Words by Julia Eskins
Photo/Videos by Aleyah Solomon
When Nuvango Gallery and Goods opened its two-storey creative outpost on Toronto’s Queen West strip in 2015, it quickly became known as the cool new kid on the block. When you walk into the airy concept gallery, vibrant artist-designed apparel beckons you into a whimsical world of wearable art. Upstairs, a gallery space plays host to rotating exhibits by international artists like Milan-based Carnovsky and Greg “Craola” Simkins from Los Angeles.
Since exploding onto the scene last July, the artist-designed lifestyle brand has attracted citywide love, and for good reason. (Seriously, we dare you to walk in without coveting a pair of Queen West Leggings and a few colourful crop tops.) Moreover, their online shop has become a hit with conscious consumers from around the world, proving that this Canadian-made brand has major reach.
With the Nuvango craze going global, we took a trip to their headquarters in the Junction to meet Dawn Laing, the brains behind the company’s marketing strategy. Our visit kicks off with a grand tour of Nuvango’s state-of-the-art office and vertically integrated manufacturing facility. By the end of it, we’re ready to move in.
“The building used to be a macaroni factory about 70 years ago,” says Laing as she points to a vintage pasta poster near the entrance. “When we took over the building and reno’d it, we we’re like, ‘Oh my gosh. We’re bringing manufacturing back to the Junction!’”
Co-founders Drew Downs and Jamie Pichora started the company in 2005 under the name GelaSkins, a maker of protective art-imprinted covers for tech gadgets. They eventually transitioned into the fashion and lifestyle realm and re-branded the business as Nuvango. Working with a curated community of international artists, the company is a perfect case study of viable on-demand manufacturing in Canada.
“As a more focused and curated gallery, there’s more attention on individual artists and consumers aren’t paralyzed by choice,” says Laing as she walks us through the space. “We now control the entire lifecycle of our products. We can promise things to our artists and know that we can deliver.”
Nuvango’s commitment to supporting the arts goes beyond a typical commission-based collaboration structure. From design to promotion, the brand is dedicated to protecting the integrity of the artist’s original work.
As you walk through the upstairs office, art is everywhere— from the lounge’s beer taps designed by San Francisco-based artist MARS-1 to work by Ryan Heshka and Ray Caesar on the walls.
“Our gallery wall is my favourite— these are pieces that we’ve bought at shows to support different artists,” she says. “We want to show artists that we mean it: we love them and what they’re doing, whether we work with them or not.”
All of Nuvango’s pieces are manufactured and packaged in-house. As you look around, you can’t help but notice how happy the employees are: this is what ethical fashion is all about.
Downstairs, we see Johnny and Ryan rocking out to music while putting crop tops through the heat press, a machine used in the dye supplementation process. This specific method ensures optimal quality, eliminating discolouration or distortion of the imprinted designs.
In another room, a sewing team is working on constructing the final pieces. One of the items being sewn before our eyes is a David Bowie printed tank top by Glasgow-based artist Robotic Ewe. While Laing says that they didn’t consciously promote Bowie after his death, the T-shirt skyrocketed in popularity after people started sharing it on social media.
“We’re trying to make art more accessible and give artists the attention they deserve. Someone may not know who the artist is at first, but they do now. And they’ll remember.” she says. “Our customers have chosen Canadian manufacturing. They’ve chosen ethically made. They’ve chosen art first.”