PROVIDE CONVERSATIONS: JANINE BOUCHARD, FOUNDER OF LAST LIGHT
We were one of the first shops to carry Janine Bouchard’s lovely linen bedding when she launched Last Light three years ago. Her stonewashed linen collection is sourced from flax grown in Western Europe, spun into yarn in Italy and woven into fabric by a family-run factory in Portugal, and has quickly become a favourite for local designers putting the finishing touches on a home design project. We caught up with Bouchard from her family’s cabin in Lake of the Woods, where she and her husband have been staying-in-place with their five-month-old daughter.
Tell me how you got started with Last Light.
I’ve worked in the apparel industry for just over 15 years now, and I’ve always gravitated toward the textiles. The fabrics are my favourite part. I’d be in Paris twice a year at fabric trade shows, and I would be coming home with linen bedding smooshed inside my carry-on, because I couldn’t find it here. This was years ago, and now it seems there are so many linen brands within the last year or two. But five or six years ago, there were not really so many options.
In the beginning there was a lot of development for me to travel around to mills and to try to figure out who was a great partner to work with. I knew I wanted to work with European mills and I wanted it to be 100-percent European linen. I just really wanted to work with the craftsmen in Europe. And to have it be a lifestyle thing too, where my husband and daughter and I could go over and I could visit. I work with a family-run factory, and I know five of the family members who work there.
So when I was developing the fabrics, it was heavy development, but now that it’s set, it’s more like colour selection, and adding a couple of new colours and a couple of new styles each year. This year I have a beautiful new dark option called Storm. A lot of people asked me for dark colours if they have pets or if they have kids, or guys will message me and want something that looks and feels a little more masculine, something they don’t have to be careful with. It’s a really dark grey, almost a faded black.
Then I have linen quilts coming in, beautiful linen quilts that are all stitched, and I introduced a baby collection: baby fitted sheets and baby quilts too. I’m going to have a slow and steady process over a 10-year time frame.
You talked about developing the fabrics early on. What did that development process look like?
At the very beginning, it was figuring out which mill partner I wanted to work with. Working through mills with my fulltime job, I knew how important it was to find really great partners that you can trust and work with and create with. And they can really deliver on quality. And then it’s going through all of their fabrics, and figuring out what is going to check all the boxes. I’ve worked in the sport performance industry for a lot of my career, building athletic apparel. So when I was going through fabric development, I washed the heck out of everything, gave pieces to friends and made sure it really would meet quality standards and live up to everything. It was a lot of wash-and-wear testing, making sure the colour fastness is there, and the shrinkage.
What was the colour palette you launched with?
Just three! A sun-bleached white, the driftwood grey and the deep navy. It was just a tiny brand, I tackled the orders, had my own little stock room...
And now, where are you at?
Last year I introduced a bone ivory colour called Shell, and a really pale grey. This year I’m introducing Storm, and the other styles. I’ve had a lot of people ask me for twin-size bedding, because I just launched with queen and king, so twin size is coming too.
There’s a couple more things I’d like to introduce next year to complete the bedding collection, colour wise. I’m not going to bring in a bunch of trendy colours—I’m not so interested in that. It’s not something I’d put in my own home, especially because linen is expensive: I just want to stick to really timeless things that are easy for people to choose, and that they’re going to like 10 years from now.
Your background in the apparel industry meant you knew your fabrics—is there anything else it brought in terms of launching your own company?
I think the whole product development side of things. I understand how to work with a mill, work with a factory, look at the quality, the whole design development, commercialization, production – everything I learned in the apparel industry, I could take that foundation and apply it. I really gravitate toward creating all of the product, and I find the marketing side, and the Instagram and all of that – that’s way harder for me. That really feels like effort. Copywriting on my website – I’d rather pull my hair out. Whereas working with the product and the textiles and the colour and the factory and the quality – that part I just could do that all day.
What is it that you hope that people get from bringing Last Light linens into their homes?
I think something that first off, is it’s really functional. Linen is just an incredible fabric. It keeps you cool in the summer, it keeps you warm in the winter. It’s earth friendly, it’s something you can feel really good about. The crops use little to no irrigation compared to cotton. Cotton uses a ton of water. And I love cotton too, but if you’re comparing their impact, linen is way better. It doesn’t use pesticides or fertilizers, and you use the whole plant.
And it’s something that’s beautiful and humble – it feels like it’s taking care of you. I think people want to have spaces where your home feels like a happy home that takes care of you and is comforting and consoling, and a sanctuary. And I think linen is like that. It’s luxurious but it’s understated and humble. It’s easy and beautiful.
Home has never been more important.
Exactly. It’s your nest.
How did you connect with Provide?
I was a customer first and foremost. I’ve shopped at Provide for years and years. I would go in there and Robert would be in there, and then I was in there chatting with him one day and I telling him what I was doing, and he said, bring it in and show me. He was such an advocate. When I started I wasn’t sure if I was going to have any stockists or if I was going to put it online and only be direct to consumer. But I started only with Provide, and selling it online myself.
Robert was so encouraging – and they have such a lovely team: Golab, Carolina and obviously David. They were just cheerleaders, and provided support and I felt so proud to be in their store too, to be alongside all of those other quality brands. And I try and mirror that kind of relationship. People that are really curating something special, an important part of the design community – which obviously Provide really is.