Interview: Brigid Rae
Photographs: Jade Pattenden

Brigid Rae
Michaela Pearle

Introduce yourself and what you do:

Hello, my name is Michaela. I am a new mother, a Capricorn, a lover of flowers, and a textile designer. I am currently working on a knitwear project called Pearle Knits, producing comfortable and sexy garments for folks of different ages and a range of body sizes.

Favorite compliment you’ve received about yourself:

Probably that I am turning into my mother. She is a wonderful woman.

As a slow fashion brand whose pieces are so sought after. What struggles have you faced in meeting supply and demand, while still choosing to remain faithful to your ethics?

Since Pearle Knits’ inception I have struggled with the concept of growth, and how to grow in a way that stays true to the brand’s ethos and ethics. I’ve always feared that moving the knitwear construction to a factory we’d lose the handmade aspect of it, especially if I wasn’t able to be present for quality control. For many years I have personally done all the construction and knitting of each garment, many nights and days sitting at my knitting machine. On occasion for larger wholesale orders, I have hired knitters to help me complete some pieces, but mostly it’s been just learning to juggle the making, designing and marketing of the brand. Life has a way of leading you where you need to go through because since I’ve become a mother, the inner battle of growing has been shelved due to there just physically not being enough time in the day to do more than I already am. I feel that being a business owner I am constantly having to bat down the capitalistic tendencies ingrained in me that I need to produce more, make more money and grow, but I am learning to accept these as passing thoughts and not act on them. We hope that our customers come back because they appreciate what we’re doing and want to support the handmade aspect of our business and that sometimes waiting a couple of weeks for a garment is worth the wait!

How do you remain authentic with yourself and others? 

I believe authenticity is something we must constantly work at, we aren’t inherently authentic people. I try to approach each day from a place of honesty, in my relationships and my business. Being true to my word, and using my word as a sort of navigational tool to hold myself accountable is where I start. Being a mother, living a life of honesty is something I constantly strive for and work at.

We’re seeing consumers demand sustainable, ethical and inclusive practices from the brands they buy from. Has that made it so that you were more critical of how you exist as a brand or was that something you were always intentional about?

I think its great consumers are starting to understand the immense destruction the fashion industry does to our planet and they are demanding sustainability, ethical and inclusive practices. That being said, unfortunately, brands that either don’t really understand the meaning of sustainability or just want to jump on the bandwagon of using this language to their benefit and there is a lot of greenwashing going on in fashion at the moment. For Pearle Knits we are continuously working towards a sustainable future, but it takes time. Many aspects of our business have a minimal carbon footprint but I choose to use my words wisely and not make any sweeping claims that we don’t have any waste because it’s a complex network that goes into zero waste. It’s not just about the production of a garment that we need to look at in terms of waste, it’s the full life cycle— where it goes when the consumer is done with it and how it decomposes. I could ramble on about sustainability for a while, but what I will say is it does make me more critical of each choice we make in producing for Pearle Knits—where we buy our yarn, how much of it, where we buy our packaging, where we print our tags— all these things are intentional at driving our brand towards a lower footprint.

How can we make it so that fashion is both sustainable, ethical, inclusive and financially accessible? Is it possible?

The problem with the fashion industry is there is a large divide— the bigger the stores, the more they produce, the more accessible it is in prices and sometimes sizing, but the more destructive it is environmentally in its production. The brands that are making clothing ethically, paying their sewers and employees fair wages, and using textiles that are dyed with natural dyes and grown organically have much higher prices and are less accessible. If we wanted to be radical about making fashion sustainable, I believe we would have to stop producing new garments completely and learn to re-distribute the already existing textiles, up-cycling and recycling the mass amounts we throw away. This would take a lot of work in our minds as well— unlearning our deep-rooted capitalistic tendencies of equating money and consumption with success. As consumers become more informed on what they want to buy and who to buy from I believe that the divide will only become larger until these larger clothing brands stop using environmental language to sell garments and act on and work towards sustainable practices. Unfortunately, it is the larger companies that create the most destruction and we small businesses can try to alter the thinking in the consumer, but to see real impact environmentally, the larger corporations need to change their practices.

As both a brand and person, what habits and mindsets are you breaking up with? What are you analyzing in your relationship with the fashion industry?

Honestly, it’s tempting to break up with the fashion industry completely. I have tried my best to exist on the outside of the traditional “fashion brand” scope by making each piece to order, by not working on the fashion calendar, producing our garments slowly and thoughtfully. But as the years pass by I am constantly analyzing if this is an industry I want to be working within at all. I’ve seen first hand the ugliest side of fashion. The castings and photoshoots where you analyze folk's bodies and flaws and treat bodies as if they are something else. I’ve seen the waste and carelessness brands can have with all the offcuts of fabric and unused materials. Habitually, I am trying to shift my perspective about this knitwear project I’ve been working on all these years, and look at it outside fashion and where it can sit outside the body. I find it strange that in fashion specifically we grow tired of garments so quickly but in something like furniture or housewares we covet our pieces and keep them for a lifetime, passing them down to our children or friends. Let’s just say we have ideas brewing outside of fashion completely.

How do you hold yourself accountable as a brand?

We hold ourselves accountable by speaking honestly to our customers. We strive to hire inclusively when we do photoshoots or need other help. We try to make our pieces accessible through a range of sizes and offer custom work. We know our prices aren’t accessible to many and are working towards having items that are on the less expensive end to allow those who want to participate in Pearle can potentially do so.

As a brand what impact do you want to have on your customers?

We hope that when you put on your Pearle you feel empowered, comfortable and maybe even the best version of yourself. We want to leave you with a feeling, when you wear a Pearle, any feelings, good or bad, but just to feel something from our pieces.

Using our latest collections campaign as a mode, we interviewed and photographed 6 people here within our Vancouver community. These voices are loud, these voices and bodies are bold, these bodies and voices are tired, they're grieving, they’re healing, they’re celebrating, they’re resilient, and they’re a conduit for change, each on their own trajectory to see a change and shift in power.

Each person that spoke with us selected a charity to support. Michaela has selected Vancouver Black Therapy & Advocacy Fund. If you are able and choose to make a contribution (big or small), email us your receipt to hello@wolfcircus.com and receive a 20% off discount code between October 1–6.