23 February 2015

Local Makers, Local Sewers

Over the past few years, the market for locally made apparel and accessories has been growing in Winnipeg. And to my mind, March and August, Wilder and Tonychestnut are at the forefront of that growth. Each of these local makers show a passion for good design and high quality materials and a commitment to keeping products made by local hands.
Alesha runs March and August Underthings from her home in West Broadway. Her friendly, mixed-breed dog Judi greats me at the doorway. The space is clean and white, furnished with a mix of vintage finds and newer, modern pieces. Her sewing machine looks out over the front yard and the cutting table is filled with samples she's considering for the upcoming spring collection. A photo of her smiling partner hangs in the corner of an inspiration board.

Alesha has been making underthings as March and August for over a year now. Prior to that, she'd been working on a number of different projects. She tells me, "I've been trying to figure out my medium for a long time." After fashion schooling and apprentice work, she'd been designing and sewing different items of clothing, but nothing felt quite right. "I've always wanted to empower. I wanted it to be more than, 'Here's some cool clothing' or, 'This is really cute.' I wanted [what I made] to have that empowering message." Feeling frustrated, she took a break from making clothing altogether and planned to transition into the food industry. "And then I learned how to make underwear from a friend and taught a class on making it with her, and all of the sudden I just became obsessed with making it. I was working on something in the food industry and was supposed to be making a business plan for that, and I kept leaving it aside to make underwear for my friends, and I was like 'What am I doing? This is amazing and I love it, and I'm spending hours and hours doing it. I'm ignoring this other thing completely.'" That realization sparked others. "I realized I've always wanted to create with my hands, and work with fabric. I've always wanted to empower people to learn to love all the great things about their bodies. And so everything just came together all of the sudden, and I was just like, 'I'm going to do it. I just have to send it out there.' And once I did that, it was amazing."
Alesha's underthings are both comfortable and stylish. She uses fabrics like bamboo cotton in her work for softness, and is always looking for ways to make her things more comfortable. And the cuts and fabrics are both fashionable and incredibly flattering. Her stuff just makes you feel good about yourself. The models she uses on her website have all sorts of body types. And on her Instagram feed, she shares photos customers have posted of themselves in the underwear she's made (with permission, of course). The message of empowerment rings through with every photo and every story she shares. She's happy that "People get it. I don't need to explain it in a big, long paragraph on my website. They see the product and they get it. I'm sure that social media has a lot to do with that too." She adds that this has "helped me stay inspired and helped bring my brand where I wanted it to go."

At the moment, Alesha's working on putting together the spring collection. She's in the final stages of picking out samples and making decisions about design. She also plans to release a custom bridal package in the spring. The package will offer a customized fit and options for both traditional and non-traditional brides.

And in the back of her mind, she has thoughts about expanding. For now, she's able to handle the work, but as her business increases, she may have to consider other options. Maintaining the balance between the value of having something that's "still handmade and local" against her personal health and wellbeing is something that's important to her.
Brendon and Nathan of Wilder have been perfecting and expanding their work with canvas and leather over the past five years. It began with five sewing machines in Brendon's basement where "the ping pong table was the cutting table." Then Brendon's church, the Exchange Community Church at 75 Albert Street offered them a free space to work, as long as they kept it open to people and brewed the occasional pot of coffee. He tells me that time was "more or less working on our craft and having fun." Most of their work was for experimentation, or making commission pieces for friends.

Then, when Thom Bargen opened two years ago, they offered Brendon and Nathan the space to work in the back, and an area for retail display removed from the coffee shop by a handful of steps.  Brendon says that "being in the public spotlight was a motivation for us to take things a little more seriously and give it more of a go." Since that time, their business and expanded and evolved rapidly.
They started out working primarily with canvas because of its toughness and durability. They wanted to design products that looked better with age, instead of falling apart. Nathan says, "We were always drawn to stuff that was more timeless and durable, and that would age nicely." To this end, they began experimenting with leather: adding small things like leather handles to a canvas bag. Once they began that process, they found it opened them up to a "whole world of leather." Now a number of their bags are made entirely from durable, high quality leathers, using time-tested old processes and a lot of hand stitching. And although Wilder began primarily with bags, they've been shifting into other types of products. They've recently released more home goods, like plant hangers and coasters, and are currently working with a friend to produce wood, canvas and leather camp chairs. Brendon hopes that people will use them on the road while also being able to find a space for them in their homes. He tells me, "All of our stuff, we design it to be beat up, but we try to make is so that you can dress it up too."
When it comes to the kinds of products Brendon and Nathan might make, they always want to leave the door open for experimentation. Brendon says that "Ever since the beginning, we've experimented with making different things: hats, pants, other articles of clothing. ... If we're experimenting with something and realize that this is something we can actually do well, and we have a good design going, then we might deviate into that direction." But he also says, "I'm pretty obsessive with proper equipment to do something. If we don't have it, we're not going to associate ourselves with it." Nathan adds, "We want to make sure we pay respect to specific crafts."

