Aileen Lee of Vestige

Words By Sheila Lam


She is often candid and raw, as open about personal physical pains and mental anxiety as she is in celebrating the beauty and impermanence of everyday life. In every way, Vestige is an authentic reflection of Lee.

Behind the poetic Vancouver fashion brand Vestige is Aileen Lee. Designer, writer, photographer, and illustrator, Lee is a multi-hyphenate. With a degree in English Literature from the University of British Columbia and a master’s in Global Fashion Management informing her designs, Vestige exists in verse as much as it does on the body. A collection of small batch minimalistic sets, accessories, and a few embroidered garments, the superb quality of Lee’s basics demonstrates how far a few staple pieces can go.

The artistic convention of fashion design has always embraced fresh concepts: pushing technology to create new materials, weaving signs of the times into the things we wear, and celebrating the beauty in the alternative. But one thing that the industry has been slow to incorporate is size inclusivity. “Comfort and style shouldn’t be the privilege of a particular gender or body shape,” says Lee. The Kyoto Long Sleeve and Pants Lee designed for Monos’ Everywear collection is purposefully genderless and comes in sizes from XS to 3XL. The straight-cut silhouette and elastic waistband offer extra wiggle room too. With flowing lines and a breezy, relaxed fit, the Sevilla Top and Pants feature feminine presenting qualities but are not defined by those terms.

When asked about designing the collection for Monos, Lee says, “I looked to the Monos lifestyle when I first gathered ideas for this collection: a jet-setter who regards moments of recess as relevant and salient or a globe-trotter who sees transient beauty between each exciting destination.” The overarching theme of the capsule collection is transit and transition. “I went on to design pieces that can bring comfort during long-haul flights and decided on comfortable cuts with relaxed silhouettes. I also kept versatility in mind and ensured that these designs could be dressed up or down for different occasions.”

Made locally, Vestige approaches design with a slow fashion ethos and follows a more thoughtful process in an effort to combat the unnecessary waste of the apparel industry. Lee works closely with local garment factories to incorporate botanic tencel (a fibre made from environmentally responsible wood sources in a closed-loop production), hemp, wool, and organic cotton. More than that, and offering pre-sale ordering to limit excess inventory, Lee works with local tailors in Vancouver, Canada. Paid a living wage, Lee often employs program graduates from Common Thread – a non-profit organization dedicated to providing training and career opportunities in sewing and craft to people with social and work barriers.

As an Asian-Canadian woman, Lee herself has faced barriers within the creative industry. An account, sadly, too many women of colour know well. “Growing up, I found it extremely rare for a lesser-known BIPOC designer to be featured,” she says. “So when I first saw Monos’ promotional video for the Everywear collection, what struck me most was my own Asian face. I am more used to seeing a non-racialized person as the star designer. So the idea of inclusivity at Monos feels natural, not forced.”

Beyond fashion, Vestige is a glimpse into Lee’s multifaceted creative process. The brand’s Instagram account documents the designing process, frequently opening the discussion to her followers and offering glances at what it takes to operate a small business. Further, it highlights adventures in nature, taking in inspiring art exhibitions, and offers its followers important reminders and check-ins to explore what speaks to you. She is often candid and raw, as open about personal physical pains and mental anxiety as she is in celebrating the beauty and impermanence of everyday life. In every way, Vestige is an authentic reflection of Lee. ■


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