Hayley Gibson’s outside fashion

Cult MTL talks to the Birds of North America designer about her love of sewing and disdain for the fashion industry.

Model Jackie Diop wears Birds of North America. Photo by Nick Bostick.

“You sometimes stumble into the perfect thing,” Hayley Gibson tells me, describing how she came to found her label Birds of North America.

I shared tea with Gibson and her partner, artist Neil MacCormick, in their one-room Mile Ex loft during planning sessions for Cult MTL’s Spring Forward style editorial. We talked about the vagaries of independent fashion entrepreneurship, with finished dresses hanging in neat rows above us from rails lining the space’s high ceilings.

Birds of North America’s “Chachalaca” dress.
“Neil and I met in Victoria, and I had a business myself before, doing custom-made clothing and alterations. I was getting really miserable, I was getting to that point where you rage at customers because they’re too demanding,” she says, laughing. “Just when you’re angry and you need to change your job.”

While Gibson went to fashion school, she says she never even considered a career in mainstream fashion. Serendipitously, another designer friend was also working on a new project.

“My friend was sort of into the independent fashion scene and wanted to do a few styles to put in a store on consignment in Vancouver and needed help with patternmaking. We started the line together and I didn’t know about this independent scene,” she explains. “She bailed on it really fast, I think because I was too excited about it maybe, and I totally took it over and just started doing it and haven’t looked back.”

Birds of North America’s “Dipper” top and “Jaeger” pant.
It’s not easy making a living in indie fashion, but Birds of North America is sustainable because she and MacCormick handle much of the brand’s daily business, from shipping the orders to photographing each season’s line. “We’ve learned how to do everything ourselves as much as possible, everything we can. I’m making a living that way, a modest one, but I’m thrilled with that.”

The label is currently focusing attention on having a stronger presence stateside, with a boutiques repping the line in LA and New York. “There is a bit of a ceiling in Canada about how far you can go, and I’m not satisfied with the ceiling, I want to be able to do more.

“It’s nice to come through Canada, because there is a market for made in Canada, and stores know that. But the second you get out of the warm bath of Canada, it’s a different story,” she explains. The bigger retail lines especially, “really squeeze you.”

“I don’t sew the production myself anymore because I can’t. It’s made in Montreal, but it’s just too much. I do the samples myself still. I don’t know how much it costs to do a run in China, but they were asking for made-in-China prices.”

While the world of haute couture is great and everything, Gibson says that she just wants to make dresses people actually want to wear.

“I’m not in it for that. I’m in it to run a business, to build a nice, ethical business that I feel good about. Basically it’s building a life for myself that I can live.” ■

Birds of North America

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