In addition to their expansion into housewares and the soon-to-be-released camp chairs, Wilder has recently started selling their products through their website. They've begun with wallets and plan to add canvas goods soon.
As Jill leads me up the stairs of her South Osborne home (a home her husband together with friends and family built themselves) toward the Tonychestnut studio upstairs, she tells me working from home is "both a blessing and a curse." She used to have a studio space in the Exchange, but once they built the house, it just made sense to build a workspace into it. The room itself is a treasure: a few of her remaining items hang on a clothing rack, fabric lies in piles on shelves, and every surface is covered with items of beautiful design. You could spend an hour just picking up each piece and looking at them one by one.

Jill's been making clothes as Tonychestnut for the past 7 years. (She started out doing primarily custom work). And for the past three years, Jill's unique and well-designed items have been available for purchase only through her website or her trunk sales. The materials she uses are high quality, and her designs are magic; they hang beautifully and seem to look great on everyone. During her last trunk sale at Little Sister Coffee this past fall, the thirty pieces she brought sold out in about forty minutes. She realized that if she'd been able to produce more stock, she "could have sold it three or four times over." So recently, she hired two seamstresses and is currently looking for an intern. With more staff and greater inventory, Jill has exciting plans for the future of Tonychestnut.
She recently began selling items at HutK in the Exchange District. It started out as a one-time-only, twenty-piece sale, but she's decided to continue replenishing and adding to the items available there. Although those pieces "will always be different from what I have on the website or at trunk sales," she hopes customers will be pleased to have a more traditional venue to access and purchase her clothing. 

Jill's currently making final edits and working on samples for her spring collection. The trunk sale for those items will likely happen sometime in April. She's also planning on travelling the trunk sale for the first time. She wants to start in Montreal, then Ottawa and Toronto, where she's seen a lot of demand for her products, and perhaps head west for Vancouver.

Finally, there's her new project, #projectgetdressed. Jill says, "I feel like February is a downer month. So, when you're feeling bummed, which I feel like most people, as least in Winnipeg in February do, the best thing to do to help yourself is to help others. So, what I'm doing is I'm being selfish, and for this whole month I've been making clothing for myself, to build up my own wardrobe, which I never do. (I rarely wear my own clothes, because I usually just make to fill orders.) But I'm making two of each garment, and the second once will be sold online and all the proceeds are going to go to a charity that clothes people in Winnipeg." The online sale begins today, with a sweatshirt designed in collaboration with Thought Shapes. And for each day of this last week of February, a single, one-off item or outfit will be sold through her website, with all the proceeds going to "a local charity that will provide outdoor clothing for men, women, and children who are living on the streets in this cold." If you're lucky enough to nab one of the five garments or outfits, kudos to you. If not, look forward to the spring trunk sale, or head down to HutK to check out her pieces.
I've chosen these local designers and makers for this post because I genuinely love their products and think they're doing special and noteworthy things. If you ever have suggestions for local businesses or entrepreneurs you'd like to see featured, please, let me know in the comments or email me at fullbellywornsoles(at)gmail(dot)com.

20 February 2015

Nettie + Min at The Goodwill

So I've decided to bring back Friday posts on occasion, just to promote special weekend events going on in Winnipeg.

First up is vintage dealer Rachael, the lovely gal behind Nettie + Min, who will be at The Goodwill's first Trading Post (alongside 15 other vendors) this Sunday, February 22nd from 12 to 5. Rachael's been collecting and selling vintage clothing under the name Nettie + Min for the past six months or so, but she's long had a passion for vintage clothing - dressing herself in second-hand finds and working at other vintage shops for years.

