Annie Thompson-Way Forward

Let's get back to knowing

With Annie Thompson

Human connection is a thing of great value, and so is the natural world.

Photography Gabrielle Adair (Mills)

Annie Thompson has pushed the boundary of Sustainable Fashion for 40-years by creating unique conscious garments. Annie Thompson designs are armour with a soul- to defend against waste, provide comfort, enhance your personality, and with big hands (otherwise pockets) to hold things. As she exits her 40-year in fashion, she talks to FORWARD on how Age, stage of life, COVID and designing for four decades is pointing her sights in the direction of the ‘here and now.’ And, about her design approach going back to the simpler days when she first created, while continuing to move forward.

Photography Gabrielle Adair (Mills)
“I have exited my 40th year in fashion! I’m not sure how that happened! I guess having my blinders on and being in the studio for hours, days, weeks, months, and now a new year has made it so! Made it sew.” recounts Annie Thompson, of her year that was 2020. Yes, we all know who Annie Thompson is, period. She is the ‘Pocket Queen’ as much as she is the ‘Vanguard of sustainable fashion.’ Annie Thompson Designs, the household name of sustainable wear, creates unique conscious designs – starting from concept, to sourcing, to production, to being as exclusive as her patrons’ individual needs. Forty years down the road, the spirit of responsibility that brings the Annie Thompson designs to life still stands, if not stronger. With this pause in ‘business as usual,’ “I am less busy with the future than ever before,” says Thompson (in a good way– happy face).

“Age, stage of life, COVID and forty years designing for my eponymous label are pointing my sights in the direction of the here and now. More personal and individualized fashion, more meaning in the present moment, less scurrying around, more appreciation, more dance, more music, more woods, more friendship, more meaning, more depth, more peace.”
There are fewer new styles of Annie Thompson designs in each collection: ‘Micro Sample Collections’ to take individual orders instead of production of each style. Even though it is more labour- intensive, it is a greener way – fewer emissions and nothing is heading to the landfill, she says.
From now on, Thompson will only create new designs that inspire her to give life to because of a need for them – climatic or circumstantial – not because she needs twenty new styles for the sake of a new seasonal fashion collection. Each piece has more reason for existing. They will be inspired and imbued with functionality and usefulness. When pieces’ work’ (deep pockets, two-way zips and more zips), they add ease to our days as manifested by the Thompson designs. With her self- imposed criteria for her best design, which is,–”It has to LOOK GOOD. FEEL GOOD. Fit, flatter, accentuate our best attributes and de-emphasize the lowlights.”
“Especially as we age, comfort is more important but not at the cost of looking good. I endeavour to strike a pleasing balance and use NATURAL and SUSTAINABLE FABRICS which feel the best against the skin.”
Many designers and manufacturers are rethinking their approaches and priorities– to produce higher-quality goods that last, can be passed down, up-cycled, worn longer and end up in landfills much less frequently. Although it may not be a good model for corporates and their profits, there are a handful of genuinely conscious corporations, on the one hand, building towards a more sustainable future. As far as Annie Thompson can see, the smaller independent designers are implementing sweeping mindful business practices. The virtues of ‘local’ are resonating more and more for many. She says that “knowing how much we have to do to make this planet liveable for our youngsters and all living things make the ‘A’ word (Amazon) much less desirable.” Are we purchasing with our morals intact?
Conscious consumers dig to understand their favourite brands’ sustainable practices, but valid information is not always at our fingertips.
Due to COVID, many companies are rethinking their supply chain systems and reconsidering the values of producing locally. It is not an easy feat to dismantle supply/production and rejig everything. Having more control by producing and supporting local –citizens and the economy– speaks louder now than before the pandemic. Many who appreciate good design also understand the costs associated with it (labour – living wages for made locally/made in Canada) and will continue to support independent design when financially viable. Many value good things and want and need far less ‘stuff,’ so better and fewer purchases will prevail, affirms Thompson.

Photography Gabrielle Adair (Mills)

Photography Anna Perena    

“Age, stage of life, COVID and forty years designing for my eponymous label are pointing my sights in the direction of the here and now. More personal and individualized fashion, more meaning in the present moment, less scurrying around, more appreciation, more dance, more music, more woods, more friendship, more meaning, more depth, more peace.”

Like billions of others, Annie Thompson was not immune to the impact and challenges of the COVID pandemic. Less travel back and forth to Toronto as the TO studio is no longer open. No more big shows. No more crossing borders with merchandise and booth- building components. That is Thompson during the pandemic, and her designs were less about sales volume, more about connection and adding value to our lives with each item. She is making the patterns, cutting the samples, and sewing, pressing and finishing them herself. Back to the good old days when she had her first big studio above a Shoppers Drug Mart on the main drag in downtown Peterborough, Ontario, she recalls. “Some of my local guy friends had a band, The Sea. They used to practice in my space till all hours of the morning, and I’d be there designing and sewing new products for my store, MMMongo, down the street. I felt so lucky that I could make things, and folks would come in and love them and buy them! I was happy and self- expressed. I loved the whole process – design things in my head, illustrate them, make the patterns, cut, sew, finish, press and sell them. It was so exciting and fulfilling to see new things transition from 2D to 3D. I wanted to master every aspect of fashion-making without the aid of a computer. Hands- on was my style and still is. My business’s manageable small scale limited my profits, but I needed to remain independent, and I haven’t followed the typical fashion business model.

Courtesy of Annie Thompson    

I am thankful to have met many wonderful people through my work: some of whom I have now known and worked with for forty years! My very first client in Peterborough has been a dear friend since 1981, just after graduating from fashion design at Ryerson U. Making clothes for someone is a very intimate thing. You get to know folks.
Let’s get back to knowing WHO MADE MY CLOTHES!”
Human connection is a thing of great value, and so, of course, is the natural world. Thompson points out that both may have previously been taken for granted a little too often.
Besides fashion, she has been doing her version of art therapy with a few elderly folks with dementia. Engaging with them has been a blessing and a meaningful eye-opener for her. “Having a sense that what you are doing matters to someone is, I think, a human need,” she shared. “I have felt a sense of purpose in my quest to make good clothing for people and have been so satisfied by the connections made with clients and associates through my work and travel in fashion.” Now Thompson also feels that sense of purpose deeply in a new and different way while she uses her love of art, music, song, dance and outdoor fitness and exploration. Putting into practice what she could barely find time for during her forty years of designing, promoting and selling her wares is a great gift.

At the dawn of the new era in fashion, for Annie Thompson, the Fashion Revolution manifesto still holds– A global fashion industry that conserves and restores the environment and values people over growth and profit. Custom-made/bespoke swaps and repairs are part of the way forward, Thompson expressed. She wants people to get back to knowing WHO made their clothes, which is happening but only on a micro- scale, and wishes that it would be the only way people could buy new clothes besides making them themselves! “Let’s have sewing classes (home economics) in schools again!” Annie Thompson. ■