Canada’s streetwear stars: 5 brands you should know
by Sabrina Maddeaux
February 25, 2015
1. Atelier New Regime
Shop locally: Community 54 (1275 Queen West, 416-901-4342), Blkout Inc (437 Yonge, 416-778-0714)
This Montreal-based streetwear brand hit the scene in 2009 as a hobby project for co-founders Setiz T and Freddy L. The duo’s edgy printed Ts, hoodies and hats, influenced by their city’s rich cultural and arts scene, quickly took off.
New Regime combines hometown pride in the form of maple leafs and francophone typography with more hard-edge designs like a bucket hat that reads “Fuck you pay me” and prisoner-orange Ts in their newest collection with the words “usual suspect” on the front and “department of corrections” on the back. The brand writes in a blog post that the shirt is a statement on the current social climate where “a lot of people feel like they live in a scope” and that the piece serves as a “uniform of sorts” for marginalized groups.
Their social awareness extends beyond slogans on shirts to supporting good causes such as local community basketball programs and the Haitian Relief Fund that’s rebuilding after the earthquake.
Shop locally: Capsule (69 Yorkville, 647-748-1169), Livestock (116 Spadina, 416-360-5383)
A creative agency/clothing company hybrid, TheLegendsLeague is a Toronto-based company with serious attitude.
Founded by Bryan Espiritu in 2007, the brand began as a blog where Espiritu shared his tumultuous life experiences, including dealing with domestic violence and suicide. His writing and artwork grew a following of people who supported him when he launched a clothing line in 2009, originally called IDEALL, which stood for “inspiration-driven esthetic apparel by TheLegendsLeague” (as well as “I’ll die enormous and live lavish”). Clearly, the guy has a creative streak.
In 2012, IDEALL and TheLegendsLeague merged to become one. LL uses graphics to express opinions and provoke people to feel and think differently. It’s definitely a brand of the street, but also includes pieces that young professionals and the not-so-radical can add to their everyday wardrobes.
LL’s current collection, called FTP, is an in-your-face condemnation of the police state. Shirts read “more bad news,” “die cold,” “please do not feed the pigs,” with images of police brutality. More lighthearted offerings include a Toronto-made LLegends shirt that pays tribute to the Maple Leafs.
3. Sully Wong
Shop locally: Gotstyle (62 Bathurst, 416-260-9696, and other), Model Citizen (279 Augusta, 416-553-6632), Community 54
Designers George Sully and Henry Wong, local kings of too-cool-for-school shoes and accessories, have made a neat little empire for themselves by forgoing traditional retail in favour of e-commerce and social media strategies. Of course, once buyers saw the crazy demand for their wares, retail support followed.
Sully Wong’s premium leather kicks are in demand for collaborations, and past partners have included Karim Rashid, Amanda Lew Kee, King of the Dot and ONEXONE. The brand has a stamp of approval from Complex magazine and a showroom in NYC, with distribution as far as Japan and South Korea, and is carried by Little Burgundy across Canada. Yoko Ono has worn their shoes.
They’re growing at a fast rate, but the designers haven’t given an inch when it comes to quality or ethics. They personally visit all factories that manufacture their products to make sure there’s no shady business.
4. Raised by Wolves
Shop locally: Adrift (116 Spadina, 416-515-0550), Capsule
Raised by Wolves began with one product, colour-blocked five-panel caps, but has since expanded into a full line of clothing that’s still steadfastly produced in North America to retain high quality and minimize the brand’s ecological footprint.
The Montreal-based label takes inspiration from folk tales about children raised by wolves, who often exhibited great strength, morals and intellect (think Mowgli) and combines this with a love for all things Canada.
Hoodies and sweats in the current collection are printed with images of buffalo, moose and trappers, while Ts pay homage to the 1983 Canadian teen sex comedy Screwballs. Raised by Wolves still stays true to its roots with quirky bucket and five-panel hat offerings.
Like what you see? Act fast, because Raised by Wolves limits its products to a single run, making them all de facto limited editions.
5. Benji WZW
Shop locally: Hopefully soon
He’s the new kid on the block, but recent grad Benji Wong is hard to ignore. Lady Gaga proved a fan when she wore one of his signature jackets in an eTalk interview.
His debut collection showed at FAT (Fashion Art Toronto) for fall/winter 2014 and took inspiration from the Japanese biker gang subculture. It mixed the precise tailoring of a high-fashion collection with the prints, graphics and attitude of streetwear.
Wong studied architecture at the University of Waterloo, then fashion in Belgium at the Antwerp Royal Academy of Fine Arts. It’s a non-traditional education for a designer, and the feeling of being caught between two worlds is evident in his designs.
His spring/summer 2015 collection is called Roses Drowning In A Molotov Cocktail, which besides having a pretty fucking fantastic name, combines nostalgic 3D-printed cartoon elements with fine embroidery and daring denim.
Benji WZW competes for $25,000 and other perks as a finalist at TFI New Labels on May 4 at One King West. Ticket proceeds benefit the Toronto Fashion Incubator and can be purchased at email@example.com or 416-971-7117.