International Women’s Day: In Conversation With Britt Barkwell and Alia Bissett

In the third instalment of our month-long International Women’s Day Series, we spotlight Britt Barkwell and Alia Bissett, founders of contemporary womenswear brand T. Line. Barkwell and Bissett discuss the journey that led them to starting T. Line, their advice for women wanting to build their own business, and the significance of International Women’s Day.

T. Line Spring/Summer 2023.

You started with your lifestyle platform Trouvaille, which has now grown into T.Line, your womenswear brand. Was starting a fashion label always in the cards?

Britt Barkwell: “I launched Trouvaille in 2018 with the goal of becoming an online resource that helped women shop with confidence and ease. With the dramatic growth in online shopping, it seemed like there was a hole in the Canadian market, and that we could add value by helping women navigate the overwhelming world of online shopping and simplify the search. T.LINE was a very natural extension of this mandate, as it became very apparent that the market was in fact missing brands that offered well-made essentials at an accessible price point. A lot of the brands in the space at the time were becoming less relevant and we wanted to offer a classically cool, fresh perspective on wardrobe essentials.”

You both come from strong fashion backgrounds and have worked with a number of household brands, what gave you the confidence to branch out on your own?

Alia Bisset: “I spent a good amount of time in a variety of corporate finance at Tier 1 CPGs and then in various strategy and ops roles at Holt Renfrew, so I built a strong toolbox throughout my career that seemed to ladder up to this opportunity to build T. LINE. The opportunity was really about being in the right place at the right time with the right partner. We both identified that there was a shift happening in how we personally wanted to dress during and after the pandemic. I wore shirts and jeans most of COVID as it made me feel like I could get through the day, but there wasn’t really a brand that either of us felt drawn to that had shirting at the forefront of their collections. It felt like the right time to jump in and create it ourselves—and working together came really naturally and easily.”

How do you individually feel empowered through your work and empower one another as business and creative partners?

Alia Bisset: “We have very different backgrounds as far as work experience goes, but our skillsets are very complimentary. I am focused on the finance, strategy, and ops side of the business, whereas Britt’s focus is creative direction and branding. We really respect each other’s ‘lane’s’ but because of our time at Holts, we both share a mutual understanding of the business and can speak the same ‘language.’ Ultimately, we really trust each other’s abilities and opinions which naturally creates a cycle of bringing our best to the table, every day.”

T.Line is rooted in timeless style, focusing on classic staples. What does the quintessential T.Line ensemble consist of?

Britt Barkwell: “The essence of T.LINE is shirting. All of our collections start with shirting and evolve from there. Our classic silhouette is the Isabel Shirt and each season we release this silhouette in a new fabrication. Alongside Isabel, we also try to innovate shirting with unique silhouettes that feel fresh and modern. This season, we launched our Delphine shirt with side-buttons and an asymmetrical neckline, and we also launched our first pant. The Rory pant is a wide-leg silhouette with a kick-flare—it’s been expertly wear-tested to get just the right fit. All of our pieces are designed to be elevated, fresh, and effortless. We want to be the pieces in your wardrobe that you reach for when you don’t know what to wear but you want to feel good.”

Who are the female figures in your life who serve as a source of inspiration?

Alia Bisset: “We are both very fortunate to have quite a few inspiring women in our lives, but for me, my real inspiration is my daughter—she’s six—but she is a force and is never afraid to ask a question or speak her mind, and I really do take inspiration from her in how she approaches the world! I also want to show her that I can be inspired by work, and that helps me to round out my life as a parent. My 96-year-old grandmother, Maria, has also been incredibly inspiring to me over my entire life—she came to Canada as a refugee in the late 1940s from Ukraine, along with all of my grandparents—and she’s built an incredible life for her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren through very hard work and determination. She’s always had a lot of pride in her appearance, and I’ve always admired her taste and her truly timeless sense of style.”

Britt Barkwell: “We’ve actually named our shirts after some of the inspiring women in our lives. The Isabel Shirt is a tribute to my six-year-old daughter and 86-year-old grandmother who share the same name. They are both incredibly resilient and inspiring forces in my life. It is important for me to lead by example and show my daughter that hard work pays off and that you can carve out your own path.”

What is your advice for women wanting to take the risk of starting their own business?

Alia Bisset:” A basic financial and business plan that can help guide you in your first year of operations is important. It’s critical to set a financial structure that is viable from the start. A plan is a plan and is never a guarantee, but I think having a framework helps give direction and keeps you honest. If it’s possible and desirable, find a business partner that you genuinely click with and who allows you to bring your best self to work every day. We spend so much time together—texting, calling and emailing—that our husbands make fun of us, but I genuinely never get tired of chatting with Britt, be it about business or personal matters. It makes work really fun.”

Britt Barkwell: “I think that success in growing a business is rooted in authenticity. You need to believe in the business you are building and live and breathe it every day. Both Alia and I are very passionate about what we are creating. We genuinely love the clothes we are making and live in them, and I think that resonates with people. You also need to be vulnerable and not be afraid to ask questions and surround yourself with people who know things that you don’t.”

T. Line Spring/Summer 2023.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

Alia Bisset: “We are fortunate to have many talented women that we work with who support our business every day. International Women’s Day is a way for us to really celebrate all these amazing women that surround us, both at work and in our personal lives.”

Britt Barkwell: “This year was also particularly special as we celebrated our one-year anniversary. To mark the occasion, we launched a handbag collaboration with another female-founded brand Naghedi (we used off-cuts of our classic white Isabel fabric and wove it into a timeless Naghedi Mini St. Barths handbag) and celebrated with an intimate dinner surrounded by women who we find inspiring in our industry.”