Designs of the Decade

“I have a clear vision of what I like. When you have a vision that’s independent and personal, it develops on its own. Everyone has individual tastes, but it’s a sense of style and who you are which determines wether or not you’re a trendsetter.”

In the fashion world, where trends change by the minute, Pink Tartan president and head designer Kimberley Newport-Mimran gives true meaning to the term trendsetter. The 42-year-old Niagara Falls native is a refreshing alternative on the fashion scene, a designer whose unique take on dasslc and vintage styles gives her brand an effortless “day-to-dinner” look.

“I have a clear vision of what I like,’’ Newport-Mimran says. “When you have a vision that’s independent and personal, it develops on its own. Everyone has Individual tastes, but It’s a sense of style and who you are which determines whether or not you’re a trendsetter.”

Pink Tartan’s flagship store at 77 Yorkville Ave. exemplifies Newport-Mimran’s unique style. Her passion for vintage esthetics is evident in the historic building, one of Yorkville’s oldest. Yet the interior is sleek and modern, filled with clean lines and pops of colour, contrasting with the exterior. The elements she draws inspiration from (art, books and everything from home décor to seashells), are impossible to miss in the space. Thick books are stacked geometrically on tables between oversized, fluorescent orange totes and intriguing black and white art frames the walls, nestled behind striking armchairs. Walking through the store is like taking a stroll through her head: it’s as if she has expelled the contents of her brain into a tangible reality.

But the inspiration for Pink Tartan and its distinctive style was years in the making. After completing the fashion merchandising and manufacturing management program at George Brown College, Newport-Mimran’s tastes and skills started to develop. She began her career in the buying office at the Bay before moving on to product development and merchandising at Club Monaco. She then landed a job at Caban, where she met and later married the CEO, Joe Mimran, who went on to launch Joe Fresh.

“I have been very fortunate to have fantastic mentors along the way,” she says. “George Brown opened my mind to the many different facets of the fashion business. And Joe is incredibly inspiring and a very forward thinker. I have wratched him grow a retail business and expand globally and then create an incredibly successful start-up. He offers me great advice and his experience of brand building is invaluable.” The designer also credits her grandmother, Aubrey, who, as she says, “served tea sandwiches in pearls and a polished shoe,” as her initial fashion inspiration. “She was such a lady,” says Newport-Mimran. “She was chic and it mattered to heif She also inherited her grandmother’s line attention to detail. “Either that or it’s OCD,” she laughs.

Armed with defiant fashion awareness, Newport-Mimran launched her own company in 2002, naming it Pink Tartan in honour of her baby, Jacqueline. “I had worked in many areas before setting my sights on creating my own label,” she says. “I had buying, product development, merchandising and retail experience. Each area has helped me understand how to structure my business and has given me invaluable experience and technical training.”

Since Pink Tartan’s humble beginning at a small desk in her husband’s office, the fashion house has expanded exponentially and internationally. “I started the business with one pattern marker and a pattern table… and we now have 22 full-time employees,” she says. In addition to her flagship Yorkville store, she manages the brand’s headquarters in New York and the StyleLab in Toronto. Her business has tripled since its inception and she’s now planning a retail expansion, as well.

But the designer has learned many lessons the hard way. One of the most important being how crucial timing is to her business – such as the lime she was to give a major presentation, only to find out the clothes were stuck in customs. “Timing is everything,” she says. “You can’t take your eye off the ball for a second.”

There are so many moving parts in garment design and production that she must always anticipate what can go wrong. “I have experienced fit issues, delivery issues and dye lot problems,” she says. To keep things on par with expectations, she stresses clear communication with factories and visits regularly to ensure everything is prepared to her standards. “1 have gained a lot of experience by being a very hands-on designer with my product and with my customers,” she confirms.

Yet when faced with difficulties, the genius behind this ever-growing brand remains collected. Even during the 2008 recession – her biggest challenge to date – Newport-Mimran kept her composure. “The obstacles happen every day, whether it’s production, financing or HR,” she says, understanding it’s all part of the game. She doesn’t consider career missteps as errors, either. “I never look at things as mistakes, I look at them as learning experiences so I can move forward,” she says.

Like a sculptor eyeing raw stone, Newport-Mimran sees the finished shape of something just by examining the fabric. “When I’m going through fabric selection, it’s something that just comes to me, it’s instinctual and it’s how I start to build each collection,” she says. Her process begins by visualizing a woman and then building a unique wardrobe for her. The upcoming season may be inspired by Elizabeth Taylor “because I like the ’50s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof sort of idea,” she says, noting it’s all about minimal shapes, layering, embellishments, shirts instead of cardigans, engineered eyelets, cutaways, colour blocking and more dresses.

“Everything is constantly changing – sequins have turned into lamé and liquid metal. Fashion moves faster than a lot of other industries, so you have to be open and honest,” she explains. “Trendsetters are risk takers and they have a certain awareness.” She equates her own entrepreneurial nature with being a step ahead. “I can’t wait for things to happen,” she says. “I have to make them happen.”

And Newport-Mimran remains focused on what matters. “The biggest lesson I have learned is to trust my instincts. Whenever I have gone against my natural instincts toward something, I have had issues.” And so her advice for aspiring trendsetters is on point. “You have to do what you believe versus what people want,” she says. “Then you’re happy.”

BY KATHERINE LOW for Women of Influence Magazine