While studying psychology in school Hayley Elsaesser was sewing and selling clothes on eBay and realized that designing was her true calling. She later found herself in Vancouver studying fashion and had her clothing featured in Australia at the  L’Oreal Graduate’s showcase at Melbourne Fashion week. Since then, her brand has gained lots of celebrity attention and has been featured in many publications. Fast forward to 2020, Hayley has her own storefront on Queen Street West and has showcased many of her new collections at Toronto Fashion Week.

Inspired by pop culture and childhood nostalgia many of Hayley’s pieces are bold, vibrant, and quirky. Hayley is all about advocating for diversity, inclusivity, and going against the status quo. Here she tells us, about her design process, her views on the fashion industry, and making time for self-care. 

Can you tell me a little bit about how the design process is like when creating a new collection? 

It starts as a spark of an idea that slowly turns into a flame and then a fire. It’s usually something that relates and represents my personal life. Then I just begin working on the imagery such as print design, and themes. Finally, I apply them all to silhouettes that are timeless and work with the subject of the collection. 

I know you’ve said before that many of your collections are inspired by pop culture? Many of your pieces remind me of artist Andy Warhol. What is it about pop culture that fuels your inspiration?  

Hayley Elsaesser

I love pop culture; old movies, music, models, fashion and so much more. This idea of visual consumption really appeals to me as a visual person. I love to create prints that definitely have a pop-art vibe to them, they are bold and fun and relatively easy to take in. However, there is usually a deeper meaning, when you look a little bit closer. I love using that format because it keeps it visually to the point, but it’s a vessel for a deeper story. 

What is your favourite pop culture moments?

My all-time favourite pop culture moment has to be the Britney and Justin denim look for the American Music Awards.

Can you tell me a little bit about your collaborations with My Little Pony, Barbie, Annabelle Cosmetics and how they came about? 

I love doing collaborations with larger brands, it helps me branch out and execute a new challenge. It’s always fun, because I get to do something different, and experience something I couldn’t do on my own, reaching a new market. 

What is your dream collaboration?

I would love to do a sneaker collaboration that would be available for sale. 

Nostalgia is a huge trend in fashion these days and you’ve created a whole collection based on nostalgia. What is it about nostalgia that attracts consumers?

This collection, Redneck Nostalgia, was one of my firsts in the early days of my career that I showed at Sydney Fashion Week. I think because I was embarking on such a new part of my life, it had me doing a lot of reflection on the past which is why I made nostalgia a primary focus. 

Many designers are voicing their political views through their designs specifically feminism, what does feminism mean to you and why was it important for you to incorporate into your designs? 

I addressed the notion of femininity and strength, and I suppose feminism in my last collection had that solely “womenswear” called Heavenly Bodies. This is also the first collection I showed in Toronto back in 2014. I was celebrating what it means to be a woman, that encompasses both a softness and ultimate power. 

For me, I don’t ever want to be blatant for the sake of a trend. I prefer to let my actions speak louder than words, such as my use of representation on the runway and with models I use and my general practices.

Even though women are the main consumers of fashion, many major fashion companies are run by men, when it comes to the higher executive positions men are still dominating that space in the fashion industry, why do you think that is?

Because that’s how the world is. We are still a male-dominated society, and there have been times that I haven’t been taken seriously, just because I’m a woman. This is why I fight so hard for representation because it really matters. We are all equal, but our current society doesn’t reflect that. 

Working in an industry that is majority male-dominated how does it make you feel to be a female fashion designer and businesswoman?

It makes me feel like I have an underhand. But it also gives me a unique perspective which definitely gives me an underhand. What got me into fashion in the first place, was because I am different, so I have grown to embrace this fight. 

This past year you said you are no longer participating in Toronto Fashion Week because of lack of representation and that people don’t support Canadian designers like famous American/European designers. Are you planning on doing that again in 2020?

Images by Che Rosales / LARAWAN

Yes, at this time I don’t see showing at a fashion week as something that will add anything to my business currently. That being said, Toronto Fashion Week was a huge springboard for jump-starting my career in Canada, but I have hit a plateau. This isn’t because of fashion week at all, it’s because of the lack of support for our fashion industry overall. 

Why do you think Canadian designers aren’t well known as American and European designers? 

As Canadians, we tend to look up to our neighbour the US. This applies to music, movies, and brands. Because they are bigger and better, we don’t need to look around for what we’re doing, because someone in the states is already doing it. I just wish we were more supportive of our Canadian talent. For music there’s CanCon, but there is nothing like that for fashion. 

Was there a learning curve when it came to not just being a fashion designer but a  businesswoman?

Absolutely, I think to be most successful a person would need to study fashion and business intensely. I have learned a lot through trial and error, unfortunately, but I was very young when my brand started, so I don’t blame myself. I’ve learned from everything. 

How do you maintain a healthy work-life balance?

At present, I haven’t figured this out, and I’m still working on it. I do practice self-care and go to therapy to work on putting myself first a bit more. 

What’s your number one self-care tip?

Therapy or counselling. Even if your life seems good, there’s always something to talk about. We often internalize and blame ourselves for things that aren’t our fault. I have grown so much and learned so much by going to therapy. 

What advice would you give someone who’s hesitant to pursue their dreams/goals?

Think about being 80 years old, and if looking back you didn’t pursue it, would you regret it? If so, go for it!