To gear up for our upcoming event, “Chasing Dreams,” on March 6th, we are featuring our speakers to highlight the best parts of what they do. This week, we met up at The Wired Monk with Rimpy Sahota, an apparel designer, to talk about her story.
Rimpy always knew she wanted to open up her own apparel line, but in order to get there, she needed more than just a keen sense of style. In order to learn how to run a business, she graduated from UNBC with a major in Accounting and Finance and took an auditing job at Price Waterhouse. While she was working, she went to John Casablancas for Fashion Business and Creative Arts. From there, she took an internship in visuals for Dynamite in Montreal that lead to a full-time position as a designer and buyer, and then became a buyer for Lululemon – all over the course of 6 years. At that point, she felt she was finally ready to start her own business. A fun fact about Rimpy is that she did karate competitively for 12 years!
MTI: What about your line is differentiated from what’s already out there?
R: With my collection, I target a wide demographic. My target market is basically women from the ages of 20 to the age of 40. I think a big thing that differentiates me is that I line the garments with SPANX. Anything that’s fitted is lined with SPANX, so whoever is wearing it will be comfortable after they eat or have some wine or go out. I implemented stretch fabrics that are strong and not too bold and extreme, but classic so it will match a wide variety of occasions. Everything I have is made locally as well. The fabrics are made in Montreal. The garments are all made here. I take pride in that. A lot of my seamstresses are single moms and people who can barely make ends meet, and I’m really close with them. They come over and we have tea. I have a one-on-one relationship with them. I think what’s a little bit different about my brand too is that whenever I do a pop-up shop, I make sure I’m there. That way, my clientele gets to know me as well, and I have a one-on-one relationship with them. For me the big thing that Lululemon brought to me is a family environment and considering everyone an equal whether they’re a seamstress or an intern or if it’s somebody higher than me. We’re all sort of on the same platform, and we all respect each other.
MTI: Where do you draw inspiration from for your garments?
R: I follow a lot of European trends, because I find that it’s what comes out here a year and a half later. The top-piece top I have, I got inspiration from in 2014, and now it’s starting to come out summer 2015. I follow a handful of designers, but they’re all different. There’s Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen. It’s very different from mine, but she has many elegant lengths. Pucci, I follow them. Not so much the prints, but the silhouette of the garment. And vintage Chanel is what I really follow. I like Karl Lagerfeld, but I feel like Coco Chanel would have beat the hell out of him, if she knew he was putting runners with couture. Although it looks really cool on runways, I feel like they’re getting away from the classic Chanel. I’m a fan of Givenchy for their silhouettes and fabrics.
MTI: Who have been the most influential people in your life?
R: From Obakki, Treana Peake is very influential to me just because she runs her own label and brand, but she’s also connected to not-for-profits. That’s just so inspiring – just to know that somebody doing apparel and fashion and who is a woman, has kids, is a wife, is able to not only financially support her family but so many people around the world. That’s definitely something I would like to do. I have those shirts that say, “You can sit with us” instead of “You can’t sit with us,” and those proceeds were going to Make A Wish Foundation. Throughout the year, we’re going to be doing more of that.
But another inspiring person for sure is my father. He’s in his mid-70s. He came to Canada with a lot of people who were his age, $7, and basically the clothing on his back. He had to raise 5 daughters. He was a teacher in India, but when he came here, his credentials didn’t transfer, so he became a welder. It wasn’t something he really loved, but now as he’s getting older, he’s starting to do things that he’s really passionate for. He was the one who told me when I was 18 and wanted to go to fashion school that if I wanted to do something on a big scale, we have to get you into business. I was kicking and screaming, “I don’t want to do that!” But now I thank him everyday.
MTI: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced with opening up your own business?
R: They are endless. I think every single day I am learning something. I’m learning something about myself, about business, about Vancouver in general. Some of the challenges have just been getting my name out there. I had lived in Montreal, came here, and then it was like, “Who is Rimpy Sahota?” I had to just sit there and think about who are all the people I know in Vancouver, and I realized I had a pretty good support system. For me to ask people for help or guidance was sometimes a little tough. One of the biggest challenges was opening up and saying this is what I want to do.
There’s one thing when you believe in yourself, but I would definitely say the biggest challenges are self-motivation internally. It’s constantly a battle. Before I go to sleep, I just have to say, I am thankful for today, because I’m doing what I want to do. That’s something you can never forget. Instead of going back to accounting, I’m doing this so I have to be grateful.
You have to do some research on what Vancouver really likes, but on top of that, what do you really like? To mesh the two was interesting for me, and it took me a while to grasp it. If you look at my Aorta collection, it’s chiffon dresses, gowns, flowy. And now I’m coming out with completely different stuff. Designing for the market was a little bit of a struggle. It’s hard to get people to know who you are and that your garments are high quality. Time management is so huge. You gotta go to this fashion show, you gotta do this appearance, you gotta be here, you gotta be there. But on top of that, I have to run the financials for this business and design for my business. Time is really challenging. Sometimes I wish there was two of me.
MTI: So how do you balance your time?
R: I have four older sisters, so I look at them, and if they can work full time, and they have two kids and a husband, I should be able to do this. I push really hard with work, but I also ensure that my good friends always know that I’ll be there for them. It’s everything from sending simple text messages or working really hard during the day, and in the evening time, seeing them. Or there’ll be weeks where I can’t balance anything but work. So you just have to do really make compromises. You have to think about what’s really important at this time. Sometimes it’s just giving yourself a break, and understanding that it’s fair is huge. So for me, balancing it is always wobbly.
MTI: What is the best thing about what you do?
R: One, I would say that I’ve always wanted to be in some sort of industry where you can help people and make people feel good about themselves. My way of making women and people feel good, is whatever I design, I make sure there’s stretch or it’s comfortable or a wide range of different body shapes can fit into it. Even, say, with my editorials, I have average sized women – not people that are extremely skinny or large. Just in the middle, so nobody can feel like, only skinny girls can wear this or only big girls can wear this. It’s to give the impression that this is for the everyday woman. It makes me feel really good when I have a mom who’s turning 40 buy the same outfit and feel as confident as a 20 year old buying an outfit for her 20th birthday.
The best thing is that this is completely something I want to do. Am I happy 24/7? No. There’s days where we’re really working hard. But I’m just really grateful that it’s something of my own, something I know that I was so passionate about. I’m so happy I took that first step. Also, I get to be my own boss. I always joke around that my boss never lets me sleep. Also, I have a wide range of interns and it’s nice seeing people grow and develop. And these girls have just flourished.
MTI: What piece of advice would you give to someone about chasing their dreams?
R: Go for it. There’s nothing stopping you, whether it’s finances or with me, it was a cultural thing. You don’t hear a lot of Indo-Canadian girls leaving accounting and going into design. Don’t care about what other people say or think. If you’re doing well, people will support you and even if you’re not doing well, you’ll be surprised at how many people are proud of you. Go for it, and go for it head on, with your best hat on, and with all your heart.
Photography by: Rebekah Ho