Six Questions for Sarah Splinter

Sarah Splinter, Kingston, OntarioSarah Splinter: designer, artist, and whirling dervish extraordinaire. The 26-year-old Kingston/Amherstview native showcased her debut collection, Zenana, in a Fashion Art Toronto runway show last month. When preparing for the show, she was still a George Brown College fashion student amongst a crowd of mostly well-established designers, which makes her success all the more impressive. In the weeks following the debut, her garments have been roundly praised as some of the top looks to hit the runway (for instance here, here, and here). The collection was inspired by her recent experience living in India, and it bursts with vibrant colours, luxe textiles, and not just a little panache. Like Splinter herself, each piece practically levitates with energy. Here, she settled only just long enough to discuss it all with us, before she moved on to her next, and perhaps unknown, adventure.

1. Have you always been interested in fashion? What made you go back to school to study design?

It’s quite funny to reflect back on the person I used to be. I was a jock, but also an artist. I was a fanatic about figure skating, which was basically the prettiest sport I could possibly do. After high school I was supposed to go to art school, but ended up doing a business degree instead because all I had heard was that I wouldn’t make any money with an art degree. But I wasn’t interested in business. After university I was like a lost puppy. I worked on cruise ships for awhile, and I made costumes and dresses as a hobby. I remember the moment I decided to go back to school. It was after an Arcade Fire concert in March of 2014, which had a formal costume requirement. I made my own dress, and I was so passionate about it. As soon as I got home from the concert I started researching schools.

2. Why did you choose George Brown, and what were some highlights of your study there?

I knew that the school allowed for international study, and that was important. I didn’t have the money to choose a school abroad, but I applied for a grant that funds international marketplace work experience. It allowed me to travel to India and work there. If I had not gone, I would not be where I am today. It really cultivated me as a designer, and I knew I wanted to do a collection of my own when I came back. So I gave away all my clothes while I was there and came back with a suitcase of fabrics instead.

3. So how did you get involved with Fashion Art Toronto?

When I got back from India, I fought to have an independent study because I felt like I needed to be challenged within the program. Basically, I got to design my own curriculum. I had two pieces from my collection complete, as well as some sketches, when I decided to apply to Fashion Art Toronto on a whim. I just wanted to get my name out there, so maybe they’d think about me for the next year. I needed photos of models in my garments, so within the span of 24 hours, I had friends graciously volunteer to help: photography, hair, and makeup. In my written application, I decided not to include that I was a student. I was walking a fine line: I wanted them to take me seriously as someone who could commit to the project and follow through. But maybe the fact that I’m a student would’ve impressed them. In the end, I didn’t mention it. I didn’t think they were going to choose me, but I got an email saying I was invited to show my collection.

4. What was the preparation like? I imagine it must’ve been a whirlwind.

Basically, I had four months to create the collection. And I was by myself. Some of the designers at Fashion Art Toronto have teams of ten or more people, established companies. I was also in a full course load at the college, and I had to find my own way to finance creating the garments. I basically woke up at 5:30 every day and stayed on campus until midnight, when the security guards would kick me out. The biggest challenge was channeling my energy and focus into one area. I had too many ideas. But I decided to make the collection really diverse and just showcase my talent. So there’s everything from a tailored blue tuxedo to a hand-painted ball gown. Really, the process was just an investment in myself. Seeing it all come down the runway, it was totally worth it.

5. You’ve gotten a lot of praise in the weeks following the show, with a number of outlets choosing your garments as some of their favourite looks. What’s your response?

I had a ton of friends and family at the show, which was great. But it feels really good when you get recognition from an outside circle. That feels totally different than when a friend says something amazing. It’s quite cool to be recognized for something that you put so much time into. But you gotta keep the buzz going, the ball rolling. So I’ve been making sure I do social media updates every day, because it’s all networking. When you’re in fashion, you’re basically just saying “Okay. Judge me.” It’s so cutthroat.

6. So what’s next, then? You’ve just finished your program at George Brown. Where do you go from here?

Well I’ve been invited to do two fashion more shows. One will be for Raw Artists in July, and the other will be for Fashion Forward in September. And I don’t have any commitments. I love Canada, but I also love to travel, and if I get offered a job abroad, I’m on the first plane. But being a starving artist is not easy. I can hustle and do my own thing, or I can go work for someone who can teach me. In design, there are so many jobs that are unpaid. But I’m looking for a mentor that’s going to lead me somewhere, not use me. At the end of the day, I’m worth their time.

Follow @sarahsplinter on Instagram to keep up with the latest, and like her Facebook page for news about upcoming shows and collections.

Photo credit to Jonathan Hooper.

Kelly Reid

Kelly Reid has retired as a contributor to Kingstonist. Kelly was one of our arts and culture contributors. Her column for Kingstonist explored the city's art galleries, as well as live music, theatre and performance art venues.

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