Jamie Dawes is the designer and tailor behind the sustainable and made-to-order clothing line Fyōōcher.
She invited us to her Chinatown studio, where we talked about US Vice President Kamala Harris’ stepdaughter Ella Emhoff wearing her Wave Pant, her brush-up with fast fashion, and what makes a material a “hero fabric”.
Jamie grew up in Deep Cove and took up sewing when she was 13, inspired by her seamstress aunt — and motivated by the need to regularly hem her pants. “Being a short gal, you always have to have your pants altered,” she said. “That’s why I started making pants. A good pant makes the outfit.”
In her last two years of high school, she was given the option to sew for three hours each day instead of taking electives. She went on to study fashion design at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Richmond, eventually working at a large outdoor apparel company and then designing for a small business.
Fyōōcher began when Jamie’s pursuit for sustainable fashion work in Vancouver turned fruitless, launching her brand right before the start of the pandemic. “I saw this little gap in the market,” she said. “And Vancouver needs a bit more fashion. People love fashion here… they’re not always wearing it out on the street, but I know it’s here!”
She shares her studio with her partner Tom, a self-taught hatter from New Zealand whose brand Thheme often utilizes Fyōōcher’s scrap fabrics. And it goes both ways: her first collection featured luxury brand banners they collected from Tom’s previous work in the signage industry that would have otherwise been thrown out after a two-month rotation.
They started their businesses within four months of each other in 2020 — working parallel during the day and spending their nights brainstorming. After awhile they drew a boundary: no work-talk at home. “We still need to be a couple,” she said. “We can't just be business partners, especially when we're not even business partners!”
The studio consists of pattern drafting table, a sewing room, and a fabric closet — with full shelves of secondhand materials organized by colour. Two days a week are spent sourcing them: whether by thrifting, cold-calling local businesses, or importing from Los Angeles. Occasionally some of her kind Instagram followers send fabrics they no longer need. She lovingly calls her latest favourites “hero fabrics.”
One such fabric became the one-of-one Princess Diana coat she created last year (and Thheme made a matching cap). It came about after she bought a few meters from a woman who had purchased a roll from an upholstery fabric lot sale.
When you say ‘upholstery fabric’, was its intended use meant for chairs?
Originally it was upholstery fabric for pillows. It had this border so you could make your own Princess Diana pillows, which is just hilarious. I didn't even buy the whole roll because I was like, “Is this weird? Is this ugly?” But then more and more people came in, and they all said it was sick. And I was like, “It is, right?!” I love that coat. I’d love to do more stuff like that. Those are the hero fabrics you'll never be able to find again.
Less than a month after US President Joe Biden’s inauguration, Vice President Kamala Harris’ stepdaughter was photographed in your Wave Pant. What was it like to have Ella Emhoff, who also works as a model and knitwear designer, wear one of your pieces?
That was when I first realized the power of an influencer. I didn't know who she was until the mall.nyc editorial with her. And then afterwards I woke up to a thousand new followers. It was very cool for me business-wise and just to see the Vice President’s stepdaughter wearing your clothing. That was when my parents were like, “Oh, you’re cool.”
You’ve since discontinued your Wave Pant after a fast-fashion company started selling their own. Why did you make that choice and what was that experience like?
The Wave Pant was my biggest seller. And now every time I look at it, I just see fast fashion. I feel good about the pants in the end, but I don't want to do them anymore.
I sold a pair to a friend in Australia, and maybe six months later she sent me a photo of ones she saw at the mall. I was like, “Oh my God, they’re exactly the same.” No denying it, down to the seams: I even did the S-shape a little too wide so there was only a tiny space at the bottom, and they also did that.
I sent the company a very stern e-mail and then they said I was bullying them! It obviously ended up on some mood board where no one knows the origin of the photo, and then nobody takes responsibility. Everyone told me that I should be flattered, but I’m not. It was a good excuse to move on and be like, “Okay, I'm better than this.”
Speaking of moving on, can you give us a preview of your next collection?
Lots of white this season and so much lace! I love anything lace and sheer right now.
I am putting out a dress, a new u-top, a strapless u-top, and skort you can bike in! The skort uses the same pattern from the skant, which is the skirt over the pants — building off the patterns I already have. Essentially, I’m trying to build my dream closet instead of what I think will sell. I am only going to put something out if I love the fabric and I would wear it.
What goes into making each piece?
One design could take a week, or it could take two months. Fabric sourcing can average two to three hours per fabric. After sourcing, cutting for a garment can take anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours, depending. Then the sewing can take an hour and a half to six hours.
Oh, and I forgot about the washing too. I wash all the fabrics beforehand, so I'm sitting at the laundromat for a couple hours every week. I will wash everything in cold water and dry on high heat to see what it looks like after. Then I decide if I’m going to use it or not because it’s the worst when you buy something nice and then it shrinks up two inches! That has happened to me many times!
Is there anything you would like to add?
I want to make staples for everyone's wardrobe out of reclaimed fabrics, and I really appreciate everyone's support. It’s so special when you put so much time into something and you see people actually wearing it. People send me photos and it’s surreal.
Whitney Peak, who is from Vancouver and in the new season of Gossip Girl, wore my pants in Rolling Stone Magazine. I did not know that was going to happen!
It’s been wild even just seeing my tops on people in Vancouver. I even had a girl come up to me when I was wearing one. She was like, “Is that the U Top?” and I said — totally incognito — “Yeah, I love that brand!”
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.