Most people might not see an obvious trajectory from English major to slow-fashion designer, but for Vestige’s Aileen Lee the connecting thread is storytelling. “Clothing is very telling of our culture, who we are and where we’re from,” she says. “With my literature background, I naturally have always loved stories and I view clothing as an extension of our identity.”

Vestige's Dim Sum bag
Vestige’s Dim Sum tote

After pursuing a master’s in global fashion management from Hong Kong Polytechnic University—she relished the experience of “working with factories, and the less glamorous side of fashion”—Lee launched Vestige in 2015. And not only does each piece she designs tell a story, it allows the wearer to build their own narrative around it, too. Judge Katie Becker, chief creative officer at Arc’teryx, celebrated Lee’s thoughtful work, noting that “the poetic value of Vestige’s products and the method of make is beautifully interwoven around minimal beauty and the gravity of storytelling.” 

Kindred sweatshirt black and white
The Kindred sweatshirt is a prime example of slow fashion’s principles in action. “Versatility is what I was going for with this design,” says Lee. “You can wear it however you like, depending on
your mood.”

Lee’s designs embrace the concept of slow fashion, a movement that prioritizes sustainability by taking into account the supply chain and the environmental impact of fabrication and distribution. “Slow fashion’s core values are longevity, durability and making sure each item lives a long life,” Lee explains. “If you have one item that can be worn multiple ways then it will be something you can wear over and over and extend the life of your wardrobe.”  

Iamb scarf
Tea replaces dye and is the reason for the Iamb scarf’s antique look.

The Dim Sum tote, for example, is adaptable to different styles of wear. Depending on how you tie the strap, the bag can either hang open or cinch at the top. Lee moved to Canada from Hong Kong at a young age, and the shape of the cinched form pays homage both to her birthplace and to har gow, a traditional dim sum shrimp dumpling. “What I want to do with this design is celebrate the people of Hong Kong,” says Lee. “I once saw them as too fast- paced, but now I see them as a very efficient city of hardworking people with a deeply rooted, beautiful culture.” 

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Similarly, the Kindred sweatshirt can be worn in four different ways, thanks to a tie at the base. Based on the yin yang symbol, it’s designed with black and white colourblocking in the body and sleeve cuffs. “Yin and yang is the merging of two different forces and how two forces can live in harmony,” says Lee. “And I think that concept can be applied anywhere in the world—not just in Asia.” 

Aileen Lee
Aileen Lee, founder of Vestige.

One of Vestige’s most eye-catching pieces is also one of its most subtle: the Iamb scarf (named after the unit of poetic rhythm). Soft in colour but rich in texture, the scarf is created with a tea-dying method “that anyone could do at home,” says Lee. 

But, in a very slow fashion move, Lee uses once-brewed leaves from Vancouver’s Paragon Tea and creates her subdued scarf’s hue by saturating it in a concentrated brew until it becomes a colour that feels both new and historical. “When I first dyed the scarf I thought, this looks like pages of old books,” says Lee. “I was delighted. It’s so Vestige.” 

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