SimpleSmiles & Co.’s Katherine Phan
A little blue swatch started it all. When Katherine Phan was a young girl she picked up her first set of knitting needles and created the tiny swatch. This simple act planted the seed and her love of the art of knitting began to grow and years later has blossomed into the Canadian fashion brand SimpleSmiles & Co. (Update: Simple Smiles & Co. has re-branded as House of Knot.) Using yarns of wool, alpaca, yak, cotton and various blends she finds while on her travels, each piece is crafted by hand with love, care and creativity.
For this #stmINTERVIEWED Katherine talks about launching her business, what she has learned, the inspiration behind her FW15 collection and her love of knitting.
STM – You are often described as free spirited and have said that knitting reminds you how the simple things in life can bring much joy. Where does your trait of being a free spirit come from?
Katherine – I am the youngest in a fairly conservative family and I was the kid who always needed to know ‘Why’. When I got older and I was able to discover things on my own, those Whys turned into What if’s??.. and since then I have never turned back.
To be honest I never thought that I would have taken knitting this far.
STM – Having launched your collection in 2010, what are the key things you have learned so far?
Katherine – Gosh where do I begin! Be resourceful and have willingness to do things that you may not want to do. Be kind. Stay humble. Don’t compete with others. Be original and at the end of the day make sure you are always having fun.
I learned that I needed to trust my own self more and to push my comfort zone.
STM – What was the hardest part of starting a fashion business in Canada?
Katherine – Starting a business in general is hard, and fashion is no different. Being in Canada is not necessarily limiting but I would say that exposure is the hardest part. There are very few GOOD outlets within Canada for designers to showcase their work to national buyers/ media/ stylists/ etc…
I remember dragging all my products on a little red wagon to the Halifax market hoping to make back my table cost.
STM – Was there ever something you tried to knit and it just didn’t work out?
Katherine – OH YES! All the time, every time! Constructing a knit garment is quite different than cut and sew. Taking measurements is often not enough, you basically have to knit 70% of the project before fitting and then make the adjustments… which means pulling it apart and starting again, (the most painful/ fastest part).
Designer Katherine Phan and Jen Menecola walk the runway with two models
featuring their collaborative collection showcased at Fashion Art Toronto 2014.
I remember jumping for joy when I got my first online sale.
STM – Your 2014 collaboration (above) with designer Jen Menecola was a fun sexy detour from what might normally be expected from a classic knitwear designer. Tell us about it.
Katherine – I met Jen at an event where I was a vendor and she was an organizer. I remember asking about one of her arm pieces she was wearing that night and I knew I wanted to work with her. That year was also the year that I knew I wanted to take my knitting to a different level and I knew that putting this collaboration together was what needed to happen. I sent her a quick email suggesting FAT ( Fashion Art Toronto) and she had no hesitation! We threw out a few ideas, and Formal Rebellion was born!
Working with Jen opened my eyes to a whole new way to look at my craft, I learned that I needed to trust my own self more and to push my comfort zone. FAT was a million lessons all in a short period of time and if I were to pin point one main lesson it would be that there is never going to be enough time, so just breath.
Instagram pictures from SS&Co customers.
I think that my customers fall in love with my care.
STM – Who do you find is your typical customer? Why do you think they fall in love with your pieces?
Katherine – I am often asked this question and I am always stumped! It is hard to pin point my typical customer as it is not a specific age or personality. I get from the most fashionable to the outrageous, to the curious and even fellow knitters themselves! I think that my customers fall in love with my care. I mentioned earlier that I was the kid who always asked Why? And now it is really important to me to let people know why I have made something as I did or why I have chosen my materials as I did and I think customers appreciate the transparency and the extra care.
SS&Co’s PERSPECTIVE collection on the runway of Fashion Art Toronto 2015.
Behind the scenes of SS&Co’s latest photo shoot.
STM – Recently you shot your first professional campaign and the theme for the campaign and collection was Beauty / Beast. How did you choose this theme?
Katherine – I chose Beauty / Beast because I do much of my thinking on my morning hikes. One of my favourite times to hike is early in the morning right after a MAJOR (beastly) winter storm. Such an aggressive force of nature creates the most beautiful landscape and in the morning before anyone has touched the snow there are these beautiful sculptures left in the snow. For my FW15 collection I wanted to create a collection that was heavily textured paired with a dense but soft fibre. The heavy textures to represent the Beast and the yarn to represent the Beauty. The campaign was to bring out the story of a winter Beauty enchanting a winter Beast, the photos will launch at the Winter Warmer later this year.
SS&Co’s PERSPECTIVE collection on the runway of Fashion Art Toronto 2015.
I am truly grateful for every milestone that I have come across no matter how big or small…
STM – You will be relocating your brand from Toronto to Calgary soon. How do you plan to stay in touch with your strong Toronto following?
Katherine – Such a scary question. The decision to move came so unexpectedly, at first I honestly couldn’t wrap my mind around building beyond Toronto. A lot of my growth so far as been very home grown and I definitely don’t want to cut ties with any of the amazing supporters that are here, so I decided to continue to participate in the same events that I have always done and not necessarily transition but expand my audience to the West coast.
He pushes without going too far and he mixes with just the right flare to make you think.
STM – Which up and coming Canadian fashion designer has your attention and why?
Katherine – So many to choose from!! One that sticks out in my mind is Som Kong. I have only met him in passing but his work is something special. He pushes without going too far and he mixes with just the right flare to make you think.
I want to inspire knitters and creators as much as others have inspired me…
STM – Who works with you to produce your stock? Do you have people helping you?
Katherine – Sure do! My mom (@MommaPhan) she is the other maker and teacher since day one. While her designs are a little out of date, her expertise in fit, quality and experience has been proven time and time again:)
I more recently had one other helper Kim (@bcakon) help with some of the production with my FAT (Fashion Art Toronto) collection.
Be kind. Stay humble. Don’t compete with others. Be original and at the end of the day make sure you are always having fun.
STM – What are your long term goals for Simple Smiles & Co?
Katherine – A question that has an ever changing answer. To be honest I never thought that I would have taken knitting this far! I remember dragging all my products on a little red wagon to the Halifax market hoping to make back my table cost, I remember thinking ‘ I will never get into the One of a Kind Show.’ I remember jumping for joy when I got my first online sale. I am truly grateful for every milestone that I have come across no matter how big or small, so when I think of long term I think the sky is the limit! I also want to continue to spread joy with my knits, I want to inspire knitters and creators as much as others have inspired me and I want to keep creating/building a knit world.
Photos Courtesy of Katherine Phan of SimpleSmiles & Co., unless otherwise marked or stated.