Rachael's pieces come from all over the place: friends and family with great items they no longer have use for, her connections with other vintage dealers in the city, and many others she snapped up while on a three-month trek through Europe last year.

Her things are lovely, beautifully curated and unique. I highly recommend checking her out if you get a chance to stop by the Traders Post. She'll be on the stage alongside Alex Kohut from The Vintage Saint, who sells vintage men's clothing. You can also buy from Rachael through her Etsy shop, or keep up with her on Instagram to check for weekend sales at her studio in the Frame Arts Warehouse in the Exchange District.

The Trading Post promises to be a great event. Listen to DJ Tiny O spin vinyl while sipping coffee or beer and browsing new and vintage clothing, leather and baked goods, ceramics and art, and even some reclaimed mid century pieces. There will also be Tarot Card readings for 20$. Hope to see you there!

16 February 2015

Mid Century Whiite House

I've been a great admirer of Cadence Hays' (@thewhiitehouse) light, airy and inspiring photos on Instagram for months now. The mid century pieces she restores are breathtaking, and they're always staged with impeccable taste and care. So after months of covetously scanning through her images, I finally reached out to her for an interview and photo session. We spent a few hours on a sunny Sunday afternoon snapping photos, sipping coffee and chatting about life and work.

Cadence got into woodworking through her father. "He was a master carpenter. I grew up with the sights, sounds and smells of his workshop. That was kind of how I spent time with him, because he was always out there. So I knew how to do the basics."

She was also influenced by the design aesthetic in her childhood home. "My house growing up had quite a few mid century pieces, and I never appreciated them back then. My mom's nursing chair for me was a Tapiovaara rocking chair. We had a lot of vintage wall hangings, and beautiful pieces that I never appreciated, and would die to have now."

But that penchant for woodworking and the appreciation for mid century resurfaced in Cadence's life. She'd been working as a free-lance editor while taking some time to raise her two children, and "I knew as soon as my kids were two and up, I had to fight to get creativity and a hobby back into my life." She started slowly. She spent an entire summer experimenting with different oils and stains to see their effects on the wood, and sold her work through Kijiji for a long time, just keeping her pieces at home. And "eventually my husband was like, 'Okay, the garage is for cars, so you're really going to need to find a different space to work.'" So last spring she found a studio in the Exchange District through Kijiji. "There were a lot of responses [for this space] so I added a note that I would supply homemade apple crisp, and I got a call back." 

Her studio lies on the third floor of the Glengarry Block on McDermott. After we took the elevator up, we cross through what she affectionately calls "no man's land," a huge, warehouse space with support beams everywhere that used to be a sewing factory. This is where Cadence does a lot of her dirty work, like sanding or applying oils and stains to her pieces. Her studio, on the other hand, is white and airy and full of plants. She has dozens of pottery pieces culled during trips to Palm Springs and various bits of furniture in different states of her process. The space is shared with other artists, painters, potters and has a large studio space for taking pictures. Cadence says they've been toying with the idea of opening up the space on First Fridays to exhibit their work. It used to be a large gallery, mostly for painting and photography exhibits, and she'd like to see it get more use again.
Once she had the space, Cadence created an Instagram account. Although she'd sold a number of pieces through Kijiji previously, she didn't feel like she'd been tapping into the right crowd for her furniture. "Instagram is that 20s, 30s, 40s hip crowd, that are looking for these pieces. They have great taste, these people, but they don't always have the budget for a twelve hundred dollar credenza." Cadence puts a lot of work into her photos. She loves how Instagram is "quick and visual" and she also believes that "You're creating an emotion when you post an Instagram pic." It's a great venue for her to sell her pieces, and currently the only one she uses to sell her furniture.

Another way Cadence has been adding depth to her photos and accessing a larger market is by collaborating with other local artists, makers and entrepreneurs. I first saw her work when Tiny Feast re-grammed a photo she'd taken, staging a beautifully restored and reupholstered chair together with a print they sold. Additionally, she's collaborated with people: like painter Ryan LoeppkyChelsea Maier of In Plan View (now based mostly out of Vancouver); Jaclyn Peters of Pavilion Decor (her sister-in-law); and Kal Barteski, a script artist who's responsible for all that beautiful flowing writing on the ice at the Forks. Cadence has also started bringing her upholstery jobs to Justin Dueck of Top Stitch (he works just upstairs), and hopes to include some of Haven Design's new geometric work in her photos. She feels that "you have to collaborate in Winnipeg. It's way more fun that way, and Winnipeg's too small not to. Being competitive would be way too energy sucking." She adds that she hopes to find more collaborations, as it's "what makes Winnipeg go 'round."

