A Scarborough-raised Toronto fashion designer, event organizer and entrepreneur wants to celebrate her generation: Generation Z.
“Growing up, I heard negative things about the generation,” said 24-year-old Néeshell Vassell, who goes by Néeshell professionally.
That’s where her business, 199Z, comes in.
It’s part fashion company, part video-production company and part event company. It’s meant to showcase what her generation has to offer, and to celebrate Toronto talent.
“I created 199Z pretty much out of necessity. It’s a place where everyone can be accepted,” Néeshell said.
For Néeshell, starting the business was also about finding a place where she belongs. As a competitive high school soccer player, Néeshell suffered a significant injury and dropped the sport. She considered a number of career paths, but few appealed to her. She found her passion in the arts and fashion.
After graduating from Stephen Leacock Collegiate Institute, she enrolled in a communications program at York University. While attending York, she began working on her business, which started by putting on events such as concerts.
Realizing she wanted to run a business, she switched to the business program at York. After graduating, she did a two-year program at Harvard Business School, all while running 199Z.
Her early shows, four years ago, would have an attendance of 100 people. Her more recent shows, prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, had 1,000, with concerts featuring musicians, dancers, live painters and others.
In four years, she said the company has showcased the work of more than 100 artists who work in fashion, music and video production.
She also discovered something else at her shows. She sold 199Z-branded merchandise, which she designed, and they were selling out.
“I thought it was really cool, so I thought, ‘Why don’t I just dive deeper into fashion design?’ because I have a background in it.”
On Sept. 6, Néeshell opened her company’s first store in west Toronto, at 884 College St. The front of the store is a fashion boutique, which will be open to customers for fashion-line releases, while the back of the store is a media production house. 199Z features comfortable clothing, such as hoodies and jogging pants.
Néeshell says right now 199Z hires staff on a per-project basis, but she hopes as the business grows to eventually hire full-time staff and to start offering internships.