Business Women Who Lead

Ellie Mae Waters is Making Her Own Fashion Rules

Ellie Mae

Ellie Mae Waters is showing the fashion world that less is more. 

Under the brand name, Ellie Mae, Waters emphasizes quality over quantity and is the antithesis to fast-fashion. 

Worn by the likes of Mila Kunis, Gigi Hadid and Alessandra Ambrosio, each Ellie Mae piece is hand-crafted by a production and design team in a Toronto, Ont. studio. The designs are made in small batches to ensure every item is thoughtful, unique and as eco conscious as possible. In addition, each piece has a sewn-in reference number within each garment that lets you know which one-of-the-few you’re getting.

Waters has continued to incorporate her effortless style and passion for the greater good through her SS20 collection. In partnership with Kids Help Phone, Ellie Mae released limited edition accessories with all proceeds being donated to the cause. 

In our latest Women Who Lead spotlight, Bay Street Bull spoke with Ellie May Waters about making her own path in the world of fashion.

Q&A

Tell us your story, what sparked your interest in fashion and design and how did Ellie Mae come to be? 

I have always loved clothes and expressing myself through my wardrobe. As a kid, my mom let me wear Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle PJs anywhere I wanted. Fast forward what feels like a hundred years (give or take!) to my twenties, I decided to move to the UK and enroll in Central St. Martin’s fashion program. I loved living in London. People watching was my favourite. I loved seeing how everyone put themselves together with so much colour and personality. After I moved back to Toronto, I really wanted to bring that feeling home with me, and that’s when I started to create Ellie Mae. 

 Looking at your career, was there a defining moment that you feel has brought you to where you are in your career today?

Deciding to switch from a wholesale to direct-to-consumer model was a pretty pivotal moment. It felt like we finally figured out who we wanted to be as a brand. It allowed us to develop our own fashion calendar, design/produce everything in our studio here in Toronto and create our own retail experience. 

What do you believe sets Ellie Mae apart in the industry, especially at a time where the fashion industry has essentially come to a halt?

Ellie Mae is all about casual — but super special — pieces. We use really luxurious fabrics from Europe (sourced from the same mills as all the top luxury houses) and work with local artisans in Peru to create ethically sourced alpaca knits. We aren’t trying to keep up with trends and we don’t do fast fashion.

Our ethos is built on the idea of individuality; We make clothes in small runs, accessories in limited-edition fabrics, offer one-of-a-kind vintage items, and our designs are anything but basic. Other brands may offer less expensive clothes or more minimalist designs, but, pandemic or not, I believe there’s a place for the unpredictable.

How do you define your success? 

I define success beyond just being able to do the work that I want to do. It means that despite all the challenges of being a small business, I still look forward to it every single day, I enjoy the people I get to do it with, all while making something we’re really proud of.

What has your biggest failure taught you? 

I don’t think of things that have happened to me as failures. For sure, I’ve faced a lot of uphill battles, a lot of losing battles, and I’ve made plenty of mistakes. But I consider all of these experiences as teachings for me to be better at what I do. 

Ellie Mae has supported the Kids Help Phone for two years now, what inspires this dedication to be an active contributor to this organization?  

I’m a big believer that everyone deserves to have someone to chat with when they’re struggling and to feel heard. It’s really important to our entire team that we bring as much awareness as we can to Kids Help Phone to help break any kind of stigma around talking about your feelings. Being able to create conversation with our designs felt like the most organic way to do this. 

Mental Health awareness week is approaching, why do you feel education and resources around mental wellness is so important?  

Because mental health is health. At Ellie Mae we really try to prioritize that by creating what is hopefully an open, supportive, we’re-all-in-this-together kind of brand.

What impact do you want to have on fellow women who lead? 

I want to show women that you can lead a successful business without sacrificing values like inclusivity, collaboration and kindness. IMHO, it’s not an either/or proposition.

What piece of advice would you give all women in business? 

To believe in yourself. I know it sounds cheesy as hell, but I truly believe the only way to succeed in business—whether you’re a woman or a dude—is to ditch any of your doubts. I was raised by a dad who supported me in every way. The idea that women were in any way unequal to or less than a man never crossed his mind, so I never knew anything different. It was just assumed that they were just as good, if not better.

What is your best piece of advice for your younger self?

Ease into business partnerships. Everyone will love the idea of being a part of a “start-up,” but very few have the work ethic for it. Don’t take it personally, it just wasn’t the right fit.