Stanley Carroll’s clothing label is Edmonton’s first and oldest, but business isn’t his forte

By Caitlin Crawshaw April 6, 2018

One of the designs in Stanley Caroll's new collection -- (Shayne Woodsmith/EEDC)

After 35 years on the North American and European fashion scenes, Edmonton-based designer Stanley Carroll has produced at least 100 clothing collections and many thousands of garments. But despite the continued success of his clothing label, Carroll has always considered himself a reluctant entrepreneur: “There aren’t many parts of my DNA made for business.”

Carroll grew up in Holland but came to Canada with his family as a teenager, living in Ottawa and Yellowknife. As a young man, he decided to move to Edmonton to take NAIT’s now-defunct tailoring and dress-making program. While he’d loved fashion since boyhood, he didn’t have a specific career plan in mind, and figured it would be wise to learn technical elements of clothing construction while he figured it all out.

After finishing the program, he decided to stick around town and got a job at a local consignment shop. When there weren’t any customers in the store, he sewed his own garments and hung them on the racks (with the blessing of his boss). Much of Carroll’s inspiration came from conversations with the shop’s colourful clientele, which included drag queens and rock musicians looking for specific stage looks. It was good fun for Carroll, who has always seen fashion as a matter of personal expression, not prescription: “For me, designing clothing has always been about giving people the chance to express themselves a certain way, rather than telling them what to wear.”

To Carroll’s surprise, his garments sold well and word of his talent spread. At a party, someone asked if he’d put his designs in a local fashion show and, shortly after, a friend in the biz offered to take samples of his work to Toronto. “He called me a week later and said, ‘There are six or eight stores in Toronto who want your stuff,’ ” says Carroll. “I was taking orders and not sure where I’d get money for fabric.”

This is how Carroll found himself with both a clothing label and a business in 1983. He had neither a business plan nor financing in place — a free-wheeling approach he’d never recommend to aspiring entrepreneurs — but managed to grow a business anyhow. For decades, Carroll sold his garments at clothing shops around town, ran his own retail shops both downtown and on Whyte Avenue, and showed his work internationally.

I couldn’t in a million years afford to open a [permanent] store in Amsterdam. But can I open one for three weeks? Definitely

About a decade ago, after a brief attempt at retirement, Carroll decided to radically revise his business model and sell his creations both online and through pop-up shops here and in Europe. Ditching the traditional retail environment has offered him many perks, he says, especially the ability to travel and try new things with his business. “I couldn’t in a million years afford to open a [permanent] store in Amsterdam,” he says. “But can I open one for three weeks? Definitely.”

On April 18, Carroll will launch his latest collection, Transparent, at a pop-up shop at Edmonton’s City Centre Mall downtown. Visit StanleyCarroll.com for more information.

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