myself, to take on other contracts or part-time work throughout the year to pay the rent and make a proper living. Perhaps one day CBE will attract enough sales for it to move into a full time job for some of us but it is essential to us that what we do remain experimental and creative, not primarily trend and sales focused.

I think my creativity is an outcome of the risks I take, and the risks I take lead me to more creativity.”

How do you balance creativity with the day-to-day challenges of running a business?

I am a strange creative type, and also a strange business person. I am less poetic and more of a productive risk-taker. I often rush through my preliminary sketches and on to the next steps because I am both impatient and curious about the process, and I can always envision the finished product I am making. CBE is a big leap for me because it is much more fine-tuned. I worked on the Classic and Slim fit hoody patterns for months, making samples and re-drafting the patterns to perfection. Learning how to run a business involves many details beyond the actually clothing – a lot of thought, perseverance and patience, but most of all risk is needed to push through the day-to-day and keep a business alive. I think my creativity is an outcome of the risks I take, and the risks I take lead me to more creativity.

What is your studio/working atmosphere like?

The studio is great! Around the corner from where I live, and it is a shared space with a couple photographers. It is a large white space with hard-wood floors which we try to keep clean and clear. I am the messiest of the studio, with all sorts of inventory coming in and out and samples being sewn yet I find a clear space the best for being productive.

What inspired the artist collaboration projects?

The artist collaborations came about quickly after we started in on some other collaborations. Having gone through art school I have remained connected to many artists in Toronto. Lauren Hall was the first well-known Canadian artist CBE collaborated with, she is a good friend and the collaboration naturally evolved as we both discussed the projects we were working on and decided we should do a line together. Since her collaboration and the real success of her line we realized that artist collaborations just made sense on so many levels – accessible to our networks and resulting in amazing designs being created.

What other creative things do you do in your spare time… if you have any!

Not much these days! To keep sane I love my dogs, I now have two and enjoy running around with them in the park, at the beach and I even have dog socials every once in a while at my place. I often can get carried away with a wild birthday cake or appetizer that takes on sculptural elements, I do love to cook. Otherwise I love to bike and enjoy a dark Americano or cold beer on a patio.

When did you know CBE would be a success?

Well, this is a surprisingly a tough question. CBE’s success has been such a collaborative adventure, which is a big reason why we are moving more and more into collaborations lines, it is the nature of CBE’s success. With the natural evolution of lines and each of them perhaps perceived by us as separate projects season by season, it is hard to see the whole picture success. With new challenge day to day along with rising goals it can be much easier to see what needs to be conquered ahead all the while not realizing the foundation you are standing on. Perhaps a social is in order to talk up all the success over the years.

Great idea, it sounds like you have a lot to celebrate! Thanks, Elly!

Be sure to check out the complete Clothing Brand Experiment collections on their web site. You can also find them on Facebook and Twitter.

All images courtesy of Elly Green/CBE.


One Response to “Elly Green: Clothing Brand Experiment”

  1. Sue Knutsen
    July 24, 2012 at 8:20 am #

    First time I actually wanted to try on a hoodie! Great article.

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