Blonde girl sits in white tub wearing a white pull-over sweater and beige ripped jeans holding her head and looking at the camera

CONFESSIONS OF A BRAND IMPOSTER

You have no idea how long I have been thinking of writing this. If you were to ask me on a day where my guard is up, as a Leo-Virgo-Capricorn-Taurus, it would really make me tuck my tail in to admit that I sometimes still feel like I’m pulling off the greatest scheme of my life.

“Why am I exposing myself like this??“

When Stay Soft started in 2018, I was super excited to try my hand in creative work. I grew up making things but ended up spending my early 20’s studying an array of non-fashion/non-art related subjects, only to end up burnt out and unhappy by 27 (I’ll save you the math, I’m currently 31). Stay Soft was going to be my saving grace, it was how I was going to heal myself through art and share the pretty things I daydreamt about. It was my pro-active plan on falling back in love with myself and the world around me.

I spent more than 6 months pre-launch working every single day. Between preparing the website, sculpting out the brand through careful content creation, determining the first patterns and finishing up samples, my biggest fear was that Stay Soft wouldn’t look “legit”. I don’t know where this word came from, but I was obsessed with it. The closer the launch date came, the more the fear of not being taken seriously grew. I worried about people seeing Stay Soft differently if they knew there was really only one person running the show.

This irrational fear made me start avoiding presenting myself on social media and even pushed me to write captions using the word we instead of I. My guess is all the earth signs in my zodiac chart came together because, at the time I rationalized it well. I was contracting out our first production to a small local sewing team situated less than two hours’ drive away. I told myself, “it’s not just you, you’re not doing the production, you can’t use language that seems to take that credit”- it made sense!

Although we say hard work pays off, people will tell you the secret to succeeding in fashion is not only to be good at what you do, but for the world to know who you are. Now, not only worried about legitimacy, I began to stress about name recognition.

“You can come up with the best ideas, but if no one sees them…”

Hours of research later, I determined the most effective call of action was to find someone who would help me throw a launch party that would include a nice little list of ~*InFlUeNcErS*~ ensuring word would spread around about my new venture. Considering I wanted to work mostly online, I figured linking with others who worked online was probably the best plan of action. With a new contracted-colleague to help me organize the event, we came up with a short list of people who, at the time, seemed to push for independent brands and be interested in what I did. I figured if I did this, I should look toward other well-loved artists, follow their lead and throw a lavish launch party, because that’s how professionals did it. Right?

Suddenly everything I was excited about scared me. I didn’t know how everything would be received by those invited. I feared I had somehow hyped us up too much and come the launch everyone would be disappointed. I didn’t really know most of the people invited, I didn’t have any industry experience and only recently began to understand the power behind online marketing. I spiraled and concluded that I had to share the limelight of the event and host with another brand to distract away from what I worried to be a possible dumpster-fire. I know, how very un-Leo of me, but no way was I taking the chance that people would show up, be like, “LOL I came out here for this?”

An important detail to know is that all I had on hand at the time were samples. Only. Samples. Remember that small contracted production team I felt necessary to include? I had yet to receive anything from them and my launch was within weeks. I am planning on writing a more detailed exposé about that experience because it’s important for others to read, but I had essentially gotten swindled into spending more than $8k on machines, replacement parts, and a terrible first production, none of which I had even yet to see.

The cherry on top? I had promised to have gift bags for the invitees of the event, before my e-com even launched. They were to get a piece of my work before anyone, each bag to include one piece of lingerie, a suggestion I took to be of sound advice.

“Of course you should give free lingerie!
People went out of their way to come to your event!”


Now looking back, I realize how exponential that was as an investment, especially considering the event would also include gifted baby plants, free drinks, complimentary food, and a great local DJ.  I would never suggest anyone gift so much out of fear of rejection. As a tiny creator, that was lowkey one of my most expensive mistakes.

So, you can imagine the stress levels at this point. I am f r e a k i n g  o u t. Thank the Universe my mother is a self-taught seamstress, because we immediately went into action. Within two weeks we managed to cover what I needed for the gift bags as well as decorations for the event. I wanted to hang pieces on cute clothing lines across the room so everyone could touch the garments and verify the quality for themselves; I was proud! I was exhausted but happy. I still didn’t have the bulk of my production for the e-com launch, but at least the items for the event were made and they were perfect.

