As I mentioned in my previous post about supporting independent designers, I challenged myself to purchase more from independent designers. There are wonderful indie designers that are finding it harder and harder to distribute their designs. That’s on top of being able to procure interesting fabrics to make samples, but not having to commit to an entire bolt…just in case the design doesn’t work out. It’s a catch-22 for these designers.
So, in an effort to expose more of these indie designers to you, here is the first interview — of what I hope is many — of independent designers. Today’s focus is on Erin Alexandra Klym.
I became familiar with Erin from her Etsy store. I was enthralled with her designs; and then to find out that she would make the clothing to my size, I was even more excited! And I was rewarded with not only perfectly-fitted dresses, but the craftsmanship was amazing. Erin does not skimp on finishings! So, I asked Erin if she wouldn’t mind answering a few questions to share her journey with us. And, without further ado, may I introduce Erin Alexandra Klym, an independent womens-wear designer from Canada. <applause, applause>
SC: Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer a few questions, Erin! So, first question: How long have you been designing?
EAK: This will be my 18th year…hard to believe! I designed and sold my first garment at 15 years old.
SC: 18 years?! And you sold your first garment at 15?! Wow!! When did you know you wanted to design clothing?
EAK: It’s as if it were rooted in me, just waiting to grow, from a very young age. I used to draw elaborate outfits on anything, starting from Grade Three. We had a project around that time where we had to make a book of drawings of Easter eggs, and mine were all wearing elaborate outfits, and I called it “The New High Fashions for Eggs”. That was the first thing I can remember. I still have that book!
By the time I was 10 years old, my bedroom walls were plastered with cut outs from Vogue, YM, Sassy, and Elle. I have never desired to do anything else but be a fashion designer, and I am fortunate to have always known what I wanted to do with my life.
SC: It certainly is a natural-born talent, Erin. When did you first learn to sew? Did anyone teach you?
EAK: I taught myself how to sew, with a bit of help from my Mother (threading the machine was a challenge at first!). My Mother knew basic sewing, so she taught me that, and the rest was trial and error.
I eventually wanted to obtain formal training, to further learn about the industry, how to draft patterns, and to gain new experiences away from home. I left Winnipeg, MB in 1996 and moved to Montreal, QC to attend a three year fashion design program in college.
SC: What fabrics are you drawn to the most?
EAK: I adore working with jerseys, because they are so versatile. They drape beautifully, are forgiving, and are easily adaptable to many different designs. I predominantly work with knits. I also love working with wool and thicker, loftier materials, because they hold their form so well. At the opposite end of the spectrum, I love chiffon, because it is just so ethereal.
SC: Jerseys! I knew it! 🙂 And they are lovely. How and where do you find your fabrics?
EAK: I look for fabric wherever I go — thrift and vintage boutiques, fabric suppliers all over Toronto, and on my travels to other cities and countries. I also am blessed to have an aunt who is an immensely talented seamstress with a killer stockpile of luxurious fabrics that I am slowly inheriting!
SC: WOOT WOOT for your wonderful aunt! I love hearing how you are making last-minute presents or scrambling to make something for yourself. How do you keep up the energy to sew for business *and* yourself?
EAK: It gets extremely tedious some days- I am not going to lie! But I am blessed (and sometimes cursed) with an abnormal amount of natural energy. I will stay up until 3am the night before going to visit family, sewing presents for my Mom, Sister or my Nieces. Although I get burnt out at times, I love how others react and how they genuinely appreciate the time I put into making them a custom item.
I am quite hyper, and some people can easily get worn out from spending an hour with me! I have an immense amount of drive and determination that always keeps me going.
SC: No wonder I can always exchange emails with you in the middle of the night! You and I are both nightowls!
Your designs are so detailed oriented. Every time I wear the braided dress or any of your jackets, I get compliments about the details, from the coils or braids on a dress to the the oversized snaps on the wonderful sweater coat. Where do you get your inspirations?
EAK: I cannot place my inspiration on anything in particular. I think it’s just a culmination of everything from my past to the present that I have been exposed to, whether it be visual or emotional.
I also like to find new methods of inspiration and motivation to keep things fresh. Last week I challenged myself to make a jacket out of 2 meters of fabric, and the goal was to use 99% of the fabric — down to the very last scraps — and incorporate it all into the design without it looking overdone.
Most of my designs start from me wandering into my fabric pantry and gazing in upon the floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with textiles, and I get ideas by just looking at it and mixing different materials and colors together in my mind, then I grab them and literally just start draping on the mannequin or making patterns and cutting the fabric immediately. I have never really excelled at sketching, and I feel that I can never convey my ideas properly through that medium, so I just get to it and make it! And the ‘mistakes’ during the process are often incorporated into the design, becoming a new, an often, exciting element.
SC: Any clues or previews to your next collection?
EAK: Since I don’t have access to amazing fabrics as do established designers (or thefunds!), I try to experiment with the fabrics I can get, and morph them into new textiles, by trying different techniques to change their texture and surface. I was inspired this season by medieval garments mixed with a futuristic apocalyptic vision, filled with muted and grey tones for fall/winter.
As always, I will continue to design my signature pieces, which focus on ‘exalted simplicity’- basics taken to a new and stimulating level. These items can be worn alone and still create a statement, while always being effortless, comfortable, and versatile. The pieces don’t need to be layered or given any thought- just put them on and let them speak for themselves. I detest those days when you are running late, or just in a mental rut, and you reach for a pair of jeans and a bland shirt, for lack of inspiration. My goal is to create pieces that fill that void, and will make you feel like you made an effort to express yourself during the day ahead, when you are in no mood to figure it out!
SC: And your fashions do exactly that, Erin! When I put on my braided dress, I don’t have to think about jewelry or anything. And I can wear any shoe or pattern hose with it and look put together.
What is your favorite sewing tool?
EAK: My Juki Industrial- from chiffon to leather with the change of a needle and foot….pure bliss. I also love my trusty ninety-nine cent loop turner!
SC: LOL, it comes to a ninety-nine cent loop turner. Finally, do you sew to any music? Do you sing along?
EAK: I ALWAYS listen to music while working, or I work in complete silence. I never have the TV on…ever…I find it to be a horribly irritating distraction. And yes, I do sing along most of the time!
I have days where I listen to 80’s music or 90’s music, and other days I will mix it all up and listen to a myriad of different artists. Indie and alternative rock are my faves. Some groups I listen to are Die Mannequin, La Roux, Spinerette, Band of Skulls, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Metric, Santogold and the Kills.
SC: Thanks very much, Erin, for taking the time to talk to us. And to share some pictures of your newer designs. Good luck with everything!
Erin is not only an amazing designer; she has a wonderful heart, too. Literally. Erin had open-heart surgery last year. Yes, she continued to design and fulfill orders before and after her surgery. And to support the Heart and Stroke Foundation, Erin donates $5 from every purchase to the foundation. As of August 2010, she has donated $320! Hopefully, that amount will increase greatly with increased sales in her store.
Please be sure to check out Erin’s store, http://www.etsy.com/shop/ErinAlexandraKlym.