career karma – Irene Stickney

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I met Irene Stickney at the first ever Toronto Fashion Bloggers night, three years ago.  She was a contributer to Toronto Street Fashion, and she was also a fellow Ryerson Fashion Design student two years behind me.  I even had the chance to help out with her ambitious grad collection.  Irene plays a versatile role in Toronto’s independent fashion scene – she watches shop at 69 Buy The Pound by day, and parties, designs and saves the world with activist bike gang/fashion design collective The Deadly Nightshades… well, by night.  I asked her a few questions about her various roles.

You can often be found at 69 Buy The Pound, weighing clothes, teaching people how to use the sewing machines, and hosting events. What are your favourite BTP finds – do you snap up the best stuff first? Any upcoming happenings you are excited about?

My favorite piece of clothing ever is a short little bolero jacket with red piping around the edges that I got as a gift from Kealan. It was cut out of a dark red Santa Fe blanket with flowers all over it. It came from the Queen St location but just about everything else I own is from BTP… My tiger print head scarf and my black cowboy boots, my black lace tights, and a lovely sixties house dress with little mushrooms all along the hem. That said, I don’t snap up the best things when they come in. I like stuff that’s so weird no one else likes it anyways. We want people to find gems when they shop here and that won’t happen if I’m in there grabbing all the Dooney and Burke bags… When new stuff arrives, I take one thing I like and put the rest out on the floor right away.

After working at BTP for about a year now, I’ve got so many patterns in my wardrobe that my friends say I’ve started to look like a Gypsy… african prints, paisley, silk watercolours, sixties florals…. there’s alot of beautiful old patterns at BTP but oddly they all kind of work together. Gypsies have been a bit of an obsession for everyone at work lately… we held a Gypsy themed caravan sale at the Drake last month and it went really well. We’re planning a Frugal Fashion Week show at the Social on July 24th that’s going to be hilarious fun… and after that, a tall mens clothing swap in August and a few surprises in September…

What were your impressions of fashion school? Worst part, best part? Would you recommend it?

Having taught sewing for a year now, I have some new sympathy for my sewing teachers. Sewing is the kind of thing where you learn so much from your mistakes but they’re so frustrating while you’re making them. That said, Ryerson is not a place that values youth and that’s bad news for grads who want more than just technical jobs. I read a really great interview with Louise Wilson (the director of the MA program at Central Saint Martins) recently about fashion schools and it summed up how I feel pretty nicely. You can read it here. I think Ryerson – when I was there – fit her description pretty well. It was all about polish and not about substance – and definitely not about sustainability. Although that might be changing. I hear from students that Robert Ott has made a good start as the head of the program this year, and I respect him for trying to bring Ryerson into the 21st century.

You’re a member of an ever-growing bike gang-fashion collective, The Deadly Nightshades, that just released its first collection. How is the collective process of designing different than designing your own collection?

It was a lot more challenging because we had to work as a team. We knew we’d need a few constants from the start – palette and fabrics – to keep things cohesive since there were so many people designing. We’ve all known each other for a long time and we know each others styles and we riffed on each others designs pretty well. Niamh made a little top and shipped it from Vancouver, and then I loved it and made a dress that was a variation on it – she made some pants to go with my little windbreaker, Cat and I would try stuff on and talk about it in the studio while we were sewing. There was alot of emailing and picture texting back and forth from Vancouver to Toronto. We’re a team. Obviously, we all had ideas that got scrapped but we ended up with the best and most wearable pieces getting produced.

How would you describe your alter-ego, Fierce Bambi? Is she different than Irene Stickney?

Fierce Bambi is my bike gang nickname, but I’ve never thought of it as an alter ego… it’s not like Batman where I have a secret identity or anything.

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