Emma May, founder of Calgary-based womenswear brand SophieGrace, says she had her lightbulb moment while “standing in the closet, having a meltdown.” You’d think May’s extensive professional resume (she’s worked in real estate, politics and law) would lead to her having plenty of office-ready staples in her closet—but it didn’t. “I thought, why does nobody make it so that it’s easy to mix and match, and put basics together?” she says.

 xThe Ruth long sleeve blouse.

Though May isn’t an expert clothing designer, she is an expert wearer. “I’m not trying to win any fashion design awards, that’s not who I am,” she says, “but I’ve worked in these spaces and I know what I want.” She teamed up with designer Lisa McCarthy (who previously worked with Lululemon) and launched SophieGrace, a professional womenswear brand, this fall.xThe Audrey Bottom.

The Capsule Collection consists of 14 style basics in black and white (think blouses, skirts, pants and dresses) and all names after iconic female leaders. There’s the Ruth long sleeve blouse (named after RBG), the Rosa short sleeve blouse (after Rosa Parks) the Audrey pant (named for Audrey Hepburn). They range from $110 to $275. “I’m never going to be able to compete with fast fashion, but I also wanted to make sure I didn’t end up with a $500 blazer,” says May. “We’re focusing on creating basics that are still modern and elegant.”

xThe Michelle sleeveless shell.

All of SophieGrace’s designs are custom dyed; they’re lab dipped an exact colour so they’re guaranteed to match each other. It’s the basics that are really at the core of May’s outlook on sustainability: the easier it is to match your clothes, and the longer a piece lasts you, the less you’ll buy and the less you’ll throw away. “That balance of building something that is both profitable and adheres to what our values are as a company is really important to me,” says May, who just began manufacturing the Emma vest in Vancouver.

xThe Emma vest.Launching a company initially focused on officewear mid-pandemic has been a challenge, but May says it’s also reminded her why she started: “It’s clarified for me what we were trying to do—build these key pieces that could flip in and out through life,” she says. Her customers are buying blazers to throw over T-shirts for Zoom meetings and office pants that are comfortable enough to wear at home. “We thought about all the roles we encompass over the course of our lives, and how to build a collection that works for all of them,” says May.