By Stephanie Wei
Special to The Toronto Sun
Growing up, Trish Ewanika was constantly asked why she was so dressed up and where she was going.
"I never understood the idea that you had to be going somewhere to wear nice clothes," she smiles.
Trish Ewanika's line of softly constructed, elegantly tailored pieces, seen here at her downtown sh0p, Ewanika, blur the lines between office and weekend wear.
A girl who refused to wear jeans, she learned to make her own clothes to avoid wearing the stretch polyester creations her mother designed for her.
Today, Ewanika designs clothing with the same concepts in mind: "I don't understand women who keep work clothes separate from play clothes. I can't live like that," she says. "My clothing is me. I try to make the kind of clothes that just look nice and fit well." Her line of women's wear achieves that goal: her softly constructed, elegantly tailored pieces blur the line between office and weekend wear.
The soft-spoken designer and retailer opened her self-named store, Ewanika, five years ago at College and Bathurst streets. She loves the fact that producing and selling her own line gives her total control over her environment.
Ewanika graduated from the University of Manitoba's clothing and textiles program in 1988. She found her course work too theoretical, and focused on the technical production aspects of manufacturing fabric.
"It wasn't very fashion-oriented," she recalls. "I had courses in the history of textile manufacturing and the psychology of colour. What I wanted to gain was knowledge of how the industry works."
She decided to continue her studies at the International Academy of Design and Technology's fashion design program. She chose the program over others because it was an intensive two-year program versus other three or four-year programs, it had a work-study program to give students industry exposure, and because the instructors were working professionals in the fashion industry.
At the academy, her courses included more applied subjects such as pattern drafting, millinery, colour theory, fashion illustration and tailoring.
While still a student, Ewanika found a part-time job working for a clothing manufacturer in the wholesale business.
"I did what any other student would do," she says. "I swept floors, snipped threads and sewed on buttons."
Ewanika worked her way up in the studio to pattern drafter, where she worked for several years until deciding to live in Italy for a year.
On her return, she freelanced as a fashion stylist for film and commercials, and did custom work for previous clients from the wholesaler, which had gone out of business. The more custom work she did, the more it seemed to revolve around special occasion wear such as wedding dresses.
Eventually, Ewanika opened her own store to focus on the relaxed yet fitted day wear that has become her signature.
Ewanika loves the autonomy of her work and the ever-changing priorities, which include working on patterns, forecasting new trends, merchandising and dealing with clients.
"My clients are working women, about 30 to 40 years old, who don't work in a strict office environment," she says. Her emphasis is on natural fibres, but she has been working with some modern fabrics such as Tencel, which she finds "amazing."
She loves the fact that being her own boss allows her to set her own schedule. Depending on where she is in the season, her typical day can include working on patterns, looking ahead to upcoming seasons, dealing with sales representatives, managing and preparing the store, merchandising, grading (modifying the patterns for a range of sizes), supervising production, and of course, dealing with clients.
"I'm getting better with the business part," she says. "It's going well. Every year, things get better. I have nice clients, I like dealing with them. I like the neighbourhood thing, the exposure to the community. In this environment, you can still have your fingers in everything."
Before opening her store, Ewanika also taught courses at the academy for several years. She is still involved as part of the advisory council, a group of industry professionals who are called on to assist the school in making sure the curriculum reflects industry trends and practices.
"I wanted to stay involved," Ewanika says, "and I think it's good for the students to know what's going on."
Her advice for fashion students is to be prepared. She says that many students have the misconception that they are going to make a lot of money, and that "some company is going to pay you to just sit and sketch and design."
The reality is that the position of fashion designer is becoming less common, as many companies work on the product development model and develop clothing lines geared specifically to what customers want.
Ewanika urges students to do the research, and to use their work-study placements to explore alternative careers in fashion.
"You can be creative, but it's a lot of hard work. Students look at me in surprise when I tell them I work 12 hours, six days a week, and then I work on my day off."
As the profile of her store and her clothing line rises, Ewanika proves that, sometimes, success can be simply chic.
(Write Toronto-based freelancer Stephanie Wei at (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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