Sitting next to the skeleton of one the largest animals to ever live on Earth, Somsack Sikhounmuong reflects on the J.Crew Garments for Good program that’s supporting a Canadian charity for the first time. “This isn’t just writing a cheque,” he says. “It’s doing something that utilizes our resources as a brand, and as a customer, you can give to a great charity and have something rare to enjoy.”
J.Crew’s Garments for Good program has been a part of the brand for three years, and through it, J.Crew donates a portion of the proceeds from limited-edition collections to various charities. They’ve supported elephants, bees and African orphanages, but this time, it’s all about blue whales. More specifically, the ROM exhibit Out of the Depths: The Blue Whale Story, which opened in Toronto on March 11. The exhibit and the ROM’s blue whale research aims to raise awareness of this endangered species and the effects pollution and climate change have on their numbers.
For the J.Crew for ROM collection, Sikhounmuong designed T-shirts, totes and bandanas, all with whales swimming across them. Usually, J.Crew works with an artist for their Garments for Good collections, but Sikhounmuong picked up the pencil for this one and hand-sketched the whales himself. “It’s mostly heels and shoes I find my hand naturally gravitating towards,” he says. “But there’s something a lot more ornate and organic with animals than a garment.” All of the pieces are available in store and at jcrew.ca, with 50 per cent of the retail prices being donated to the ROM’s Blue Whale Project.
Social consciousness is nothing new for Sikhounmuong. For his past two seasons at J.Crew, he cast real women of all shapes and sizes in his shows, and he says there’s nothing more gratifying as a designer than creating clothes all women want to wear.
“We make clothes for moms, we make clothes for daughters, we make clothes for older women, we make clothes for younger women,” says Sikhuonmuong. “The idea of being able to celebrate that in a show is such a natural thing, and something we really wanted to do.”
And after wrapping yet another NYFW hit by a huge snowstorm, he seems happy to be home, launching his first Garments for Good collection. “As a kid growing up in Oshawa, two things made me happy: hearing we were going on a field trip to the ROM, and whales.”