They are flowing, mossy green, and the colour of the Skeena or Bulkley rivers.
No, we’re not talking about a local landscape as painted by the Group of Seven. What we’re talking about here is fashion.
Northwestern fashion and those who practice it.
“I met one woman at a dinner party, and she was like, there’s no designer in Terrace,” recalls local fashionista Peggy Gilliard who is the in-house designer at U.C. Fashion and Urban Colour on Lakelse Ave.
She has just launched her new clothing line 7 Birch at a fashion show there in November.
“I said ‘are you kidding?’”
As a matter of fact, Gilliard points out that she is one of several designers working in the area and making original clothing in Terrace.
Those designers also include Brenda and Amy Parfitt and their Olan label, Judy McCloskey (and daughter Jesse) and Laura McGregor.
There are several themes which emerge when you are looking at these designers and what they are doing.
Gilliard, for example, says that her staple creations these days—kimonos and vests—have a certain pattern and colour that was inspired by the northwest landscape.
“You know, you see moss hanging out of the trees, and you see the fringe hanging off of these kimonos,” she said, explaining that landscape and clothing design is coming together in the 7 Birch line.
“I am really inspired by my environment. Being around Terrace, the rivers, and even down in the Kootanies and the Okanagan, seeing the deserts they get down there, basically wherever I am I kind of draw on what I am seeing around me,” she continues.
She calls her own clothing designs more “flowing” than, say, the hard lines and body you might find in a Montreal designer’s repertoire.
Her sense of art as a patchwork of different identities seems relevant to her life—with her genealogy including both Lakoda, Irish, and French making for a Métis heritage.
This sense of drawing from many pools, making unity out of fragments, is also apparent in the designs of Olan.
Mother and daughter team Brenda and Amy Parfitt have had their business Olan for seven years and have purchased secondhand clothing and reworked it into new designs to sell in fairs and stores such as at Sidewalkers.
“Biggest thing about it for us is that we do everything from recycled clothing,” said Brenda.
“Everything you see here in our booth, all the hats, the skirts, all the accessories are all made from sweaters, men’s shirts turned into hats, that kind of thing. We are always trying to come up with new ideas. Terrace supports us so much, it’s hard to believe.”
The reason for the recycled style owes to a number of factors, from the fact of cost reduction, the ecology and also to the creative look it gives. The reuse of material is popular in major centres too, and is known as “upcycling,” says Brenda.
According to Judy McCloskey, who also “upcycles” used clothing to create new work, men’s shirts have better cotton than women’s. That is one reason she likes to repurpose old men’s T-shirts and sweaters into skirts and tunics. Another is that men’s shirt cotton is more often made in Canada.
“Every piece is unique,” said McCloskey who, like Brenda Parfitt, makes clothing together with her daughter as a team.
She describes the style as “funky and functional.”
Another local designer, Laura McGregor has struck out in another direction, and she likes to make tights.
She uses a special computer program that helps her turn her artwork into patterns that can then be sewn into those tights.
She first takes photos of her artwork and then transforms them into designs and sends them to the company in Montreal that makes tights out of them.
According to McGregor, “it’s pretty common for an artist to go to thrift stores and up-cycle materials. We have the thrift stores available to us close by and it’s cheap.”
She said that old sweaters and other clothing found at thrift stores can be converted into skirts worn over tights or pants.
“With the extras from the sweater, they will make scarfs or cuffs or wrist warmers,” she said.
Aside from the technique and the look, another thing that seems to link the Terrace designers is their “do it yourself” work ethic, and they say that they have learned skills passed down through family and have been largely self-taught, though they keep their eyes on the trends.