Monday, March 15, 2010

Spotlight on Sabrina Butterfly

Photo Courtesy of SBD

This is my first designer interview, so forgive me if I didn't ask any of the things you wanted to know, and concentrated on things I have always wondered about when it comes to the wonderful world of retail, and transitioning from designer to small business owner, and finding balance for it all.

Sabrina Butterfly
is a beautiful store located in one of my favorite areas in Edmonton. There is no doubt that the location suits the store, with a small collection of other quaint shops nestled in the north east of our city. What took me by surprise was when I was at Edmonton Fashion Week (way back when) and saw a show of incredibly balanced, innovative and flattering clothing, and did some digging to find out that it was designed by someone right here in Edmonton, and that I had been missing out on beautiful clothes. Even better, the designer behind the line was the first to agree to talk to me about why and how she makes the magic happen.

I was drawn to her clothing because of her historically inspired fashions with sophisticated colour schemes. I queried if this was the evolution of her personal aesthetic or a response to the Edmonton market? (Click on the picture above, it will take you to her blog showing her line- clothes for everybody!)

My designs are timeless, which means I am drawing inspiration from past collections or silhouettes from the past and putting a new twist into them. This makes them feel very classic and easy to wear but yet truly unique with the fabrics I chose and the details I add.
I love many eras, from the 1920s - 60's.

It's sometimes nice to play with design concepts that were once very flattering for certain body types. I am definitely all about fit and making clothing for the average women. I try to size my clothing a little bigger than your typical size run. I feel it's more real.

Sometimes my inspiration starts with fabrics that I have around in my studio. And then I build on that. I tend to buy fabrics whenever I see something I like. I don't usually buy all my fabrics at once for a certain season. I may use it a year later when I see a color trend or have decided exactly what I want to make with that fabric. So to say the least, I have a pretty big fabric collection!

I do have many basic designs within my line, that I repeat each season in different fabrics.
This really helps with designing a collection, as I always know those designs will be my foundation and whatever new designs I bring forth that season will stand out even more. My customers seem to love this because when they do have a favorite pant, skirt or top, it's really nice to have it in different fabrics which creates a whole different look but yet has the same great fit.

I do sometimes draw inspiration from other designs that I see, through fashion magazines, websites, on the street, etc. I will take small design concepts from many different places and compile them into a garment. It's funny because sometimes something I originally saw, which could have been a picture, evolves into something totally different in the end result but yet it started with that idea. So what I am trying to say is it's not like I am copying a design completely I may just take certain aspects of that design and make it my own or transform the idea to make it work with the fabrics I am using.

Designing a collection is definitely the best part of my job, and I wish one day this is all I that I can be doing!

I wanted to know what are her biggest challenges as a small business operator? What are her successes, what makes her keep going? Does she attribute some of this to her Edmonton market? Sabrina also does some travelling sales. I am mystified at how she maintains her balance as a designer, a store owner, a sales person- what does she most enjoy? How does she manage it all?

The biggest challenge has been transitioning from designer to store owner; staying organized with of all the small stuff: including customer requests, items to bring to the store, thoughts I have about merchandising and then taking out the time to go and follow through with it. It's a whole other job!

Managing the store, communication being #1 with my staff, letting them know what's going through my mind and how I would like the store to be run or what sales and specials are happening. All 3 gals who work at the store are really great and definitely each bring their own creative ideas to work. I feel very confident that I can trust all of them to keep the store running smoothly.

And lastly is balancing my time between everything!!

Working in my studio, designing, pattern drafting, doing all my cutting for my line, ordering fabrics and notions, staying organized with the manufacturer....
And all jobs in between that include ordering product for the store, marketing, advertising, trying to come up with my next idea to get customers to come to the store more frequently.

These jobs are endless and it's a day to day process when trying to accomplish these tasks.

I try to make lists, so there are days when I work through them but there are also days when they are thrown out the window because something needs to be assessed immediately.

It takes a lot to have my mind rest and not think about work.

So then I asked her about what her aspirations are for the line and the store…Her goals are prepared, her vision is clear, the spring is coiled, now it’s just time for it to happen…

• To sell my clothing line to boutiques across Canada.
• To develop a solid line and catalogue so I can approach these boutiques in a buying season, to kick start my Wholesale collection…
• To bring my days as a traveling store to an end but then give my customers abroad a simple way to access my line…
• To create an on-line store. (But I would first have to figure out a standard size chart, as my line is pre-shrunk. I would only be able to sell certain garments, that customers know the fit of that fabric.)

