How 18 Waits Founder Daniel Torjman Keeps His Creative Juices Flowing
Exercise, new music and finding moments to be grateful for top his list.
One of things I most enjoy about living in Toronto’s Queen West neighbourhood is all the independent business I’m surrounded by, from organic and low waste-focused grocery stores to concept shops. Walking past the window of 18 Waits is always a delight, as it’s full of plant life and features two mannequins—one sporting an adult-sized look from the brand, and the other a miniaturized version of the outfit courtesy of its children’s clothing line, Hopper Hunter.
With its brick-and-mortar boutique closed like most other non-essential spots along my street, the brand has pivoted to focusing more attention on online sales, and right now, it’s offering a free bandana with any purchase. The accessory has long been a part of the 18 Waits aesthetic—“I wear a bandana every single day,” says founder Daniel Torjman. “I think they make an outfit [and] they’re a way to customize your look.” Additionally, they can add a layer of protection for those venturing out into the world during the COVID-19 crisis; and the brand’s outreach during quarantine—which also includes donating fabrics to businesses making masks for medical workers—doesn’t end there. “We’re going to start making masks out of our fun fabrics, and doing a quick and easy Instagram tutorial on how to turn any piece of fabric into a makeshift mask,” Torjman notes.
This response to the current situation is a natural one for Torjman, who highlights that a big part of being an independent business owner is being focused on cultivating community—something 18 Waits has been highly successful at over its thirteen years in business. “When we started, we didn’t have a website. Instagram didn’t exist. Now we’re in touch with people from all over the world,” he says. “It’s been such an amazing journey.” He also notes that when he launched the brand, it was during another global crisis. “I started it right when a huge, worldwide recession was starting. The timing couldn’t have been worse in terms of starting a small business. The timing was bad for the world, but it was right for me.”
The brand has since flourished thanks to its offering of Canadian-made patterned shirts, knitwear basics and an array of accessories, and has developed a loyal following of fans at home and abroad. Torjman says he’s been surprised and touched by what he’s heard from his customers over the last few weeks. “We’re getting a lot of emails not even about purchasing but like, ‘Hey, we miss going to your store. Can’t wait til it’s open again. Hope you’re doing well.’ It’s really heartwarming,” he says.
In addition to these uplifting bits of correspondence, Torjman has preserved his optimism and creativity through movement, music and of course, the power of style. “I get dressed every day,” he says. “It’s really helpful. It doesn’t need to be fancy —I’m not putting on a three-piece suit. But I’ll put on my favourite shirt and I’ll feel good. I’m going outside every day, just to get some fresh air. And exercising. Between those things, I’ve been able to maintain positivity and happiness. That’s important to the creative process; without that, it’s hard to focus on the creativity. You’re not in the mood, and you’re bogged down with other things that are bothering you.”
Torjman, an avid music fan, has also been sharing tunes on 18 Waits’ Instagram stories, and he recently received an email from a customer with some music recommendations of his own—a few African musicians including Bombino and the group Amanaz, which Torjman enthusiastically endorses, too. Torjman has also been listening to “piano jazz like Bill Evans and Oscar Peterson” in the mornings and evenings, “to keep things relaxed and calm.”
That’s key given how much uncertainty currently exists within his business’ operations and the fashion industry in general. “It’s hard to plan for the future,” Torjman says. “There’s so many unknowns. The thing with the fashion industry is that it’s always so far in advance— the planning, the thinking, the ordering, all of these things. For example, in early March, I was designing and selecting fabrics for Spring 2021,” adding that the fabric mills in Japan, Portugal and the U.S. that he works with are closed for an undetermined period of time.
In light of this unpredictability, Torjman is taking things “day-by-day”, and has his thoughts turned to the broader context of what’s happening locally and worldwide. “It’s a global reset; it’s a time for people to evaluate what’s important to them, and also to understand the value of community,” he says. “It’s easy to take things for granted and get complacent in our everyday lives. Unfortunately, sometimes it takes something of this magnitude to change things up. And that’s what’s happening right now.”