This week, Refinery29 Canada celebrates Work Friends — the surprising benefits (and occasional complications) of professional friendship.
“We see our friendship as power”
The friends: Claudia Dey and Heidi Sopinka
Best friends since: 1997
Two years after founding their label, Horses Atelier, Claudia Dey and Heidi Sopinka were exactly where most Canadian fashion entrepreneurs would kill to be — getting wooed by the big U.S. showrooms, hearing about growth potential and the intense global fashion week calendar. After a meeting in L.A., they headed straight to a bar, but rather than toast to their future as fashion barons, they sat down, ordered gin and tonics, and exchanged a look that said, “This isn’t us.”
“The direction they were pushing would have meant always more, always new,” says Sopinka. “The whole idea with Horses was creating beautiful things that last.” So rather than taking the next big step, they stepped back — scaling down, producing locally, and putting balance ahead of bottom line. “It was exactly what everyone had told us was not possible,” says Dey of their decision to run a slow business in an industry that embraces an all-or-nothing ethos. “We truly have gone against all of the wisdom we were so generously offered. I think it’s our friendship that gave us the courage to do that. We see our friendship as power.”
We truly have gone against all of the wisdom we were so generously offered. I think it’s our friendship that gave us the courage to do that.
It’s a power that predates their business partnership by 20 years. The pair met in a folklore class at McGill and bonded for life the following summer as cooks (and the only two women) at a tree-planting camp in Northern Ontario. In their 20s, they traded thrift shop chic fashion finds and danced all night to Patti Smith. In their 30s, they both met their partners and became moms (today their kids “run in a pack,” says Dey). In their 40s, they are devoted to their shared endeavor — Horses, is a whimsical line of dresses, blouses, and some of the coolest jumpsuits on the planet — they’re just not totally beholden.
As well as designers, Dey and Sopinka are both successful novellists. (Dey’s 2018 Heartbreaker was recently tapped as a must read by Goop; Sopinka is currently working on the follow-up to her 2017 debut, The Dictionary of Animal Languages.) It’s something they are able to do by trading off. A couple of times a year they will sit down and “carve up” the calendar, so that each has allotted time to step away.
"Can you imagine if we didn’t share the same priorities? Like, yeah, I’m just going go off the grid for six weeks to work on my novel,” says Sopinka, who is currently on a writing retreat in a cabin up north while Dey handles the day-to-day. The secret here is trust (and maybe a little BFF telepathy) developed over time. “I know Heidi is going to make the same decision as me or something better,” says Dey. “The only person whose judgment I trust more than my own is hers.”