“We’ve been there, sitting, watching buyers pass you by. It’s a huge expense and an equally large risk,” says designer Helder Aguiar of the fashion trade show circuit and the challenges of trying to break into the US market as modestly sized independent brand. 31-year-old Aguiar forms one half of Toronto-based label Helder Diego, which he founded in 2010 (originally under the name BLAK.I) with former classmate, Diego Fuchs, 36.
After graduating from Toronto’s International Academy of Design, the two designers worked separately for about a year and a half before Fuchs recruited Aguiar to join him at the studio of Canadian designer Nada Shepherd and it was there that the idea of forming a joint venture blossomed. “We started out being relatively streetwear-focused,” says Fuchs. “But our aesthetic has evolved and we’ve grown up quite a bit over the past 5 years.” That said, the brand’s DNA—strong, confident, independent women who value minimal, architectural silhouettes over the more flirty and feminine—has remained the same, making Helder Diego a favorite among stylists for publications like Flare and ELLE Canada. And yet, international markets still manage to elude.
“Despite Toronto being a huge metropolitan, designers who succeed here don’t necessarily get worldwide recognition,” admits Aguiar. “So we’re really excited to be part of the Designow launch and to see what kind of platform it can bring to everyone involved.” Aguiar and Fuchs are also fervent champions of the Canadian industry and Helder Diego is fully manufactured within Canada. The duo are strong believers that good design and accessibility need not be mutually exclusive: prices average $100-$300 for tops, $200-$500 for dresses, and $300-600 for suiting and outerwear, with the occasional runway statement piece tipping the scale.
And while it may seem a challenge having two creative minds under one (design house) roof, both designers remain firmly grounded. “We don’t have egos. Even when we’re not meeting at the same point, we’re always thinking about what’s best for the brand over ourselves,” says Aguiar, confessing that some of their best work is often the result of creative disagreements. “We always end up elevating them as we work it all out,” adds Fuchs. And quite frankly, it would seem there’s little time for any diva-like antics as both designers juggle their duties at Helder Diego with full-time gigs elsewhere: Fuchs at an apparel company and Aguiar in a different branch of construction: building bridges.
With so many changes afoot in this brave new “see now, buy now” world, where does a modestly scaled, independent brand figure? “Fashion is changing whether we want it to or not, says Aguiar. “It’s about taking risks and looking to the future and it will be interesting to see what kind of a role Designow [and Helder Diego as an extension] will play in that.