On the Future of Sustainable Fashion with Vancouverite Sam Lau of Hecho & Co.

Sam Lau is the adventurous and creative mind (and soon to be sole proprietor) of Hecho & Co., the local textile brand which includes a range of beautifully woven scarves, bags and clothing featuring environmentally-friendly materials like linen and plant-based dyes. Inspired by her travels to Mexico, Lau conceived of Hecho & Co. as a collaboration between herself and her business-savvy sister, Henrieta, along with the producers and craftspeople she encountered and came to know during her travels.

Be sure to seek Sam out at the Eastside Flea holiday market on December 8th and 9th, and the Shipyards Christmas Market in North Van on December 15th. In the meantime, get to know more about the woman and brand that rallies for a more sustainable fashion future…

What is your neighbourhood and what makes it home? Mount Pleasant. Everything that my family and I need to live life and build community is walking distance away.

What are your neighbourhood haunts? Elysian, Brassneck and Sushi Yama. The Vancouver trifecta of coffee, beer and sushi.

Your favourite place in Vancouver? Pacific Spirit Park.

Your favourite place in the world, so far? Tahiti.

The place or places you haven’t visited yet but would like to? India and Bolivia.

What makes Mexico so special to you? It’s hard to be succinct about this one. My love for Mexico runs deep and wide. The diversity of indigenous culture, the temperate mountain landscapes, the passionate and friendly people. I could go on.

What is the biggest misconception about Mexico? That’s it’s all beaches and margaritas. It’s such a culturally and ecologically diverse country with so much to offer.

Something that you’ve learned about Mexican culture that you would love to see applied in Vancouver? I love the camaraderie among strangers. There is a custom of wishing other people eating in a restaurant “Buen Provecho” as you enter or exit. I just love that acknowledgment and politeness. Let’s start it in Vancouver!

“Whenever I spend time with the weavers in their home, engaging in the handmade process and playing with their children I am reminded of why we need to keep these cottage industries alive.”

What is the best part of traveling, in your opinion? I’ve almost always travelled alone. For some reason traveling alone opens you up to so many more possibilities than when in the comfort of familiar people. The best part is chance encounters that turn into meaningful conversations and maybe even unexpected adventures!

What is your least favourite thing about travelling? Feeling unsafe and/or objectified as a woman.

Where does the name “Hecho & Co.” come from? ‘Hecho’ is ‘made’ in Spanish. I think I chose this word because we’re trying to bring the focus on how things are made. Bringing the stories of the people and processes that made our textiles. & Co. referring to the company of people that makes the project possible, from the weavers to the consumer.

What does your sister, Henrieta, contribute to Hecho & Co. that you don’t, and vice versa? Henrieta brings a level-headedness to both our design and business decisions that is much needed in running a successful business. I’m the creative crazy-head that always has a million ideas flowing and wants to execute everything all at once. Having said that, she has taken a break from Hecho to pursue a masters in Art and Politics in London, so we’ll see how I do.

What is the best thing about working with your sister? What do you two butt heads over? The best thing about working with my sister is that you can be brutally honest. We usually butt heads when I have crazy ambitious ideas and my sister tries to be the voice of reason both logistically and financially.

You’re also a full-time teacher, if I’m correct? What do you do in your spare time to unwind and/or where do you find the energy for both pursuits? Yes, I teach a Kindergarten and Grade 1 class full-time. Since adopting a dog this summer, I’ve been carving a couple hours each day to stroll through the city or hit the trails. That has really helped with unwinding. I think I genuinely love and am passionate about both pursuits, and I couldn’t imagine giving up either.

What is the most important lesson that “your” kids have taught you? My students bring the brightest, most positive energy to the classroom everyday. They remind me that making mistakes is part of the process of learning.

What do you do when you need a creative boost? Bubble bath, groovy music.

What is the first step to being an ethical consumer? Being curious about where our things come from.

Tell me about the moment that the realities of ethical clothing production “clicked” for you? Whenever I spend time with the weavers in their home, engaging in the handmade process and playing with their children I am reminded of why we need to keep these cottage industries alive.

How do you find the people you work with? The first year, I just went into well-known weaving villages and started knocking on doors.

What was the most surprising thing that you learned about clothing production when starting up Hecho & Co.? How many steps it takes from conceiving a design to actually getting it in the customer’s hands.

What is the biggest misconception about the garment/textile industry? I don’t know if this is the biggest, but that foreign made garments are bad and locally made garments are good. I think there’s a lot more complexity to the industry than is perceived. My mom used to sew and knit for large companies in Vancouver that would contract off their work to home sewers. Working conditions aren’t controlled and companies pay per piece rather than per hour. She would be paid so little for her work that she ended up switching industries.

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Describe your style in ten words or less. Androgynous, functional, fibre-oriented.

What piece of clothing are you currently living in? My Hecho hand woven cardigan.

What is the most sentimental item of clothing that you own? A huipil from my very first trip through Guatemala.

What was the last unexpected or unusual source of inspiration that you encountered? Lichen on fallen branches.

Tell me about your design process – you use watercolours? I studied traditional Chinese watercolour painting for many years so it’s the medium that comes easiest to me. With the paintings, I collaborate with the weavers to figure out measurements, weave pattern and materials. I try to weave the first samples with the artisan so I get a good understanding of the process and often many spontaneous design decisions happen at the loom.

What is your background? I majored in International Relations in undergrad, and I have my Bachelor of Education.

Where did you go to school? UBC.

What has been your most valuable “real life” lesson? Many mistakes could have been avoided if I had followed my instincts. I’m still learning to see things as they are instead of convincing myself of otherwise.

What is your most valuable tool? My Spanish.

Your favourite method of transportation? Biking.

What is your favourite material to work with? Anything that is a natural, sustainable fibre.

How about a material that you’d like to work with in the future? Sustainable cashmere.

A healthy habit and/or ritual that you have? Morning yoga.

A guilty pleasure? Food videos on Youtube.

Your guiltiest pleasure purchase? Ice-cream from Earnest. Linen bed sheets from Flax Sleep.

Your favourite thing to do on a rainy Vancouver day? Mountain bike ride, Pho, bubble bath. That would be my ideal rainy Vancouver day.

What is next for Hecho & Co? Where do you see the company a year from now? How about 5 years down the road? Next big thing is a coat we’re developing with a local non-profit, Abel Wear, to be sewn right here Vancouver. Not sure what the future holds, but I would love to take greater creative risks and continue to spread the love of handwoven, natural-fibre textiles.

Besides the Abel Wear coat, what garment or object would you like to make in the future? I’ve been sitting on the idea of a duffle bag for years now. Furniture is also a big one on my list.

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