While the world anxiously speculates about a dire economy, and Judd Apatow's posse smugly appears on the cover of Vanity Fair wearing nothing but undershirts and barrels, Nova Scotian fashion designers continue their creative business as usual.
This weekend, at the second Atlantic Fashion Week, nine of those designers, plus a group of talented NSCAD students, will be presenting their Fall 2009 collections.
Anna Gilkerson, founder and designer for deux fm, has already made a name for her label by proving that environmentally sound fabrics like bamboo can be constructed into beautiful, feminine clothing that begs to be touched. Oh, and it's wrinkle-resistant, too.
"I think we're going to be rebranding a little bit more towards resort and spring-summer wear," she says. Her bikinis were big hits at the last AFW, and with her customers. In the past, Gilkerson's created classic-cut string bikinis out of recycled denim, lined with soft soy jersey. "I'll be doing a lot more swimwear, a lot more t-shirts with prints and special dying and recycled stuff. I just find that line of our clothing is selling a lot better than just our ready-to-wear."
It's tough for Gilkerson to do a huge collection when she's competing with big designers who have access to more fabrics, simply because of their size, and also because she only sources from Canadian suppliers. "It's hard because we're small---and we don't want to get huge, huge, huge---to get fabrics that are different every season. We have to think outside of the box. I can do that with swimwear and cute sundresses."
Generally, she keeps her production down to 30 styles, 80 to 100 pieces maximum. Gilkerson has local development and pattern-making help, but fabrics are difficult, although she has worked with Stanfields, the underwear king, on some previous lines. "I want to do local and I want to be ethical. The bigger you get, the less control you have over some of those issues. But it does push you to be creative with what you do have."
For her fall AFW collection on Saturday, Gilkerson is showing a lot of fun knit-jersey dresses, natural silk items and work attire that is comfortable, because in 2009 people "want to feel safe and cozy." Inspired by the American election, look for plenty of blues and reds, plus cream and black. There's an Asian influence with big, bold prints and also trompe-l'oeil printed tops. She's introducing knitwear, three sweaters manufactured by a women's co-op in Lima, Peru.
"They approached us...it's a bunch of women; mothers with women who have children that want to be home with them, so they do hand-knitting. It's a small business of 20 to 30 women knitters. Some of them work with the manufacturers, others knit at home. We used baby alpaca---alpaca's a lot better on the environment---they don't have to treat the wools so much. The colours are really low toxic and beautiful, saturated."
Earlier this year on a trip to Hong Kong, designer Kim Munson met with the head of that country's apparel association to see if there was a possibility of selling her Halifax fashion line, Orphanage, in local retail stores. She's been in contact with a couple of retailers, but says she finds shipping too expensive. "It can cost $400 to send a box and so my pricing has to be high, and they mark down like crazy there anyway, so I'm finding it hard to get into their price point. It may happen but not for this season. We're still in talks."
Munson jokes about Orphanage fall collection, which hits the catwalk on Friday, as being so local it has a "12-block radius." She does all her own sewing and pattern drafting, and sources her fabrics from the usual haunts---Value Village, Frenchie's or donation---and then deconstructs them into new fashion that doubles as conversation pieces.
For the first time, Munson is transforming old leather coats and bags into hot leather spats and leather sleeves that go right from the shoulder to the first knuckle. It's also the first time that she's designed corporate wear. There's the Jackie shirt, created from men's button-down shirts, a winter coat, skirts and a dress made of suit coats.
If you don't have an AIG-sized bonus kicking around, that's OK. Both of these talented designers will be selling their clothing at a sale on Sunday at Vibe Salon and Spa.
Atlantic Fashion Week showcases, Friday and Saturday at the Olympic Centre, Hunter and Cunard, 8pm, $20, atlanticfashionweek.com. See Shoptalk (page 15) and look for continuing AFW coverage this weekend at thecoast.ca.