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Home Grown Fashion

Forget about the mall and head online (or to a craft show) to pick up some indie goodies

By Michelle Kay

I love going to craft shows to pick up gifts and meeting the people who create and design the goods. No fighting your way through the mall to find a unique item that is not made in a sweatshop. Nothing says style more than handmade gifts by indie designers. Here is just a tiny selection of the many talented and creative indie designers in Canada.

Twisted Romance

Twisted Romance is the sweatshop of Sarah Snyder, who churns out cute tote bags and knitwear like ties and hats. Snyder is a student from Wilson, NY, who now attends the University of Toronto.

Snyder’s enthusiasm for handmade is apparent. “I like doing crafts and going to craft shows to see what other people do. It’s always nice to stockpile too. I always have last minute gifts.” Each of her pieces is different; all are homemade, one-of-a-kind and special. Her grandmother taught her how to knit when she was little, and her designs are based on her own patterns. Snyder jokes, “The only one being exploited is myself.”

Check out her LiveJournal blog for more photos of what Twisted Romance has to offer. Note the delicious watermelon hat. Refreshing!


Studios Acorn Studios is a one-gal biz run by Nicola Harper. She creates “geekware” from electronic waste, turning old floppy disks, CDs, circuit boards and keyboards into notebooks, jewelry and other gifts.

Harper’s background as a waste management engineer has served her well when designing the eco-friendly and recycled creations. She has seen where all the surplus electronic goods go and how much potentially reusable “waste” was being thrown away. Her desire to do something practical with all her knowledge has led her to create Acorn Studios.

“I get ideas from really strange places sometimes. Like I’ll see the hinge on a box at Home Depot, and then my mind wanders…or I may get a box of some surplus electronic waste, and I have to figure out what I can make with it…”

With wedding season rapidly approaching, Acorn Studios has been selling a lot of keyboard cufflinks for the groomsmen. The floppy disk and diskette notebooks are always popular, and “People get a kick out of the key chains too,” muses Harper, “especially the ‘Home’ key.”


Ella Collier is an artist, crafter and indie designer who makes unique trinkets, bookmarks, collages, artwork and as of late, adorable felt bird brooches. Currently based in Victoria, Collier runs fantasmagoric, where she creates “artsy doodles and musings from outside the machine.”

A lot of fantasmagoric’s items are hand-sewn, and while the stitching may not be as straight or perfect as machine-sewn, their little imperfections add to the indie charm.

Like running any independent business, being an indie designer has its ups and downs. “The disadvantage [of being an indie designer] is I have to work in the “real” world to support myself. To me, the main advantage of being an indie designer is the freedom and independence to use my imagination. The advantages outweigh the disadvantages for me. Whenever the label ‘indie’ is used to describe something, I get these visions about a bunch of people in a garage jamming on instruments and recording music with whatever they can get their hands on. I see myself as a much quieter, garage-free and instrument-free version of that.”

Nico: BinarySoul

When you think of chain mail, perhaps a 13th century knight in shining armour comes to mind. Maybe even role-playing, but a Hacky Sack? Nico, the driving force behind BinarySoul, designs earrings, pendants, bracelets, necklaces and Hacky Sacks out of chain mail. BinarySoul’s focus is to create unique pieces with a variety of styles to fit diverse personalities.

Now based in Halifax and having always dabbled in jewelry, Nico began BinarySoul after being told to bring something to do while working a graveyard shift.

BinarySoul’s Hacky Sacks are similar to regular Hacky Sacks in weight but are filled with slightly larger rings and aluminum, making them fairly light. “It would take a really hard pitch for it to actually hurt,” notes Nico. “People seem wary, but once they try it, they become fans.”

Freedom Clothing Collective

Freedom Clothing is a collective with seven mamas and one papa. A group of friends and Ryerson students started the fashion collective and store three years ago on Bloor Street, just west of Ossington Ave, in downtown Toronto. The focus is to carry alternative fashion made from recycled and other sustainable fabrics as well as to support local designers and promote “responsible consumerism.” The new summer line will use biodegradable fabrics such as bamboo and soy. Fabric dyeing is a major urban air polluter, often overshadowed by car emissions and other industrial plants. As Daphne Mohajer explains, “We have a passion for passion and focus on creativity and sustainability while providing support for young designers in a neighbourhood store.”

The store recently re-opened with all the renovations done by the collective including beautiful wooden hangers and racks in the store. Freedom Clothing is looking forward to offering sewing lessons, knitting and silk-screening workshops for children and adults in the summer.

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