Sabrina’s aspirations for her store:

• To continue as home for my clothing line and many other designers…
• Possibly expanding one day, so my studio and store can be all in one location.

Do you wake up every day and feel pretty awesome about making your passion your life?

Here's to my 12th year in design, I am still fulfilling my passion. Back in the Fall of 1998, I started designing my first collection under the label Sabrina Butterfly Designs. I remember how exciting it was to start seeing customers trying on and talking about the clothing. And to this day I still get the same sparkle in my eye when customers truly appreciate what I do and how my clothing makes them feel.

I love what I do for a living.

I am grateful for all the support I have received from my family and friends! It's been a long journey and they have helped me in so many ways along my path.

Because my blog delves into the idea of sustainability and (tries to address at least some) things Eco and ethical, I had to ask what her perspective was on the matter. Sabrina’s business uses Canadian manufacturing facilities. I wondered if she believed this commitment to Canadian manufacturing contributes to some of her business:

I think many consumers today want to know where the products they are buying are coming from and how they are being made.

I believe that "Made in Canada" products are very important to Canadians…Taking the small steps of letting go parts of my production has been hard and a big learning curve.

To still be involved, whether it's someone sewing from their home or having the product made in Canada, is something I can wrap my mind around.

I am a cottage industry.
I have always liked the idea of a community working together and supporting each other.

I do work with natural fiber fabrics but this only includes cotton and linen (some hemp). I haven't gone into organics, soy or bamboo. Love the fabrics but the overhead cost for the small amounts that I use double my retail prices. I try to keep most of the clothing I make affordable, I know there are a lot of designers using these materials but I just haven't found any of these fabrics within my budget.

I try to recycle what I don't use, so I pass on my scraps and larger pieces of fabrics, to other designers who make hats and handbags.

When talking about the other names and goodies in her store:

Many of the designers I first started carrying in the store were friends and fellow crafters, who I had met at through the shows I had participated in. Our lines complimented each other and we had a similar customer market. This was an easy decision to make, as I knew we all had the same standards in quality workmanship and uniqueness.

When I source out new designers today, I look for those same qualities. I also love to find products no one else is carrying too. This is a tricky task. As there is a lot of stores who carry handmade items but many have decided to only carry Canadian Designers. I think this is great but if I wanted to have different designers in the store, I need to look elsewhere. So I look for designers who really stand out with their own individuality and innovative designs. I also look for different price points, to be able to offer the customer different options. I try to keep each category of designers down to a minimum so I don't saturate the store in a one similar product. Plus I want to give each designer their maximum exposure in my small 400 square foot space

Her words of wisdom for people who are looking for this adventure themselves:

My advice for an aspiring designer would be:
Baby steps are good.
• Research avenues that you can sell your work, whether it be through small or large craft shows, stores or festivals.
• Or if you have the financial back up go straight for some of the independent clothing stores. They are always great supporters of new designers. Some will consign your work, so this is a good way to start.
• Get out there to find out who your customer market is. Sometimes you must flow with what sells best. Embrace those designs as your "bread and butter" and then develop the rest of your line around it.
• Keep an email list, a wise soul suggested this to me and I am sure glad he did. This is the best way to keep in touch with your customers. This way you can keep them informed with what you are doing and where you are going to be next. They will follow you.
• Stay focused, this is probably the hardest part; especially if you work from home.
Goals are important to have. Keep them near, as the quicker you reach them the more positive you will feel about what you are doing.

I think the last point she offered was too pretty to add to this bullet list- its so apt for most of life…
Be patient, if it's in your heart and soul to do this, it will unfold for you in a loving way!


  1. Good job, Lexi! You've successfully become a features writer. You could totally parlay that into greater awesomeness. Congratulations.

  2. Great interview! My daughter and I LOVE Sabrina. In addition to having beautiful clothing offered in her store (which is right around the corner from where I live - how convenient!), she is a very genuine person. Her success story is inspirational.

  3. Great interview with Sabrina! She is a talented girl. I have been wearing her clothes for years and they don't seem to wear out or go out of style!