Story by Jamie Lincoln
Photos by Heather Tufts
While Erin Fitzpatrick‘s polished appearance may have you glancing down at your own wrinkled graphic tee in disgust, you won’t find the 25-year-old beauty patrolling Toronto with a snarl à la Blair Waldorf. After ten minutes of talking to the designer it becomes clear that her intelligence, poise and overwhelming charm is entirely genuine.
As a Queen’s student myself, I know that the University prides itself on delivering a traditional, academic curriculum. What did you study while at Queen’s, and at what point did you develop your penchant for fashion?
I was in biology, actually. I’ve always had a love for fashion, but I think the point that it became the most intense was in second year – that’s when I started developing these detailed tops for the Green Room. I’ve always done fashion, but at Queen’s it was such a small community, [and] I got such an amazing response. The response is probably what pushed me to start my own business.
Tell me a little bit about your company, Bel Ami. What made you interested in designing headbands in particular?
I’ve always had a love for headbands, and I’ve always worn them. When I came back to Toronto, I was doing an internship at FASHION Magazine, and I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do that hadn’t already been done. I thought I could do headbands – I wanted to do different styles that I could see myself wearing.
Your line, Bel Ami was launched in 2009. Tell me about the whirlwind that has been this past year.
This year has been crazy because I’ve been in school. I do natural medicine on the side, and balancing school and my business is definitely challenging, but you’re always going to have to balance things in the real world. It’s a balance that I like because I love both of the things that I’ve been doing. I know that I’m on to something, and I can picture doing this as my career now.
I understand that you’re currently designing headbands for various private schools in the Toronto area. You seem to have found quite a niche! Which schools do you design for, and how did you get started?
Right now, I’m designing for Havergal College, The Bishop Strachan School, Branksome Hall, Toronto French School, The York School and St. Mildred’s-Lightbourn School. I got into designing for schools because a friend of the family works as a parent-teacher liaison for BSS (The Bishop Strachan School), and she let me know that the headbands were getting out of control there. She asked me if I could put together a few prototypes that would match the school uniform appropriately. The response I got was amazing. Everyone loved them and the orders have kept coming. I really owe it all to her – she’s amazing.
Where can the general public find your designs?
Tell me about the process of making one of your headbands. How long does it take for you to complete one piece?
Honestly, it really depends on the piece. On top of doing the school headbands, I’ve been doing bridal pieces as well. I have to track down netting, feathers, and other materials. The school headbands don’t take too long, but they’re all hand-done, so they’re made very meticulously. Some bows are very intricate, and if they’re hand-sewn, they would take longer. I don’t want to mass-produce my headbands and lower the quality of my product. I’ve hired a group of four interns that help me with the bows and the packaging. They’re amazing.
Describe for me a typical day in Erin Fitzpatrick’s life.
Let’s do today. I woke up and responded to emails – there are private orders that I’m doing for weddings, so I needed to show them pictures of what I’m in the process of making. Then I drove to Havergal to drop off some orders, as well as pick up a new order form. I like being able to represent myself in person as much as possible (versus doing everything through email). Then I went back to the studio with my interns to produce the order for St. Mildred’s (it should be shipped later today). I’m constantly keeping up with orders and trying out new designs. I always like to try out creative pieces, because I feel that it’s so important to be creative in some way.
With September just around the corner, I’m sure you’re very busy with new orders. How do you find balance?
August is going to be insane. This year I found balance just through keeping in touch with friends and family. My family supporting me has been a big help. I also try and do as much physical activity as possible – yoga, pilates, skipping. Those types of things calm me down. Oh, and chamomile tea and homeopathy!
Describe your personal style.
On a good day, I would love to look like Blair Waldorf. I like to have a classy look. I think so many trends come and go, and I’d like my look to be fashionable anytime, anywhere. I always overdress rather than underdress for any occasion. I guess I’m not too classic, though. I mix classic with “bling-bling” sort of pieces. I love dresses, a lot of colour and sparkly things – an outfit that’s a little fun, and a little classy at the same time.
Have you ever considered designing for other areas of fashion?
I used to think that I wanted to do my own line of dresses and skirts. I feel like it would be amazing to start a line that would just focus on skirts that were versatile and form-fitting. I would make half of them that were office-based and half of them that were fun and flirty for evening. Start-up costs are very intense though, so I’d love to do something like that in the future.
What’s on tap for the future – let’s say a year or two from now?
In the next year, I want to design for a lot more schools and really grow my business. I’d like to get my new website (solely for my school headbands) up and running and really focus on getting my name out there and get some media attention (I haven’t been focused on that at all). I want to approach as many schools as possible in the GTA and even outside of Toronto. Eventually, I’d like to design for a bunch of different private schools in Canada. I’d like to keep growing until I get to the States. It’s very exciting for me.
Do you have any advice for new designers?
I think that they should continue with their passion and do a lot of research before they start a company. Check out your competition and find something that isn’t overdone. Definitely continue with it though, because I’ve been discouraged when I wasn’t making much of a profit. The passion that I have has led to my success. You have to stick with it, and build a name for yourself. When you build a good foundation, eventually you will receive positive feedback from others.