Although Cadence keeps only a few of the pieces that she restores, you can see her passion for woodworking and mid century design come through in the way she talks. She tells me that she "love[s] seeing an old piece of wood come back," and she enjoys using mid century design to add character to her home. "I think my rule with mid century is kind of how you dress yourself. If you're more casual on the bottom, dress it up on top and vice versa. And with mid century, I don't like all mid century. ... It has to have more of a modern piece with it. If I'm doing all mid century, it's too retro for me."
Lately, she's been able to spend more and more time at the studio, and her pieces have been selling well. Cadence tells me, "It is a hobby. A lot of the pieces that I started with years ago were from my family." (She now gets her stuff from an elderly dealer who's no longer able to refinish.) "It's a hobby that I'd love to grow, but it's kind of uncharted territory." For now, she's happy working away in her studio, collaborating with other Winnipeggers, staging her work and posting it on Instagram, and having customers come down to see their piece at her studio and buying directly. I for one, am excited to see where she's headed.
Full Belly, Worn Soles

9 February 2015

Surviving A Winnipeg Winter: Beating the Winter Blues

So, we've reached February. It's the time of year when I'm so cold and tired of winter that I just want to stay in all the time, while I simultaneously want to run outside, rip off my parka and expose my flesh to the outdoor air again. It's also a time of year when it's easy to get down about the cold weather and limited hours of sunshine. So lately, I've been working hard at being mindful and appreciative of the little things. Here are some of my top tips for shaking off those nagging winter blues.

Shake up your routine
Seek out ways to revitalize the day-in, day-out duldrum. Instead of just commuting straight to and from work, stop off and spend a few minutes doing something you enjoy along the way. Pop by a department store and sample a fun lipstick, swing by your favourite bookstore and get lost in a book for twenty minutes, grab coffee and a croissant on your way home. Have them to stay. Look out the window while you sip and savour. Even fifteen minutes can make all the difference in your mood.

Go outside anyway
Bundle up and head out. Sunshine, even winter sunshine, will lift your spirits, and fresh air always feels good on the lungs, no matter how cold. Take a nice walk over your lunch break or after work to lift your spirits and absorb some natural vitamin D - even if it's only through the tiny eye slit between your scarf and your touque.

Get some exercise
Exercise is probably the healthiest and most reliable way to lift your mood. If all you want is to be warm, take a hot yoga class, swim laps around an indoor pool (and let the smell of chlorine fool you that it's summer), or work up a sweat at a quick spin class over your lunch break.

Take advantage of what your city has to offer
There have been a lot of great things going on in Winnipeg these days. Events like Big Fun, Toast and Hunni, and RAW: Almond remind me that there's still life outside of my Netflix cue. I'm also looking forward to Festival du Voyageur and the Goodwill Traders Post coming soon.

Appreciate the small wonders of winter
Pay attention to the crunch of snow under your feet, appreciate the way that stark winter light falls on buildings and adds a whole new dimension to your city, or enjoy some of these glorious sunsets we've been having. 

I'm curious, do you have any tips on getting through this last stretch of winter? Also, you can find more Winnipeg Winter Survival tips here. Including ideas on beauty, activity and transportation.

2 February 2015

Cocktails at RAW: almond

This past week I had the opportunity to sip beautifully crafted cocktails on the frozen river as part of RAW: almond's cocktail bar experience.

The first run of this incredibly unique pop-up was in January of 2013, and each year, they're gaining momentum. Tickets for the full five-course dinner have been sold out for weeks, but you can still grab a seat at the skate-up brunch over the weekend or snag tickets to the cocktail bar.
Tickets go live at 8am with three seatings - 5:30, 7:30 and 9:30pm every day. The experience kicks off with a shot of vodka followed by three exquisite cocktails, paired with three amuse-bouches. Each night features different premier Winnipeg chefs and bartenders at the top of their game. Our cocktails were made by Josie of deer + almond, and each one was more delicious than the last, with complex flavours and flawless presentation.
If you're lucky enough to nab a seat, eat before you go, since the food is light and the drinks are strong; and walk over, bus or get a ride.