From the floor of the family kitchen in Armstrong to a prime storefront location on Vernon’s 30th Avenue, Rachelle Dixon has come a long way in 15 short years.
Dixon, owner and lead designer of Square One Apparel & Salon, has been handy with a sewing machine for half of her life, starting when she would create custom prom, bridal and dance wear for family and friends out of her home.
“I took textiles from Grade 8 to 12 and realized I was good at it and carried it on,” said Dixon, 30.
“I ended up getting quite a few orders, so that’s where we really started. The dance wear was really big for me for the first few years. That was my bread and butter.”
While she still carries a full line of dance and athletic wear (the Okanagan Rhythmic Gymnastics Club remains one of her oldest clients), Dixon has expanded into mid- to high-end ladies boutique fashion.
To stay abreast of industry trends, Dixon religiously watches the pre-season fashion shows featuring the big designer labels from around the world, including Paris, Milan and New York.
“All of the clothing lines all over North America base their collections off these shows because that’s the trend setter for the industry,” said Dixon.
“I keep up with fashion as much as I can. It’s more than just knowing what is happening in fashion, it’s what are the Okanagan stores buying out of the lines that are coming into this valley.”
Dixon used to get excited whenever she would be going around town and spot a random person wearing her label. And she still does.
“It’s hard not to walk up to them, even now, and say ‘I made that,’” she laughed.
Dixon will have to get used to increased Square One sightings.
In addition to three stores in Kelowna (Bella Clothing Boutique, Green & Bear It and Influence Clothing), she now wholesales her line in communities across the province, including Kamloops, Vancouver, Port Alberni and Invermere.
“It’s been cool to see how each store is building the line,” she said,
“It pushes me into different directions as a designer,” she said.
Square One is an in-season, cash-and-carry line, and it is in the midst of shipping its fall collection.
As Dixon explains: “If I’m in fall, I’m selling fall. I have some spring, but for the most part, I’m in-season.
“It gives me the opportunity to go to the shows and see what’s really happening in the industry for the next season before I build my collection.”
The wholesale expansion hasn’t been without its challenges.
Aside from her mother, Cindy, Dixon has one other employee in apparel.
She recently signed on with a small Vancouver-based company to take on some of the extra manufacturing because she has struggled to find qualified seamstresses locally.
“We haven’t been able to find sewers,” said Dixon, who has also found it challenging to find experienced customer service staff.
“There used to be so many here. We’ve had ads everywhere forever. I’ve probably had one resume in six months.”
Dixon said the advantage of outsourcing to Vancouver is the availability of a larger, more skilled garment and textiles workforce, thanks to a larger ethnic population on the Lower Mainland.
Dixon opened her first store seven years ago across 30th Avenue (now Carousel Consignments).
Her mother owns the current building, and has been a rock for her daughter.
“As much as she is the financial backing, she’s been a big part of all the design and the process.”
Dixon, a member of the City of Vernon’s economic development board, diversified the Square One brand with the addition of an onsite hair salon that features two full-time stylists.
That venture came online shortly after she opened her new location on Christmas Eve, 2011.
After watching her parents grind out a living as hay farmers in Armstrong, Dixon vowed she would never work that hard to make a living.
However, on many a night, she works until midnight. She is the company designer, janitor and errand girl.
“I don’t think I’d want to work this hard for somebody else, for any amount of money,” she grinned.
“It’s not easy, and it never will be, but it’s definitely possible.
“You should be a little crazy. The hardest thing about being self-employed is the motivation it takes to do it.”
Without the strong support of other North Okanagan businesses, she isn’t sure Square One Apparel would be where it is today.
“You have those connections that help make it work,” she said.
“You work on trades, you help each other out, you refer people. It’s building a business in a community where you have the roots to do that.”