Yukon Fashion to Swarm Ottawa Runway

Fitted leather jacket and Capri pants by Brenda Lee Asp Designs.

When you live in a place where it is winter for half the year you would expect fashion to be restricted to parkas and boots, but that’s not the case.

Tomorrow night in Ottawa three Yukon designers will show their work at Northern Scene’s contemporary themed evening, SWARM, which features music, art, fashion and a party.

The show’s curator, Jamie Look, has been excited about the show Boundless: Fashion from Canada’s North for quite some time.

“I wanted to give them a chance to showcase their work on a no-holds-bar runway,” she says. “It’s really been left up to the designers to present themselves in a way that they wish to be seen.”

The only stipulation is that that each designer submit 12 garments each.

In her selection process she sought designers who were keen, actively engaged, available to commit, and willing to work with and meet new people. Here is the Yukon contingent:

Sho Sho Esquiro
Esquiro currently lives in Vancouver, but her roots will always be in the Yukon. Of Cree, Scottish and Ross River Kaska Dene descent, she grew up with an appreciation for the sewing and beadwork skills of her many aunties — it was always something that she knew she wanted to do.

The inspiration for her latest collection, called Nahuatl, came all the way from South America and travelled up through the American southwest, where it found Esquiro on one of her many tours through the United States.

Frida Kahlo, the Mexican celebration Dia de los Muertos, and Mayan ancestors will be echoed in Esquiro’s designs.

“We’ve lost a lot of people in the Yukon and I like the idea of the Day of the Dead celebration,” she says. “It’s one day out of the year when all of our loved ones can come back and celebrate with us once again.”

Like Esquiro’s collection, Dia de los Muertos is anything but morbid. Jamie Look recognized and loved this about Esquiro’s colourful submissions that reflect a “young, fun, wild and original” designer.

Esquiro’s clothing is handmade and utilizes recycled leather, from salmon to alligator, various furs and eco-friendly fabrics such as bamboo and hemp.

Esquiro encourages young designers to “Keep sewing and to keep learning, whether you take the education route or not. And when you are presented with an opportunity, make sure that you follow through and do your best.”

Esquiro has had shows in the Hamptons, New York, the American southwest, Oregon and Vancouver, but this will be her first time presenting in Ottawa.

“I am honoured to be representing my home territory alongside other talented Yukoners,” she says.

Esquiro will have her first fashion show in the Yukon at the Adaka Cultural Festival this June. See more at www.ShoShoEsquiro.com

Jessica Vellenga
Vellenga has a trained background in fine art and has been making garments for herself since she was a teenager.

She is self-taught, but in the past two years she has had the opportunity to take sewing and millinery classes at the Yukon College with fellow designer and mentor, Lea-Ann Dorval.

Vellenga has made some sensual yet wearable art to present at Northern Scene. Her latest collection is inspired by women’s fashion of the 1920s and 50s.

“I wanted to make a series of lingerie that was classic and comfortable, using cashmere, silk, mohair and other luxurious materials,” she says.

Each piece she creates features hand-made embellishments of crochet, tatting, lace or embroidery, which she produces or sources from antique and vintage textiles. She also utilizes vintage textiles to create accessories.

“She’s right on trend with the recycling of garments and the sourcing of vintage materials,” exclaims Look. “I enjoy the work she’s already created and I’m really interested to see what she comes up with in the future.”

Vellenga looks forward to meeting the other designers and seeing their collections, as well as being able to partake in the rest of the festival. Her advice for those who want to start designing parallels the enthusiasm she has for her own Northern Scene opportunity.

“Research the designers and techniques that inspire you,” she says. “Enroll in design school or classes, attend fashion shows or exhibitions and network with other designers.”

See more at JessicaVellenga.com

Brenda Lee Asp
Brenda Lee Asp, whose First Nation ancestry is Tahltan, Tutchone, and Tlingit,, has been learning the art of custom clothing construction and concepts of print design from her mother and paternal grandmother since the age of seven. Her latest collection is entitled Gems of My Life and her muse is gratitude.

“This collection is a way for me to honour and thank all of the people in my life who have inspired me to be a better person,” says Asp.

Look was moved by her clothing.

“(It’s) so inspiring to receive this submission from a fellow designer and mother,” she says. “I could feel her deep love of family and the connection to her history through her clothing design. I wanted her to have an opportunity to showcase that combination of tradition and couture on the runway.”

What makes Asp’s designs unique are her signature shirt collars and her custom handmade prints, which she designs with her partner Warren Smith.

“Find out where your true passion is; the thing that you enjoy doing most; honour that feeling and strive to learn more about it,” Asp advises others. “There will be challenges along the way, but if you never give up on yourself, you will get there, even if you don’t know how – where there is a will there is always a way.”

Northern Scene will be Asp’s first collection and show since she completed her formal training at the Blanche Macdonald Centre in Vancouver. Here in the Yukon, we will have to wait and see the Gems collection when it is presented at the Adaka Cultural Festival in June.

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