Owner/Designer - The Stowe, Mile End + Mile Ex
“The reality [of the fashion industry] is so hard core. Like being a design assistant? I was like, “Screw that.” It’s working towards somebody else’s vision. I lean towards entrepreneurship and have always liked working for myself – but I had no idea it was going to be this.”
In 2007, Calgary transplant Molly Spittal graduated from Vancouver’s Blanche MacDonald fashion design program into an uncertain future. Not sure of her place within the industry, she took a part-time job at a small independent boutique, Umeboshi Shoes, while she toyed with the idea of opening her own shop. It wasn’t until the untimely, and fortuitous, death of a favourite belt (for the record: Joe Fresh), that Molly even picked up her first piece of leather.
“It fell apart and it was just so perfect! I went down to my leather guy that was in my hood and I was like, ‘What do I do?’ He showed me…I picked up the material and a lightbulb went off. It’s my medium.”
Molly began experimenting with her new found fabric of choice, making belts and investing in her first tools; a longhole and a punch. Working at a fine footwear store only stoked her passions; immersed in luxury handmade goods, she learned much about the craft and the market through handling and selling upscale brands. In her off hours she began designing her own items.
“I’m self taught actually. It took a lot of trial and error. There are pictures on my Instagram from ages ago, and it’s me playing around at my picnic table outside on my balcony in Vancouver, and I was making belts, in a really cool design that I should probably reissue. I was playing around…”
Molly transitioned to designing canvas bags with leather straps, which she sold at Umeboshi. Her aesthetic, a stripped down modern interpretation of classic shapes, like soft satchels, saddlebags and totes, struck a chord with customers. But arguably, it wasn’t until she made the move from Vancouver to Montreal in 2011, that her brand, The Stowe, was officially born. Another serendipitous job opportunity, as a sample maker at the former legendary Mtl leather house Fullum & Holt, secured Molly’s foundation. She spent her days creating leather goods for some of the world’s most renowned brands, from Alexander Wang to Helmut Lang and when the company closed its doors in 2013 Molly, scored some hard to come by machinery.
In the past few years, her business has grown rapidly. She now shares an expansive, light-filled space in the Mile Ex with a slew of other Montreal makers. Along with overseeing all aspects of her brand from communication through to production, Molly manages the space with her partner Shanah Flodstrom, owner of Assembly Home Goods and Little House Clothing , whom she met in Vancouver. The studio is home to fourteen full and part time designers and operates under the name Collectif Montreal.
“I love this space; it’s my happy place and everybody’s so great; we make such a good team. Everyone is sort of in the same boat, some people are a little further ahead career-wise so we share advice…It’s a well oiled machine, and I had no idea it was going to turn out this good. It’s very harmonious. We all think we’re the luckiest people in the world, I mean this is where we work and this is what we do!”
Molly heads to New York in the spring to approach potential buyers. She’s been strategic about placing herself in some of the most coveted boutiques across Canada and the States and now her eye is on strengthening The Stowe’s reach in the Big Apple. Things have gotten so busy in the last few months that she’s been exclusively focusing on production while her boyfriend, Matt Atkinstall, has taken on the management end of things. Not too shabby for a brand just shy of its three year mark. The allure of the Stowe is the implicit edge and attention to detail put into its signature styles; a tried and true tote bag features a perforated middle or a bucket bag is given some grown-ass umph with thick braided cording. Her bags are the girl every guy wants to date and every girl wants to be. Cool.
“My process is really different because I’m a fashion designer. I actually use leather and build with leather and I prototype a lot, and then if it works, I draft the pattern, which is kind of weird. I rarely sketch, ever, if I have an idea I kind of build it up…So I don’t really know where my aesthetic comes from, it’s very me, but I don’t know how it comes out. I guess my style hasn’t really changed since my first bag, things have just gotten a little more intricate… Shanah, my business partner has [the original tote] and wears it almost every day and it’s unstoppable. They’re so basic, no crap anywhere, stripped down. My bags have a lot of life in them.”
The it factor in Molly’s success, outside of her tireless work ethic, impeccable taste level and an impossibly chic offering – just might be her fighting spirit and resilient attitude. One gets the sense that her eye is on the prize and she’s not easily shaken.
“If you can come here and make it, because in some ways I don’t think it’s an easy place to live, especially if you don’t speak French, you are tough and can make it anywhere. I know they say that about New York, but please! Try to make it in Montreal, I dare you! There’s a ton of opportunity in New York, but Montreal is a challenge. I like the challenge.”
This weekend head to 107-160 St. Viateur Est (next to Frank & Oak) where Collectif Montreal, including Ms. Molly Spittal of The Stowe, will host a holiday Pop-Up shop. Hours: Friday and Saturday, 10am-8pm & Sunday 11am–6pm