In 2013, Holt Renfrew launched a new initiative. As a component of their commitment to social responsibility, it tapped into a much larger movement taking shape.
Led by Alexandra Weston, DVP of Brand and Creative Strategy, H Project is Holt Renfrew’s answer to the ever-growing need for a fashion-industry overhaul towards a more sustainable system. The project itself grew from the already established designer collaboration program, and the H, if you’re wondering, stands for Humanity, Health and Habitat.
This particular department, an in-store feature at some locations, presents “socially responsible products that are ethically and sustainably made.” More specifically, it means that every item featured in the collections must meet at least one of three benefits in order to be considered: economic, social or environmental. This allows for a range of items in the collection, whether it be from up and coming brands, popular artisans local to the featured destination, or designer collaborations, all to coexist under one theme.
Uncrate Southeast Asia Edition
As part of the Uncrate A Culture Program, a key element of H Project, Holt Renfrew (along with designers in partnership) chooses an area of the world “that relies heavily on traditional craftsmanship as a form of livelihood.” For the upcoming launch, with a release date set for March, the area of focus for the collections was Southeast Asia. This is the latest instalment to an already impressive run featuring Uncrate Canada, South America, Africa and India.
What was readily apparent at the Holt Renfrew event was that the team – a very small one I might add – take great pride and interest in what they do. And because of that, both the initiative and the event felt cohesive, interesting and honestly, really fun. It felt as though each piece had a story, and that it was almost even more exclusive (while also being inclusive, if that makes sense) than being at a traditional fashion presentation.
In speaking with Laura Shaddick, Director of Brand and Creative Strategy, I learned that a LOT of research goes into creating each collection. And because they have such a small team, they are able to keep tight control over sourcing and quality – key components to keeping a line as sustainable as possible.
As for the brands that were not specifically made by artisans, they were, however, made in some part in Southeast Asia. Whether it was the fabric that was sourced there, or a vetted factory was used, every brand selected reflects the ethical mandate of the program.
Popular brands like Girlfriend Collective were present, with a table of the company’s latest activewear, all in my favourite neutral tones. Then there was Outland Denim, a brand whose key focus is on the welfare of the seamstresses employed in their factories in Cambodia. They are also a Certified B Corporation and a top choice made very popular by now Duchess of Success Meghan Markle. The presence of these brands was something I wasn’t expecting, but was also delightfully surprised about. To me, combining this variety of companies normalizes sustainable fashion and raises the bar for it at the same time.
Simply put: it makes people want to get behind the movement. It’s in that power that companies like Holt Renfrew are able to have an influence in the direction of sustainability – and the speed at which it evolves. When I first learned about the program, I was of course excited, but as I did more research I realized that this initiative is one of the best corporate give back programs I’ve seen.
The Perfect Venue: Kiin
A final, but important part of the evening was, of course, the venue.
Located at 326 Adelaide Street W, Kiin restaurant is a local Thai favourite. Kiin, meaning “eat” in Thai, is a little restaurant tucked behind a woven, magenta-hued facade and big, bright windows, right in the heart of downtown Toronto. Every detail, from design to presentation is on point, but with an authenticity that transports you to another destination.
And on top of all that, their appetizers were visually stunning – I almost couldn’t eat them. Almost.
I also had the opportunity to meet Chef Nuit and Jeff Regular, owners of Kiin and just two of the nicest people. Their restaurant has it all and then some: beautiful atmosphere, cozy vibe, delicious food and stunning, tasty drinks. And of course, the Thai venue met perfectly with the event, helping to tie in all elements of the Southeast Asian themed presentation.
So next time you’re in Holt Renfrew in Toronto or Vancouver – and soon enough, in Montreal too – be sure to check out the H Project department! If you’re curious about the other collections, I’ll add the links again below so that you can read up on the travel inspiration, designer collaborations and more. To keep up to date with the initiative, follow their Instagram account here.