Turning trash into haute couture

Sylvan Lake eco-designer Sally Sandusky creates eye-catching fashions for Vancouver runways from cast-off curtains, jeans and t-shirts.

Sylvan Lake eco-designer Sally Sandusky creates eye-catching fashions for Vancouver runways from cast-off curtains, jeans and t-shirts.

She considers her up-cycled knits a metaphor for life: “Sometimes the most messed up parts turn out to be the most beautiful … Our greatest disappointments or disasters can turn out to be our greatest gift if seen in the right way.”

While most people wouldn’t see much potential in rummage-sale materials, they are a treasure to Sandusky who has re-purposed and recycled fabrics for the core of her Omeme fashion line.

For example, a crinolined ball grown that got a lot of attention during Vancouver Fashion Week last month used to be sheer polyester curtains.

“That one took quite a bit of prep time,” said the designer. First she had to snip the cleaned curtain fabric into narrow strips, then she stitched these together into long strands. The raw edges were folded over and sewn to make a sort of fabric yarn that Sandusky then hand-knit into a gown on large needles.

The whole process took about four weeks, said the 38-year-old, who’s also created organic-looking skirts from hunting tarps, and sweaters from unravelled knits, discarded leather jackets and distressed blue jeans.

So far, her company has been a labour of love. Sandusky has yet to market her designs to stores — she creates clothes for custom orders. But buzz about her line is growing after a couple of runway appearances during Vancouver’s Eco Fashion Week and last month’s Fashion Week.

A photographer for British Vogue and Glamour magazines took pictures of her latest runway show on March 16. She was also interviewed for an upcoming article in ACF (Amazing Canadian Fashions) magazine, sold at Chapters stores.

Online photos of her clothing have attracted the notice of a televised fashion reality program, as well as international fashion show organizers.

“I’ve been invited to the Paris, London and Australian fashion weeks but it’s really expensive to go,” said Sandusky, who’s hoping to find investors to get her clothing shown on more runways, as well as manufactured and sold in retail outlets.

“I’m looking for growth. I’d like it to be seen in a store, and to work with mentors in the business.”

The designer of aboriginal heritage, was adopted into a non-aboriginal family living in Sylvan Lake. Her adoptive parents gave her the Cree name for dove, Omeme, because they wanted her to retain something of her First Nations heritage.

“My dad is very entrepreneurial,” she said, while her mother was always involved with arts and crafts — and taught her how to knit.

Sandusky wanted to be involved in fashion ever since seeing her first runway show at Bower mall in Red Deer at age 12. She can still remember the trendy clothing, models and music combining into an exciting experience. “I just happened to be walking by, and the whole atmosphere made me feel totally alive. I decided I want to do something like that someday.”

She enrolled in the Olds fashion marketing program a few years after graduating from Red Deer’s former Camille J. Lerouge high school in 1996. After completing the college program, she worked for a while in retail, then as a health care aid.

But her love of fashion design drew her back to school in 2012 to study at the John Casablancas Institute in Vancouver, where she lived until recently returning to Sylvan Lake to help out her aging parents.

While a design student, she discovered her interest in up-cycling and knitwear. Turning something terrible into something beautiful is extremely satisfying, said Sandusky.

“You can take stuff that people don’t want, scrap pieces, and turn them into unique masterpieces …”

Life is also a masterpiece, when you combine everything, the good and the bad, she added. “It’s a mixture of stuff — a beautiful mess.”

Her designs can be found under Sally Omeme on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.com. Anyone interested in investing or donating materials to Sandusky can also email her at omemegirl@gmail.com.

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com

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