One of the most promising menswear designers coming out of Toronto right now is none other than Jamaican-Canadian Rhowan James. On the heals of his appearance at Toronto Men’s Fashion Week where he won the World Financial Group | Emerging Menswear Designer Awards (EMDA), our Koliah Bourne had the opportunity to ask him a few questions about how he got started in the industry, who his creative influences are, and what life has been like since TOM and winning the EDMA.
Koliah Bourne: So you’re a self-taught fashion designer. How did you get started in the industry?
Rhowan James: Yes, I am a self-taught menswear designer. It all started around 2009. At that time the advertising community was hit very hard because a lot of their clients were suffering huge losses. The recession hit my agency that I was working at. I was laid off for about 5 months. I admit that it was fun for the first couple of weeks, but after a while I got really bored. So I had to do something creative to keep my mind off things. I decided to re-create a spring jacket that I loved. I bought a sewing machine and some materials to make the jacket. I traced the pattern and began to put it together. It was hard at first but I finished it. It had some fit issues but it was an accomplishment for myself. So I decided to create another one after that. Realizing that I had a knack for this, it steam rolled into what it has become today. I knew that I wanted to create something with my own name attached to it. I tried to find any reading materials that I could regarding pattern making and construction. It was very expensive and very hard to find. I had opportunities to travel to different countries over the years and while there, I picked up any books that I could. Granted that it was in another language, it didn’t matter to me. I got home and I “Google translated” all that I could just so that I could understand. I really wanted to learn this craft. I was very determined to make this work. Over the years I had gathered a large amount of knowledge. It was difficult, hard and expensive, but the journey was worth it.
Koliah: Back in October you won the EDMA Emerging menswear designer award at Toronto Men’s Fashion Week. How was it winning that award and how have things changed for you since then?
Rhowan: Winning this prestigious award was a certified validation that I was meant to do this. For a long time I struggled to find my true calling in life. I am a firm believer that we have already been equipped with all the tools we need in order to succeed in all that we do. I felt very excited, ecstatic and overwhelmed. Things are changing daily since the win. A lot of doors have been opening to help push my brand to new levels. It’s so hard to get a brand off the ground, but there are so many wonderful people who see what I’m doing and are willing to help me get it off the ground.
Koliah: So I read you used to watch your dad getting ready for church and that helped you realize how to present yourself to the world. Can you tell us some of the other people that inspire you creatively?
Rhowan: Coming from a design background, I am heavily influenced by art, design, fashion and architecture. Other people who inspire me creatively are Tom Ford, Tinie Tempah, Idris Elba, Ryan Gosling, David Gandy, Pharrell Williams and Oswald Boateng. Some of my brand influences would be Gucci, Victor & Rolf, Tom Ford, Armani, Duchamp, DSquared and Dolce & Gabbana.
Koliah: Now when it comes to your clothing line, what was the inspiration? And why a men’s line?
Rhowan: Bond 007 movies were the main source of my inspiration for this collection. The story for this collection was inspired by when James Bond would head off to an exotic location. He would check into a luxurious hotel and while there, he would be engaged in all sorts of activities. For example, he would wake up and head to the lounge for breakfast and there would be a look for that. If he felt like exercising there would be an outfit for that. If he went to the pool, drinks at the bar, in a casino there would be a look for every occasion.
Why a menswear line? Menswear, out of all the garment trade, has grown steadily over the years. Secondly, I thought about myself and what I would like to wear. I was tired of everyone shopping at the same stores and wearing the same thing. There was a time that I vowed never to buy clothes here. In my travels I found better clothes in other countries than I do here. It is very unfortunate. There are so many great designers in Canada, but the world doesn’t give us the time of day. I would shop in Manchester, London, Milan, Rome and Paris for clothes. I knew that I would not find anything like it back home. Everywhere I went I would always get compliments on how I put my outfits together. So I thought that I could turn that into a business. But I wanted something that was uniquely mine and mine alone.
Koliah: How would you describe the line? Who is it for? And most importantly, where can we find it?
Rhowan: My collection is tailored to the everyday man. I really thought about doing suits alone like everybody else. But I said to myself, men are constantly changing their looks and showing more interest in themselves like their female counterpart. In my collection you find an outfit for every occasion.
Rhowan James brand is a custom ready-to-wear men’s clothing line based in Toronto, Canada. It is a brand that caters to the modern day fashionisto. It takes cues from classic tailoring, sportswear, and streetwear. It is a line that embodies everything a modern man should be; strong, sophisticated and edgy. It is a lifestyle brand that is fueled by creativity and passion in the pursuit of excellence. The highest quality of luxurious materials, trims and clever details are fused with a precise construction which transforms each piece into works of art. I’m making designs for the dynamic, stylish individual who has a cultivated appreciation for fashion and a sense of sophistication in their everyday lifestyle. You will be able to find it at rhowanjames.com in February of next year.
Koliah: What’s one piece of advice you have for up and coming designers or someone who’s thinking about getting into the industry?
Rhowan: Get it done. There are no excuses. It does however take really good planning. Write out your vision. Seek advise. Get that seed money. Invest in yourself, and treat yourself.