Remark by Lauren
Updated: Jun 27
Running concurrently with the global rise in capitalism as the ultimate from of success and individualism, we have seen the advent of a Neo-Marxist approach to business-as-usual that has grasped Millennials and Gen Z’s. Reeling against the now apparent adverse effects of capitalist culture on society and the environment, these generations have taken to building small, scalable businesses with a sustainable agenda, not only in their brand culture, but down to every inch of their supply chains in ways that large, immobile corporations cannot – despite saying they do.
The fashion industry - with its ever-changing seasons and trends, and ever-growing ill effects on the environment, from cultivation of fabrics, working conditions in textile plants, shipping and transport, waste, synthetic materials, etc – has been one of the biggest offenders of environmental damage, but with its inherently creative foundation, also one of the leaders on the forefront of sustainability as the basis of business. In Toronto, one of those leaders is designer Lauren Novak, aka, RemarkbyLauren.
Novak has built a unique business whose ethos is sustainability, not hopeful sustainability, or small steps sustainability, but an almost zero carbon footprint sustainability model. Lauren works with exclusively found materials to create her one-of-one designs. By using non-virgin materials, Lauren can honour the previous life of a garment and create the nostalgia we so desperately crave in fashion these days, or, conversely, she can fully deconstruct materials to create something completely reimagined. For Novak, a shirt need not stay a shirt, or shoe stay a shoe. Socks can be full zip Nike catsuits, Converse sneakers can be lace up bikini tops, yards of zippers can be billowing wide-legged trousers, curtains can be a corset, a basketball can be a purse, tents can be a whole series, and sheets can be Disney’s dopest streetwear.
“There are so many pre-existing materials in this world, you do not need to buy [new material] to create something new. Yes, it’s a little bit challenging because there are about twelve-thousand extra steps instead of just going to a fabric store and pulling a piece of fabric off the shelf, but it is so much more satisfying.” Novak says, “I’ve always been an environmental freak growing up and when I first started up making clothes, I did find myself buying fabrics and something about that just never sat right with me. I loved what I was creating, but it didn’t feel right. Something was missing and I wasn’t as satisfied as I should be, so I started seeing what was around me and trying out new techniques. I’d look and say, ‘I have this t-shirt and if I just do this and this to it, I’ll love it even more.’”
By using ever varying sources of materials and not having to commit to more than a few pieces in any particular style, Novak is able to reach outside of the bounds of a singular fashion genre and instead create fully from inspiration. With pieces currently featured in GEZNO MAGAZINE, FASHION Magazine, and music videos all around the city, we see the breadth of the designer’s creativity, moving seamlessly from haute fashion to street style without a blip.
But what happens to inspiration that comes from the city’s undulating sea of bodies walking up and down Queen St on a Sunday afternoon, or the endless rows of passed over garments inside of Value Village at Bloor and Landsdowne, when a pandemic hits and one is confined to apartment walls?
“Something like Instagram is huge now because I can see what’s going on in other parts of the world where people are allowed to live their lives, or I’m looking back at old movies and TV shows and seeing their wardrobes. I guess it has been learning how to shift where to look and shift where to draw inspiration.”
For further inspiration and continuing with her sustainability ethos and progressive business model, Novak works in collaboration with other small businesses and creatives in a network to support one another. Competition is a term slowly expiring in the new wave of modern business principles. Novak notes, “You learn a lot and you get to grow a lot when meeting other people, so I think it’s important to always be collaborating. It doesn’t necessarily mean two designers collaborating, but maybe someone collaborating on ideas with you.” Even in a pandemic, Lauren has found ways to keep working with others in order to support local business in this critical time. Most recently the designer has worked with a poet in plain clothes who sourced tents for her to create a whole series for GEZNO MAGAZINE and she’s kept her long standing relationship with @runwaythecatwalker, collaborator, model, and friend to use as a sounding board and creative inspiration. “He is an artist and so I always work with him and we create a lot of unique pieces for him. He has a wild mind and I have a wild mind, so it’s amazing when I create things with him.”
Lately, while navigating the continued success of her brand, Novak has also taken to social media to share her knowledge of sustainability – and lack-there-of – in the fashion industry, helping us consumers choose more wisely the things we buy. She discusses the environmental impacts of cryptocurrency, faux vs real fur, and ‘Greenwashing’ - the process of implementing minute changes to label a product ‘sustainable’ while continuing with other negative practices. Along with education, in the next few months we will see her conquer the arduous tasks of scalability. The designer, now facing an ever-increasing demand for her pieces and a no-compromise mentality for sustainability, is setting a new standard for what it means to grow a business ethically.
Other than her upward trajectory into the heart of Toronto fashion, when asked about the future and what we can expect to see in terms of designs, she is just as in the loop as her loyal fans. Every new material she finds is a new inspiration, so she tries to not plan what will inevitably change the next time she pops into Value Village or a new collaborator reaches out. “I get bored very easily, so I need to keep challenging [myself] and be trying something new so I don’t stay stagnant.” She says of the process, always staying nimble to honour her creativity and to pivot when need be to continue to be as sustainable and ethical as she can.