I feel like so many people dream of starting their own company with their best friend but you two are actually doing it. What made you do it?
We talked about doing it for a long time but it did take us a while to actually take the plunge! I (Rachel) lived in NYC for 10 years with my husband and daughter in Brooklyn and was so spoiled for choice when it came to beautiful children’s clothes that were being made locally and with integrity. When my family moved back to Vancouver, the choices were so limited. At that point, Jen was fully immersed in her career as a senior designer at a major fashion house but starting to feel the pull of slow fashion. We started talking about Petits Vilains but more in a hypothetical way – like, wouldn’t it be amazing if we could do it. Jen is so talented and I knew she could design the collection of our dreams but it took us many months of legwork to figure out if we could find local manufacturing partners we felt really good about and to source truly premium, sustainable fabric. We were on the precipice for a good while, feeling like we had the potential to make this happen but being completely terrified. Finally, after an emotional, wine-filled night, we just went for it and haven’t looked back!
I had the privilege of hearing a bit about your history and friendship. Do you mind sharing a bit here?
We met on the first day of kindergarten and we’ve been inseparable since then. As latch key kids in the 80s, we were given a lot of freedom and spent many, many hours together, often planning and executing elaborate projects like avant-garde Halloween costumes that took months to make. We grew up together, played sports
together, shared friends, clothes, make-up, and even boyfriends sometimes too – ha! After high school, we lived in different cities but stayed in touch. Then in our mid-twenties, we found ourselves both living in Montreal while I was in law school and Jen was working in her first fashion design job out of Ryerson and it was so nice to be reunited! I even set Jen up on a blind date with her now husband Casey, a law school classmate of mine. 10 years after that, and we were both back in Vancouver with young families and started dreaming up Petits Vilains.
It’s not always the case that you would choose your childhood friend over again as an adult but we really would. We have one of those friendships that has all the familiarity and closeness that history brings but has been able to evolve as we have grown and changed. This will really date us but we’ve been friends now for 33 years! One of our greatest joys has been watching our husbands and now our children become close friends. We feel pretty lucky.
Where did you come up with the name Petit Vilains and what does it mean to you?
Jen’s husband Casey is from Quebec and Petits Vilains is a cheeky term of endearment he grew up with and now calls his and Jen’s two girls. As soon as Jen suggested it, it felt completely right. My mom’s side of the family is French so I loved that and the wink to the mischievous nature of children. So many children’s brands present such an idealized version of childhood and we wanted to be a little irreverent about that. Don’t get us wrong, motherhood is full of joy and magic and our love for our children truly knows no bounds, but there is also some ambivalence there, about the lifestyles that we’ve lost, the weight of responsibility and the pure chaos of life with kids. They are unbearably cute, but boy can they be crazy!
How do you balance starting a clothing company and having a family? Any work-life balance tips or hacks you can share?
It’s a daily struggle and most days feel really out of balance. Either we’re working long hours and feel really productive and coming home to demanding, clingy kiddos that miss their mama or we’re having amazing adventures with our kids and freaking out at the unanswered emails piling up. We wish there was some foolproof hack we could share but if there is we haven’t found it yet! For us, having really excellent part-time childcare has been key and scheduling in time with our kids where we’re totally focused on them (except, of course, when we’re checking Instagram in the bathroom). Also, supportive husbands and families have been essential for us.
After having my kids wear your clothes for the past couple months, I get it but for people that haven't seen or felt your clothes what would you want them to know about Petit Vilains?
We’d want them to know that Petits Vilains is a line of clothing for children ranging from 1 to 7 years of age. Each piece feels special but can be worn every day. The collection is a modern take on timeless silhouettes; a nostalgic nod to tunics, pinafores and bloomers is balanced with relaxed harem pants and sportier knit essentials. Touchable textures like 21 wale Japanese corduroy, subtle baby rib knits and gauzy cottons are soft on delicate skin. Key details include modern ruffles, pockets for treasures and adjustable draw cords. The colour palette is sophisticated but still playful; rose, honey and mauve accent classic neutrals like navy, khaki
and black. The fit is relaxed with room to grow – many of the pieces will last two years on the same child. And of course, fabrics are always natural and organic whenever possible.
Why is ethically sourced fabric and local manufacturing so important to you?
We really see sustainable and ethical production as a core part of our brand ethos. Of course, we want to make beautiful clothes but we knew we only wanted to put out a line if we could do it with complete confidence in how it was made and what it was being made with. It has been an enormous challenge holding ourselves to that standard but we’re so glad we have. We have gone through a steep learning curve on how fibers are grown, milled, and dyed. After many, many hours of research, travel, and site visits we are really proud of our fabric sources. Our knit essentials are made with organic cotton grown and milled in the USA and dyed with low-
impact, fibre-reactive dyes in a closed loop system where water is continually recycled. For our woven pieces, we are using all natural fibres and organic wherever possible from a very select group of mills. In terms of local manufacturing, we always envisioned this business as a way of supporting the local economy and building community. Many people don’t know this but we have factories right here in Vancouver with seamstresses and workers with tremendous expertise and skill. We see our relationship with our factory as a partnership and have so much respect for the work that they do. We want to support these jobs staying here, and show that we can make beautiful, high-quality clothes in our hometown.
Thanks to Jen and Rachel for these thoughtful responses and sharing so much of what brought you together to create this beautiful line of clothing for our little Vilains. They've also offered a generous giveaway which will go live on my Instagram on Tuesday August 8th. Petits Vilains launches sales on their website mid-August.