'We all help each other': Yukon designers hit the red carpet with handmade vests, parkas and purses

·2 min read
Students and instructors with the First Nation garment-making program at Yukon University's Mayo campus pose in their parkas during a fashion show on Saturday. (Jackie Hong/CBC - image credit)
Students and instructors with the First Nation garment-making program at Yukon University's Mayo campus pose in their parkas during a fashion show on Saturday. (Jackie Hong/CBC - image credit)

Before Nancy Hummel signed up for a First Nations garment-making program at Yukon University's Mayo campus, she'd never used a sewing machine.

Now, she and the other five women who learned alongside her are budding fashion designers.

Hummel, who is a citizen of the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyak Dun, spent four and a half months with her classmates mastering the basics of sewing and learning how to make clothing like vests, parkas and anoraks from scratch.

Last Saturday, all that work culminated in red-carpet treatment at Mayo's community hall, where roughly 150 people turned out to see the students' work modeled on the runway.

"I just love it because we all help each other, we were there for each other, and when my days were down … they [inspired] me," Hummel said of her fellow classmates.

Jackie Hong/CBC
Jackie Hong/CBC

Together, the students spent long hours sewing, tearing apart and remaking projects until they were perfect.

That companionship was especially important, Hummel said, because she had recently lost her son; like many people in Mayo, most, if not all, of the program participants were dealing with losses of loved ones.

Now, she plans to continue sewing and has already ordered $1,500 worth of supplies so she can make more jackets on her own.

"I'm going to keep it up," she said.

Jackie Hong/CBC
Jackie Hong/CBC
Jackie Hong/CBC
Jackie Hong/CBC

Ellenise Profeit, also of the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyak Dun, was the first participant to have her work shown on the runway Saturday.

Profeit said she'd previously done some sewing and beading by herself, but the program gave her an opportunity to refine her skills and learn new ones, as well as connect further with her heritage.

"Sewing is such a big part of our culture … If we don't carry it on and learn these things now, then who will teach the younger ones?" she said.

Jackie Hong/CBC
Jackie Hong/CBC
Jackie Hong/CBC
Jackie Hong/CBC

She added she hopes to make a living from selling her work and already has a list of custom orders to get through, including for graduation regalia, children's jackets and adult anoraks.

Ashley Washburn-Hayden, one of the program's co-instructors, said it was inspiring to watch the students, whose crafting experience ranged from never having sewed to previously working at the Yukon Parka Factory, go from using a sewing machine for the first time to creating high-quality garments in just a few months.

"Seeing their confidence show and their creativity build, it's been amazing," she said.

"I'm incredibly proud of them."

The fashion show attendees, the majority of them Mayo residents, were also proud — the show closed with the students and instructors walking the red carpet wearing parkas they'd made themselves, each one greeted with a round of cheers and applause.

Jackie Hong/CBC
Jackie Hong/CBC
Jackie Hong/CBC
Jackie Hong/CBC
Jackie Hong/CBC
Jackie Hong/CBC
Jackie Hong/CBC
Jackie Hong/CBC
Jackie Hong/CBC
Jackie Hong/CBC
Jackie Hong/CBC
Jackie Hong/CBC
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