Meet Tessa Hughes: Clothing to Empower Women

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One of my biggest passions is supporting women who are trying to change the world. If it involves beautiful, ethically produced clothing, then it's just an absolute dream.

Tessa Hughes

is a Vancouver based mother who runs an ethical luxury essentials clothing line. Her product line is super minimal, often involving less than ten pieces which are available in black, grey or white.

I'm personally in love with her shirt dresses - I've worn mine multiple time a week since I bought it. These staples are cut to be flattering on women's bodies, regardless of what "size" you are in clothing. To put it simply - her size large is flattering on bodies that other brands would deem XL or XXL. I truly appreciate that is aiming to make luxury wardrobe essentials produced in beautiful, sustainable fabrics available to everyone. Therefore, I am super excited to be sharing her story, goals, and inspirations here with you today. Enjoy!

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Can you tell us a bit about how you started?

I started my shop on Etsy, selling my pieces made-to-order, which means I was sewing those Raglan-sleeve Dresses one seam at a time on my dining room table :) It took me two hours to make one dress, so after a month or two I had to outsource to a local factory to keep up with demand. That's when I opened my online store.

What is your philosophy?

I design all my clothes with "real" women in mind. That means I think about what women do on a daily basis (work, pick up kids from school, go to a dinner, or go grocery shopping), and ask myself if the designs make sense for these everyday situations, while maintaining a luxury, flattering and stylish look.

You donate 10% of your proceeds to help rescue women from sex trafficking – what pushed you to support this cause?

My goal has always been to support and empower women in everything I do, and I just realized I needed to take things a step further and practically "put my money where my mouth is" (so to speak). Donating to charity is a practical way I can fight against the issues that I'm passionate about.

Why is it important to you to give back?

I want everything I do to carry meaning, and this is important in an industry that's known for being materialistic and "meaningless"... so working with charities and using eco-friendly fabrics are just some of the ways I bring purpose to making clothes.

You’ve recently started a campaign for “Beauty with Purpose”. Can you elaborate on this, what it means, and what your goal with it is?

My thoughts on it are sort of what I just explained-- there's nothing wrong with liking pretty things. I love aesthetics, I love my house and my clothes to be beautiful, but it can all be meaningless unless you give a purpose to it. That's where I got the idea for the hashtag #prettywithpurpose. It also starts a conversation about how women are #prettywithpurpose -- we are all beautiful in our own unique way, but our value doesn't begin or end at our physical appearance: we all have a unique purpose to bring positive change to the world. So it's basically a conversation I've been having about beauty and purpose.

What inspired you to design ethical, sustainable clothing for women of different shapes and sizes?

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For me personally, it started while I was going through the body changes that come with having children (I have two), and feeling the frustration of not being able to find luxury basics that complimented my lifestyle.

A lot of luxury basics are made from fabrics that are difficult to wash (like silk), and they're not necessarily comfortable or flattering if you're in between dress sizes. Women today are always juggling and wearing many different hats, and it was this mentality that inspired me to start something.

What does beauty mean to you?

Wow that's a tough one. I don't think I can even define it, but I will say there is beauty in so many more things than what we typically hear about it magazines or in media. I also think our definition of what is physically beautiful is so limited, so I'm always just trying to challenge myself -- do I just think that girl is pretty becuase she's wearing fake eyelashes? And do I think women look "better" with makeup? I'm also constantly challenging myself to re-define beauty outside of physical beauty, but that (as cliche as it sounds) it's what's inside that really what counts.

How you think clothing imapcts a woman’s body image? How does the fashion industry as a whole? Do you think there is something that should me done differently?

I think the media and fashion industry has a long way to go, but I do see some positive changes happening.

Women are realizing how damaging false standards are, and there is a general outcry especially on social media for more authenticity and less photoshopped images. I'm not sure clothing impacts a woman's body image as much as a woman's body image impacts her clothing choices. I wish it were the other way around, and I certainly design my clothes to make women feel beautiful, but much of the time we are stuck in a certain view of ourselves, and shop based on that. That being said, it's a complicated issue and ultimately my goal is to send a positive message surrounding clothing, and that getting dressed can be an empowering experience, --not one filled with dread and self-hatred.

What is your ultimate goal, both personally and professionally?

Oh that's a tough one: I suppose it would be to make a positive impact in the fashion world, and for women's empowerment, so that our relationship with our bodies could heal and we could learn to love ourselves.

Personally, I want to change the world so that when my own daughter (who is 3 now), grows up, she can live in a world that celebrates women for who they truly are and not just their appearance.

How do you define success?

I think success is just changing the lives of those around you. Some people are given more influence than others, but that doesn't define success for me personally. For me, if all I ever do is raise my kids to be positive forces for change in the world, then that would be enough for me. Lifting up and being a positive voice in a sea of negativity is something everyone can do, even if it's just to your friends and family.

How do you find balance? What does balance look like to you?

For me it means that I have to constantly assessing my levels of personal peace vs. stress, and that's constantly changing.

There are months where I'm more busy than usual but I can handle it without losing my cool, but then other times I feel the sense to pull back, or I can tell my kids need me more. Balance I think is constantly re-assessing your season and when to make adjustments: there's no set pattern, you just have to go with the flow I think.

What do you feel is the most important thing in life?

Wow these are big questions! Well for me, I'm a Christian so my faith in God is #1, but after that, family for sure. If I had to quit everything so my family would thrive I would do it. So basically God, my marriage and my kids. That's it :) If I'm gonna answer that question generally speaking, I think the most important thing is to take what you've been given and make a positive change in the world by loving those around you in a genuine and authentic way. For me that happens to be my family but you can make an impact on your friends and extended family too. And that's huge.

What advice do you have for those starting their own endeavours?

Be brave, and be humble. People who don't take advice will crash and burn -- just watch an episode of Shark Tank and you'll see what I mean. Success happens when you can listen to those who are older and wiser than yourself and don't be afraid to make changes and pivot when you need to.

What is the biggest reward being an entrepreneur? Biggest struggle?

Biggest reward is hearing how I've made a difference in people's lives, whether it's big or small. It's so rewarding. The biggest struggle is not having all the answers -- sometimes there's nobody around you who can tell you what to do and you just have to do what's in your gut. For me, it takes a lot of prayer, endless support and encouragement from my husband, and resilience to push through tough situations. Oh, and you can't be afraid of making a mistake because that will hold you down. That's about it :)