Danica Rukavina on learning hands-on at Aritzia, the future of fashion, and how to make it.

The first time I walked into Aritzia, I was gobsmacked. I finally had access to brands I was typically only able to find in New York City.  In my opinion, Aritzia provides women with the best cuts and fabrics currently available in Montreal.

You can understand my urgent need to reach out to my friend Danica Rukavina to find out what it is like to work for this amazing company.

Kendall Jenner in Wilfred scarf

source: Pinterest

I knew Danica way back when she was a Lasalle College student and intern here in Montreal.  Danica and her husband moved back to Vancouver (sadly for me) in 2005, the same year she began working at Aritzia. Danica has climbed the corporate ladder successfully, all while maintaining her passion for design, raising 2 children, and continuing to travel to exotic locations with her husband. She inspires me, and so I figured, she would inspire you as well.

I remember asking her what she wanted most out of life when we were in our 20’s, and her answer was “To take care of my husband, and to make sure that he and my children are happy. And I want to be well paid because I work hard.”  Her design skills back then were obvious, but it was her strong vision for her life that made me sure she was one to watch.  She had a strength and humility that still comes through today.  I am so very excited about this interview.

Danica’s life is yet another example of how following your passions and working hard, are always the best recipes for success.  OK, here goes…!

Danica and her daughter Isabela in Monaco.

Angelique: You recently went for quite a long spell to Europe as a family. I absolutely loved your pictures! It seemed like an epic journey.  

Danica: My husband works as a Sustainable Building Consultant with many of his contracts in Saudi Arabia. It was to the point where he was away every 6 weeks and it was tough to balance working full time with two kids, one in school, and one in daycare. I felt like I wasn’t able to do a good job of anything. We decided to look into moving to Europe as an option of being somewhere halfway, so off we went.

At the top of the mountain in Barcelona, Spain.

We traveled through London, Spain, France, Monte Carlo exploring possibilities. London is one of my all-time favourite places. I love the energy, the culture. Over the years I’ve been there so many times and have some dear friends living there. It’s always been on my list as a place I’d love to live -maybe someday.

In the famous bull ring in Rhonda, Andalucia, Spain.

Rhonda in Spain was a big highlight for us. Amazing food, incredible vistas, winding tiny streets. Quintessential European town. Monte Carlo, is now where I’m convinced I’ll retire, and of course Paris!

“One of my favourite mapping photos. Finding a route to the next stop 😉 “

A: You trained at Lasalle college here in Montreal. What did you learn, and why did you select that school? 

D: When I went to Lasalle College, I was in my late 20’s and already had a Bachelor of Arts in Literature. I had sewn all my life but wasn’t very good at drawing, so I was intimidated at first to go to fashion school, even though I really wanted to. Lasalle gave me the opportunity to intern in Montreal – a city I had always wanted to live in – and the confidence I needed to get working as soon as possible and learn on the job. Drawing didn’t matter as I was able to express myself and my designs by making them.

A: Do you have a mentor?  How did you get one?

D: I have always tried to learn as much as possible from knowledgeable people and strive to continuously improve myself and my work. I love sitting in meetings with our CEO and Creative Director to absorb the brilliant thought process.  Some influential people in the early part of my career came from that first internship actually. Early on, I was inspired by my Aunt and Grandma, later Marisa Minicucci, who exposed me to so many beautiful and quality garments, Lynne who taught me pattern making and patience, Atilio and Agatha the tailor and sample sewer who made me sew and rip it out and sew it again and again and again until it was right. These were the people who gave me my start.

 Karlie Kloss wearing Aritzia

source: fashionbase

A: Who is your style guru and why? What is your favorite magazine/blog?

D: There are so many its hard to say! I love the way the internet and Instagram have transformed the supply of images! It used to take forever to get the runway photos and now its live from all over the world. I love street style blogs and also get a lot of inspiration from travel blogs and reading about other designers.

A: Where do you see fashion going 1-4 years from now?

D: I think there has been so much emphasis lately on the detrimental effects of fast fashion on the planet that I think people are going to continuously move toward buying quality over quantity.  Globally conscious customers will become more informed as to the impact their purchases and retailers will have to be more transparent in their manufacturing and supply chains.

A: What trends should we be watching for?

D: A continuing shift in proportion from over sized tops and skinny pants to more wide leg pants and wide skirts with body skimming and cropped tops, and I don’t think Athlesiure is going anywhere either.

Sienna Miller in Wilfred for Aritzia Biot Cardigan

source: Pinterest

A: What is your job title and what do you do?

D:  I work in the Design Department at Aritzia as the Technical counterpart to the Creative Director of the Wilfred brands.

A: How long have you been at Aritzia? Why did you chose this company?

D: I have been at Aritzia since 2005 with a couple of maternity leaves and a break last year to travel to Europe. When I moved home to Vancouver after 5 years in Montreal, my brother-in-law was filming Fashion File at the Aritzia head office. He got me an interview and that was it! It was just meant to be.

A: Describe your career trajectory.

D: I was hired as a Design Associate and over the years, have worked on all the brands in both the Design and Technical Development departments ranging from Associate to Director level positions.

A: Describe a typical day.

D: These days it’s mostly meetings! And lots of planning, but my favourite part of the day is still fittings.  I love to get my hands on the garments and work with them, the feeling of excitement- and stress of hitting the deadlines- of working with a new collection is the best feeling and I just never get tired of that part. I will always reply, when someone asks me what I do, “I make clothes”. I love to make clothes, and I always will.

