Janna Stewart of Cinder + Smoke is always on the hunt.
The local designer constantly looks for “proper” vintage fabric, mainly in Canada but also wherever she travels. Stewart, the sole designer for her brand, finds stores with basements full of vintage, never-used fabrics and brings them back to her home studio in Edmonton. There, she drafts patterns and cuts fabrics, then does some sewing, while sending some of her patterns and fabrics to Vancouver to have them sewn there.
“I really love print. I’m always drawn to the older style prints, especially in cotton fabrics, which I really love working with. I go for a lot of colour combinations that you don’t see very often anymore. I also find with new stuff, it’s quite overwhelming. With vintage, this is all you have and it’s beautiful. The longer I’m doing it, the better I’m getting at choosing types of fabrics.”
Stewart has designed full-time for seven years now, and she continues to sell at Bamboo Ballroom in Edmonton and other boutiques across the country. But her love of clothing started at an early age. Her mother and grandmother taught her how to sew, a skill she quickly put to use altering her own clothes. This habit was born out of inconvenience. At almost six feet tall, Stewart has always had trouble finding clothes with long enough sleeves and pant lengths. She figured out how to alter clothes and, from there, learned how to make a pattern.
She attended MC College from 2004 to 2005 and studied design, mainly because she wanted to refine her pattern-making skills. “I needed someone to walk me through it,” she says. Afterwards, Stewart worked as a pattern-maker at a boutique on Whyte Avenue that no longer exists. After a year, she realized she wanted to create her own patterns, so she quit her job and started her own line. “It was quite small – it’s still quite small,” she says.
Her methods are unusual – she doesn’t follow a typical path when it comes to design. She bases her designs for the dresses and tops she creates on the fabric she finds, instead of looking for fabric to work for a specific design. “I think I design a lot differently than how you are supposed to,” she says. “I find the fabrics, work through the patterns and have the pieces at the end. Maybe they aren’t related to each other but they are in end.”
While she eschews participating in fashion events, like Western Canada Fashion Week, Stewart says she does enjoy attending them. “I find [participating in shows] to be very stressful. I attend and I support it that way.” Despite the low profile she keeps, her designs and brand are known throughout the city. “I still don’t really understand how it all happened,” says Stewart. “People in Edmonton have been very supportive.”