Erika Rekis: Designer of Women’s Wear at Lululemon Lab
By Abby Wiseman
The photoshoot was not going to plan. It was supposed to be about clean lines and wild backgrounds with models dressed in Lululemon Lab clothing, all shot in front of a white sheet on a Vancouver beach. But, the West Coast winds were not cooperating and the sheet was blowing all over the place.
Frustrated, Erika Rekis, head designer of women’s wear at the Lululemon Lab, walked away from the shoot. When she turned back and looked at the sheet flapping in the wind, she saw the beauty in the chaotic scene.
“I saw it and I was like, ‘That’s it,’” she recounts over a cup of tea in her East Vancouver apartment, a photo from the shoot stuck to her fridge. “I think if you’re so hung up on things being a certain way, then you might not be able to see what’s right in front of you that might be better.”
Learning to work through chaos and finding inspiration in happy accidents has been sort of a running theme in Rekis’ career. Whether it be at the Lab where she designs one-off street wearable athletic fashion or interning in Ghana with Osei Duro, a fashion design company that uses traditional West African textiles. At no time has Rekis’ worked in a calm and quiet environment, but through the noise she learned to trust her instincts in creating the unique and constructive apparel that sets the Lab apart from its famous parent company, Lululemon.
The Lab is different from “Big Lulu,” as Rekis calls it. Where Big Lulu wants women to feel pretty in their clothing, the Lab wants to make women feel cool.
“Cool’s kind of weird,” said Rekis. “I never used to use the word because I feel like it alienates people, and I don’t mean it that way, but it’s kind of more like asking if it’s interesting. Is it pushing ideas or am I doing something that’s been done already? Which happens, but at the same time I like to think that if you’re going to design something that’s already designed, then don’t bother.”
The Lab woman, according to Rekis, likes to feel attractive, but not in a typical way. To find what’s not typical Rekis has created her own approach to design, staying away from fashion images and focusing on sketching shapes, details or silhouettes before applying those musings to a more functional design.
Originally from Kelowna, Rekis moved to Vancouver and dabbled in applied arts. She was interested in fashion, but never felt that it was a viable industry to make a career. Inspired by independent designers working out of Vancouver, Montreal and LA, Rekis created a design portfolio and applied to the fashion design and technology program at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. Her sewing wasn’t good, but her designs were intriguing and she made it into the competitive program. Her one goal was to make it out of there alive.
After graduating, she looked to travel and joined the creative forces behind Osei Duro, Maryanne Mathias and Molly Keogh. After spending two months working, living and bartering for taxis in Accra, Ghana with the designers, Rekis came back to Vancouver feeling like she had something to offer.
“I think it really built up my confidence,” said Rekis. “They empowered me to make a lot to make my own decisions.”
Now Rekis is learning how to be a leader to junior designers at the Lab, empowering them to make decisions for themselves.
“I’ve been told I’m kind of a silent leader, but I don’t know what that means,” said Rekis. “I try to realize when I am being a good leader and when I’m not. I remember my first project that I directed last fall and I totally didn’t know how to lead a creative group and I think my approach was to give direction and let them do their own thing. No one works well when they are being micromanaged.”
The key to inspiring others is to work hard herself, but she’s learned the importance of delegating through watching other designers burn out from not relinquishing some control. What drives her more than anything is the fear of arriving.
“I think anyone who works in creative field are pretty hard on themselves and find it hard to celebrate success,” said Rekis. “I’m always thinking about what’s next, so whenever I start to feel comfortable it kind of freaks me out. It’s like I’m never quite satisfied.”
When asked if this is a healthy approach to work, Rekis laughs and says a resounding “no.” The challenge is not to let that dissatisfaction trickle into the rest of her life, wreaking havoc on relationships. Moving on from the bad days, the unsuccessful designs and finding inspiration in mistakes fuels her to push and create something new and different. Maybe even “cool.”