Edgy, subtle, delicate, playful; these are words that characterize two lines by versatile Vancouver design-duo Joyce Ma and Beverly Lee Kwen. Although one line is described as a collection of fairy-tale dresses, the Tension Clothing story reads more like a down-to-earth tale of hard work, talent and a passion for the industry.
Edgy, Subtle, Delicate, Playful
By STEFANIE JESNEY
After earning her diploma in design, Vancouver native Joyce Ma noticed a deficit of design jobs on the West coast. She considered moving east but instead used her industry savvy and Bachelor's in Business Administration to write up a business plan. Before long, Tension Clothing was born. It began as a line of separates, coordinates and suitings for professional, fashion-minded women and since then has grown into a line of separates that can be effortlessly combined. Ma explains the evolution of the line: "11 years ago suitings were very popular in the work place but now they have taken a different turn. There are so many people working from home or casual offices and that has changed the way we dress."
As the business grew, Tension needed more hands on deck. About two years into the Tension Clothing venture, Ma asked her brother if he knew of anyone interested in fashion who might want a job doing odd tasks around the office. He recommended his Kwantlen-educated friend Beverly Lee Kwen, and the two women soon formed a strong partnership. On working as a team with Kwen, Ma says it's nothing but a benefit. "We bounce ideas off of one another. We're very supportive of one-another creatively, but we're also never afraid to say no that won't work." This partnership would prove fruitful when Ma began to notice some buyers only buying the dresses from the line, and asking for more of them. She decided it was time to start Sweet Chemise, and asked Kwen to design the line with her. Sweet Chemise is a dresses-only line and is defined by the occasion - formal event, daytime, cocktail, etc. The label allowed the designers to branch out to fabrics that wouldn't work in the suitings of Tension Clothing, but that they as artists were naturally drawn to.
Sweet Chemise's fall 2011 line utilizes lots of print and plenty of colour. This is unusual for fall collections, but Ma says it was what the buyers asked for. As a lover of prints and feminine fabrics, she was all too happy to accommodate the request. On the other end of the spectrum is Tension's fall collection which is comprised of a dark, neutral colour palette with lots of texture in the form of knits, plaids, and tweeds. The designer illustrates the need for a rich feel: "Fall to me is really about textures. The fabric tends to need to have a better hand because people want to wrap themselves in it and feel cozy." This visceral understanding of her customer, as well as her passion and business-savvy is what has helped make Tension Clothing and Sweet Chemise so successful.
Tension Clothing has three other labels under its umbrella in addition to Sweet Chemise, including a children's lounge wear line called Mochi ga ga, a dress line for girls aged two to seven called Sweet Chemise Princess and T by Tension, a line of "athleisure" wear for active women. Tension is available at Urban Rack, Blush and many other stores in BC and nationwide.
For more information, visit their website http://www.tensionclothing.com