View of the Rockies from the Aritzia fitting room window.

A: Can you share some tips on how to move up the corporate ladder?

D: Always be open to constructive criticism and work your ass off.

A: What do women bring to the table?

D: Everything, “It’s 2015”. To quote JT.

A: Can you share some tips on how to identify your key strengths?

D: Go with what you like and who you are. Don’t think about what you should like, or who you should be. Be yourself, do what you love, and you will be successful.

A: Has Aritzia been like a school for you?

D: Definitely working in the industry is the best training, especially for knits and sweaters. At college, we really focused on wovens, and knits make up such a huge part of what is available today. I love sweaters. They are my favourite product to work on. I did do a short course in London at Central St. Martins which was incredible.

A: Can you provide some tips on picking the right company to work for?

D: Choose one that you believe in. Believe in the product, believe in the people, and believe in the vision, and you’ll constantly grow.

Victoria Beckham in Aritzia pants

source: Pinterest

A: How does living on the West Coast inform your designs and how does it affect how you dress?

D: Living on the West Coast we still have seasons, just not so extreme as in the East. The rain is a constant, so layering is a must! I love being able to dress in cozy sweaters, jeans and boots in Fall/Winter, and also be able to wear tank tops, dresses and sandals, in the summer. It keeps a lot of variety in the wardrobe and so you never get bored of wearing the same thing.

A: How did becoming a mom change how you design?

D: Being a Mom definitely has influenced my design and my own way of dressing. You need a lot of flexible easy pieces that go with everything and are not too dear for everyday in case of chocolaty fingers! You need to be able to get right down to their level so nothing really short or revealing or shoes that get stuck in grass! But I appreciate more now going out without the kids. I really enjoy getting dressed up to go to work, a performance, or a nice evening with my husband.

A: What body type do you think a designer should have in mind?

D: Hmmm, that’s a tough one. I have found that designers usually design for their own body type.  The key is finding a designer that really works for you!

jennifer-lawrence-435

Jennifer Lawrence in Wilfred Free “Rosa” A-line dress

source: Pinterest

A: How much of your closet is Aritzia vs. original Danica? 

D: I have lots of Aritzia. I love to buy what I work on, but I buy lots of other designers too. I buy a lot of locally made jewelry and I have a weakness for designer shoes!  I do plan on doing a sweater line one day. . .  in the next few years.

A: I remember when we were shopping together in Las Vegas you bought the most amazing blue heels with feathers on them. Describe them, why you chose them and how they worked out on your wedding day. I recently saw them on a card at Indigo… They are pretty iconic. What else do you have in your closet that is equally brilliant?

D: I worked hard to find those shoes. That was before the blue wedding shoes trend and they were really really hard to find. I needed blue shoes. They were blue suede 4” strappy sandals with peacock feathers and a diamond band around the strap at the toe. They were bought in Vegas but found somewhere in Texas and hand delivered to me by one of my bridesmaids who lived in San Diego as they wouldn’t ship to Canada. I only ever wore them once and felt like a princess. My 5 year old daughter has her eye on them 🙂 They will be hers. This is how I justify the shoes, and the handbags. I have a gorgeous Prada nylon jacket that has never lost its appeal to me and just bought a pair of Celine lace up flats that are absolutely to die for. Love.

A: What is available at Aritzia right now that you are most excited about?

D: I’m looking forward to Spring/Summer 2016! But I love the Wilfred Free check unlined jacket. It wears like a sweater and is the perfect fit!

A: Any advice for want-to-be designers?

D: Its hard work, but so so worth it. Do it because you love it and you’ll never regret it. You’ll see amazing things and meet wonderful creative innovative intelligent people.

Driver talking on the phone while driving our Tuk Tuk.

A: What made you decide to go to Cambodia?

D: My husband had some work to do there with a colleague who lives in Phnom Penh so  we thought it was the perfect opportunity to go as a family. Expose the kids to a different way of life. Also, we are so happy that they are now old enough that we can travel with them long distance. We both love traveling and really missed the freedom to get up and go we had enjoyed before we had babies.

After 24 years together, still smiling, still exploring.

A: Where did you stay?

D: Phnom Penh, Kep and Siem Reap

Getting on the plane in Siem Reap on the tarmac.

A: What did you expect out of your trip?

D: Well, I’ve traveled to Asia many times to visit factories so I had a pretty good idea of what to expect in terms of a developing country. There is poverty mixed with wealth, traditional being taken over by generic modernism, generally a mix of cultures. An overwhelming sense of opportunity and change for the future.

Local Fishermen in Kep.

A: How did it differ from what you expected?

D: It was my first time in Cambodia, there was less of a surviving French Colonial feeling, and a lot more litter everywhere than I had expected. A few surviving buildings, but most of it was destroyed or left burnt out during the war, which really only ended a few decades ago. An enormous amount of re-building has been done, but there is a long way to go. Also, the bugs are bigger and potentially more lethal than I am used to!

Well thank you Danica for sharing your personal photos, and for letting me pepper you with questions mid-vacation.

Um, can’t wait for Aritzia, Spring/Summer 2016.

Shop Aritzia here.

xx

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2 thoughts on “Danica Rukavina on learning hands-on at Aritzia, the future of fashion, and how to make it.

  1. I have already purchased three pieces from the Spring/Summer 2016 Aritizia collection…I’m obsessed. Amazing work Danica! See you in July! xoxo Suze ps. great interview Angelique!

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