Frustrated at the lack of reflective clothing and accessories that combined safety and style, this clinton hill entrepreneur did nothing less than introduce a new category of couture
by matt Scanlon
The concept for Sarah Canner’s brainchild, Vespertine, came to her when she was living and working in Paris and found that the most practical method of commuting was getting around on her bike. To the ex-pat, an associated request seemed simple, and essential: she needed activewear that offered both reflective qualities and a couture sensibility suitable for the streets of her arrondissements. As it happened, there wasn’t such a thing, and so the actress and writer set about, upon returning to New York, designing products that represented a collision of haute couture and life preservation. She now works in Brooklyn and produces that line here in the city—a range of stylish apparel, accessories, and jewelry, the first made from sustainable tech fabrics such as water-resistant and breathable 100% recycled and recyclable poly or merino wool (along with reflective wool tweed) and 3M ScotchliteTM reflective material.
“I thought, ‘Finally, fashion can save your life,’” Canner quipped from her Vespertine office. “Living and biking at night in the city is about being seen, so we start with American National Standards Institute-certified material that’s visible from within 2,000 feet of a driver’s headlights—a vital distance, especially when a vehicle is traveling at high speeds. Our celebrity customers also covet its ability to deflect pesky paparazzi flashes.”
Canner, who lives in Clinton Hill and recently moved her office from just outside the Navy Yard to Boerum Hill, added that a background in drawing, painting, and sculpture was a considerable help in style conception.
“I also honed skills in a fashion class at The New School,” she said. “As well as taking a business seminar run by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and completing a Sustainable Entrepreneurship Certificate Program at FIT. I even took a part time job at a bike shop.”
Key to the creative process for Canner has been collaboration, so, since its launch in 2011, the company has teamed with the likes of Portland-based band Pink Martini, the Red Hook Crit cycle race, and UK-based Brompton Bicycle, a leading maker of folding bikes. For the last, Brompton created a New York City Edition in collaboration with Canner that includes a limited-edition bike with a special roll top bag and reflective clothing.
Asked about her manufacturing facilities, Canner explained that “I’ve used a number of different contractors to produce products. A lot of factories are moving to Brooklyn, and I have produced here, as well as in Manhattan, but actually developed the Brompton X Vespertine knitwear collection in Queens. It’s fun to bring reflective material to established shops and see what we can do with it.”
The Brompton collection includes merino wool reflective scarves, hats, headbands, and shoelaces. For the project, the company created a reflective design featured on the bike itself as well as the associated bag, merino scarf, hat, and headband. Canner elected to take striking elements of the city, such the Manhattan Bridge, the Chrysler Building, and the chevrons painted in cycle paths, and combine them into semi-abstract designs.
“Other Vespertine styles will be rolled out this winter,” the owner added, “such as reflective mohair vests and capes, a zebra striped vest, men’s and women’s vests in a Scottish Flash Tweed fabric, a woman’s jacket, and reflective body harnesses. We’ll also be offering a capsule up-cycled collection of one-of-a-kind reflective sweater coats.” The latest line, Haute Réflecture, was designed, as Canner put it, to “empower, and protect fashionistas on their daily adventures…re-imagining safety wear as clothes you want to wear, and acknowledging that fashion is a functional necessity.”
The results have been, in part, being featured in The New York Times’s Style Section, Vogue, Shape, Style.com, and Bicycling Magazine, and winning the ISPO BRANDNEW AWARD for Best New Bike Apparel Brand. The company has also presented at Mercedes Benz NY Fashion Week (a first for city cycling apparel) and was also selected for the Design Entrepreneurs NYC program. Citi Bike sponsored an exhibit of the 2017-18 collections at Astor Place in Manhattan during its Citi Summer Streets event—what Citibank termed “a celebration of street life, walking, running, and biking in the city.”
“It’s been very important to me to run a sustainable business on all levels, too,” added Canner. “Producing locally…and using eco-friendly materials like merino wool and the 100% recycled polyester of our Vespert Reflective Safety Vest. And the time is right; as people look ahead to the shutting down of the L train, our already burgeoning Brooklyn bike culture is going to really take off.”