Famous fashion photographer Bill Cunningham once said, “Fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life.” Now more than ever, in the work-from-home-reality we’re living in today, simply dressing up in a comfortable yet stylish set of clothes can make our situation better.
This work-from-home setup is what pushed Sammi Smith to create her own line of stylish yet comfortable clothes in 2017. This Toronto-based founder and designer has more than 10 years of experience working for some of Canada’s top fashion and apparel brands.
Business Name: Soft Focus
Name and Title: Sammi Smith, Owner/Designer
Education: Ryerson U – Fashion Design Grad
Edit Seven: Tell us more about Soft Focus. What is it about and what makes it different?
Sammi Smith: Soft Focus is a loungewear line, born from my love of design, fashion, and naps. In 2014 I left my last corporate fashion job to start freelancing, and all of a sudden I was waking up every day going, “Um, how do I get dressed when my office is my couch and a laptop?” That desire for cool but comfy clothes gave me a reason (and a way) to get dressed every day. [That] is where it all began.
I love the idea of turning a traditional category, like loungewear, on its head. I think what makes us different is that we design the collection to be an extension of your personal style. I’m a fashion nerd, so I love to bring into the collections all the style and pop-culture references I’m obsessed with. And the pieces are not just for lounging — wear them to work, wear them to the beach, wear them to dinner. It’s a way to bring that feeling of ease and comfort into everyday style.
Soft Focus has been featured in many E7 articles. Check them out here!
E7: Before you started Soft Focus, you’ve worked for well-known brands and companies, like Aritzia and Joe Fresh to name a few. What made you decide to leave your 9 to 5 and start your own line instead?
SS: I was just feeling creatively stuck, working at bigger companies and getting caught up in the seasonal cycle of everything. I didn’t love making clothes that I didn’t love. So, I decided that if I was going to stay in the industry, I’d need to carve out a new way to work in it. I started out freelancing, working with some cool smaller brands, like Jenny Bird. She’s a powerhouse, and I learned a lot from her — still do!
Working with a bunch of small businesses and start-ups is what inspired me to take the leap and do my own thing. The idea for Soft Focus began percolating almost as soon as I started working from home, but it took a few years before I’d built up my entrepreneurial muscles and confidence to take the leap and really start the business.
E7: Why loungewear? How or why did you get this idea as your business?
SS: WFH life really transformed how I wanted to get dressed every day. Plus, I’m a Taurus, so I come by my desire for all things comfy and luxurious, pretty naturally.
E7: Why do you love what you do?
SS: I love being creative. I love being able to tell stories through clothing and style. I love the community of small business owners I get to be a part of and connect with. And, I like making my own rules for how to do business.
E7: What do you love most about the products you have created?
SS: That they make women feel great — that’s really the most rewarding thing. It’s all just stuff until someone puts it on and makes it a part of their life, style, and story.
E7: What is your company goal and mission?
SS: To make clothes that women can feel at ease in. I’ve always thought that a comfortable woman is a powerful woman. I resent a lot of the discomfort that’s put on women through how we’re expected to look, dress, and present ourselves to the world. I’m so glad our concepts of beauty and style are changing, and I’m proud that Soft Focus can be a part of that evolution.
E7: Does your company currently incorporate any community-support or sustainability initiatives that we should know about?
SS: Sustainability has been a focus in our design and production since day one. It’s such a complicated issue in the fashion industry, but we really try to build it into every step of our process. We work with quality, plant-based fabrics, sustainably sourced whenever possible, like Tencel and Cupro. Polyester and other plastic or petroleum-based synthetic fabrics are a big NO for us.
We produce the collection with a small factory in China that’s partnered with us as a small brand, so we’re able to produce our collections in smaller quantities and are never pressured into making too much stuff. And, we have fun with it, too! Like making small accessories out of the leftover fabric from production. This season we have scrunchies (of all sizes!) and a new patchwork bandana I’m excited to launch soon!
E7: You’ve been running Soft Focus for almost four years now. What have been some of the biggest lessons and challenges you’ve encountered and learned from while running your business so far?
SS: It’s the most rewarding [yet] most stressful work I’ve ever done. It’s hard to describe that weird balance of entrepreneurship. Growing a business is much harder than starting a business. That’s a new one I’m learning right now.
You can’t do everything on your own, so find your community and ask for help when you need it. And I always like to remind myself to “Focus on your own yoga mat,” which I heard a yoga teacher say in class one time, and I turn to that any time I start to get consumed with comparing myself and my business to others.
E7: What is your one piece of advice to someone in your industry who’s just starting out?
SS: Don’t try to do everything all at once. Let go of perfection. Start slow and small. Test and iterate. Don’t be married to your first idea. Oh, and don’t be an asshole. That’s a really important one!
E7: Do you practice a daily or regular ritual that you love?
SS: I’m terrible at being consistent with anything. But, I usually try to carve out an intentionally slow start and slow end to my day.
E7: How do you stay balanced, organized, and motivated?
Mmm . . . therapy, an agenda, and a satisfying pen. Taking time off when I need it, my S/O Justin is a gem of a supportive human, and having a cool, creative group of friends who I can turn to when I need some camaraderie and spark.