Room 502, founded by French designer Sophie Theallet, is a slow-fashion brand from Montreal.
Meghan Markle’s efforts to select ethical and sustainable fashion brands for her public appearances are well documented: from Veja, a sustainable sneaker brand to Outland Denim, which employs women rescued from sexual trafficking to Brother Vellies, whose shoes are handmade by artisans in Africa, the message always comes through loud and clear. Buy less, buy better.
That’s incidentally also the ethos behind Room 502, a Montreal-based brand whose shirtdress the Duchess just wore in South Africa. (Also well documented is Markle’s love for Canadian brands—she wore an Aritzia dress earlier this week in Johannesburg and has championed many homegrown designers in the past.)
Founded by French designer Sophie Theallet and her husband, Quebec-born Steve Francoeur, Room 502 is focused on creating limited edition collections of clothing and “guarantees the use of ethically sourced materials, production and labour.” Its first collection, titled Serie 1, features a limited run of nine dresses crafted out of 100% cotton and created in collaboration with artisans from the Kalhath Institute in Mumbai and Lucknow. Founded by Maximiliano Modesti, Azzedine Alaïa’s former studio manager, the institute is lauded for preserving India’s traditional textile and embroidery crafts as well as for providing a living wage for its artisans.
“Launching with a collection of everyday luxurious fine cotton dresses, ROOM 502 will grow with each season, to include limited editions of garments featuring embroideries and silks, in collaboration with the institute’s artisans,” states the brand’s website. This slow-fashion, conscious ethos is in keeping with the brand’s “holistic approach to fashion,” and its efforts at promoting a more conscious, less passive style of consumerism. Accessibility is also a key part of this young brand’s mission, reflected in its goal to deliver couture-quality dresses at “discreet prices,” a portion of which is donated to Epic, a global nonprofit fighting to change the lives of disadvantaged youth. The ‘Stephanie‘ shirtdress that the Duchess just wore retails for CAD 600 and is nearly sold out (just a few sizes remain).
The brand may have launched in Montreal just this year but its founders’ design pedigree goes way back. The couple lived in New York for several years, during which time Theallet’s eponymous brand became a fixture on the New York fashion circuit, earning her a CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund award in 2009 and the opportunity to dress Michelle Obama on multiple occasions. However, things took a turn in 2016 when the designer came under fire for an open letter she posted on Twitter saying that she would not dress Melania Trump.
Soon after, Theallet began receiving threatening letters, phone calls and social media posts. “It was a never-ending stream of darkness,” she told The Globe & Mail, and it prompted her family’s move to Quebec two years later.
“We came to visit a few times and said, ‘This is the place we want to live now,’” she told The New York Times. The atmosphere there, she says, is less toxic than New York. “I wake up in the mornings and go to the mountains, I come back and go to the mountains. We have family dinners. We have time to read books, to do research and breathe.”