Locavore and Lead Designer of Lululemon Lab | MISSBISH Jean Okada

Author: Coco Marett

We, as we’re sure many others have been, were entranced by Jean Okada’s understated beauty, eloquence and passion from the get-go. The Vancouver native is the Lead Designer at Lululemon Lab, where she heads a team that’s pushing the sartorial boundaries of active wear. She speaks with MISSBISH about why the world is keen on bringing back bespoke, conscious consumption the importance of supporting your local.

Tell us about how you got into design…
I’ve been interested in fashion since I was very young; I took sewing classes and made a lot of my clothes. I got my Bachelor of Applied Design at Kwantlen Polytechnic  and it was a wonderful program.

You started out designing menswear, how did you come to join Lululemon?
I am really interested in traditional tailoring and learned my technique from an Italian tailoring instructor while I was in school, where tailored menswear was the focus of my graduation collection. Eugene Choo, one of my favourite boutiques in Vancouver, viewed the collection and made an order for their shop. It was a great experience for a fresh under graduate. I shifted to womenswear to explore silks textiles, hand-dying, and draping. After 10 collections I was looking for new opportunities, and the lab was looking for a lead designer. I started off as their womenswear designer, then lead, now design director.

For those who might not know – what is Lululemon lab?
Lululemon lab is the first and only design atelier and concept boutique, where we create limited edition, locally made collections exclusively sold in-house.

Do you think custom is making a comeback?
Fashion is so accessible with e-commerce and fast fashion adopting trends so quickly on a mass scale, that people are looking for something exclusive or personalized. Limited edition collections, or better yet personalization or having some element of customization is very relevant.

You put your own line on hold to focus on Lululemon lab… any plans to get back into that?
Yes! There is a plan to re-launch the line.

"When you support a local business you are strengthening your own local economy and community."

You’re a real advocate for ‘locavore design’ – could you explain what that is and why it’s so important?
A locavore is someone who is interested and supports local businesses or production. When you support a local business you are strengthening your own local economy and community.

People are becoming more conscious in what they consume in terms of food but how can people be more conscious when it comes to fashion?
I’m so glad you ask this because I think about this question every day; What will it take for the clothing industry to experience the something similar to the food revolution that we are currently experiencing? There was a tipping point where organic or local food was only found at a farmer’s market on the edge of town, and now you see organic produce at Costco or Wal-Mart!

The food revolution happened because people are able to make an informed decision on their food purchases, and we have so much choice these days with farmer’s markets, biodynamic produce and permaculture, farm-to-table restaurants – the list goes on, but that tipping point for the clothing revolution is miles away. I just watched an amazing documentary, “The True Cost”,  about our relationship with clothes, our insatiable appetite for consuming, fast fashion, global production and its environmental, economical, and social impact. As someone who works in the industry- and someone who likes to shop - there are a lot of complex and conflicting feelings. It definitely made me think harder about why I’m buying another pair of shoes.

"I believe the most interesting and compelling designers are strongly grounded in pattern making. Learn how to draft, drape, and cut patterns and experiment and play!"

What advice do you have for aspiring designers?
I believe the most interesting and compelling designers are strongly grounded in pattern making. Learn how to draft, drape, and cut patterns and experiment and play!

Finish the sentence.
If I weren’t afraid I would... Surf more; I find the waves a little terrifying! My boyfriend and his family are beautiful surfers, and I think I just have to get more comfortable with it and practice.

I wouldn't be where I am today if... I didn’t have the encouragement and support of my family, friends and community. It’s cliché but it’s totally true!

I look forward to... Travelling more in the fall.

I've been listening to... I just played a little Japanese themed post punk set at the Powell Street Festival, and I’ve gone down a rabbit hole of The Plastics, Frank Chickens, and YMO.

Kids these days... Are pretty cute! I have a niece and nephew that are adorable and I have quite a few friends with kids now. I feel pretty hopeful for the next generation, they just got to get outside more.

I look and feel my best when... I’ve had a good schvitz from a workout, and that said I get bored with workouts really easily so I have to change it up a lot.

When no one is looking I... Stretch. Sitting down for long periods makes my body really tight. Luckily lululemon is a workplace where it’s socially acceptable to be constantly stretching!

Traveling... Is definitely a priority for me lately. My next destination is Japan with my boyfriend in the fall.

I express my creativity best... When the work is personal and I’m not thinking about the end result too much.

Photos by: Jeremy Jude Lee

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