It was now the day of the launch party and I had slept probably no more than 4 hours out of anxiety. I was going to figuratively announce myself as a creative by literally sharing what I had been working on. I wanted to sink into the floor and disappear, I still didn’t have what I needed for the e-com launch that week. By now, people around me were speaking to me as if I had unlimited resources; I was getting invited to Pop-Ups without anyone having even seen anything firsthand or even following my account. I figured I must have been doing a great job at making us look “legit” and it reassured me that perhaps people trusted what I was offering. I did not realize at the time those were signs of people contacting you for clout instead of community.  That day though, I decided to just roll myself a joint and drink my coffee black -- the goal for the next 16 hours was to make sure everything for the event ran smoothly and then I could get back to my production problem. 

“Just put on your cutest outfit and smile.”

To my surprise and relief, the event went as smooth as my co-planner expected. The food was eaten, the alcohol was drank, and the gift bags were brought home. Local media came by and took pictures, people grooved to the DJ hired, and I started thinking about the decisions made. “That was expensive but that’s just how it works in the industry”, I assured myself. And now that it was done, I could get back to figuring out how to get what I needed in order to make a living and get back what I had invested so far.

Stay Soft’s Insta had grown because of the event, but that was slowing down since it was over. Most of the influencers invited were no longer interested in what I was doing and very quickly moved onto promoting other things. I was getting stressed again; we were launching e-com the literal next day and still all I had were samples. I called my mom and broke down on the phone, “What am I going to do… I have nothing to sell. Everything is over and I haven’t even started!”

At this point, I had no choice. I obviously had to figure it out, I was launching tomorrow. I decided the best remedy would be to make everything to-order. As we opened online, my mother sewed what was coming in whilst catching up the bulk production in the background. Only a small fraction could be used of what I received from the contracted team – the wrong stitches were chosen causing things to fall apart, and most seams done were crooked with uneven tension forcing items to pleat or pull. I had to scrap everything and redo it with my mom. It took Stay Soft almost 2 years to get caught up while trying to grow and secure another production team that I could afford but most importantly trust. My mother and I undid each piece to reuse the materials, the point of this being to have a low ecofootprint after all. In the end, I was recommended a different small team in Tio’tia:ke/Mooniyang [Montreal]. Thanks to a kind soul’s willingness to share their brand’s production information – a selfless act from another that truly helped Stay Soft survive and become even more eco-sustainable.

By this point, I’m sure you caught the reoccurring theme of fake it till you make it. Everyone will tell you this is golden advice, but I am here to say we need to salt that saying and burn it. That six-word sentence is the rotting-root of it all: it was the reason I felt compelled to spend so much on a launch party I could not afford. It was the reason I spent hours pouring over the same pictures, editing out tiny folds in garments that had me convinced the whole photo-series looked amateur – where even did I get that idea? It was my obsession with perfection and my fear of being ‘found out’. It is the imposter syndrome that tells you, “Everyone is going to find out you have no idea what you’re doing, and they’re going to call you a fraud.”

I wrote this piece in an effort to try and combat the industry standard of keeping secrets. I think it’s important for us to battle the pressure of presenting perfection, especially as emerging creators or even just as human beings in general. I think I can say most of us would love to feel less pressure to perform; sometimes I’m still convinced I got here because of luck and not sheer determination. I launched having been freshly scammed and losing most of my investment, I often forget the hole I crawled out of to get here. 

I am finally ready to say that, here, the we is actually just me.

Stay Soft is what I named my creative self who strives for authenticity and follows joy. Although I sometimes work with other locals to execute projects and ideas, the take away is that Stay Soft is small and raw and really just another human trying to make emotion-translating art.

Last year I decided to unapologetically unleash my creativity. It became critical for me to step away from the world of “fashion”, and into the world of “wearable art”. It’s crucial to move away from fear and into the light of making things for the sake of making things, regardless of how others might like these made things. Whether it be underwear, reworked garments, accessories or trinkets; whatever the medium, I just want to be inspired without pressure to perform and make pretty things anyone can enjoy. I guess you could say the accumulation of fakery in the industry got to me and I would rather be fuelled by inspiration than perfection.

I am not a brand. I am the human imposter on the rollercoaster of creation, and I would love to have you here with me on the transparent ride of making art in the search of authenticity.

XO

Emilie