Fashion designer Stevie Thomas finds muse through Vancouver Community College certificate program

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      Several years ago, fashion designer Stevie Thomas took a noncredit course at Vancouver Community College.

      Thomas—who prefers the pronouns they and them—had no idea that this would set them on a path to discovering what they wanted to do for the rest of their life.

      “For me, it’s leaning into your spirit,” Thomas told the Straight in a recent phone interview. “If you don’t feel fulfilled every day, it makes life harder.”

      Thomas knows this firsthand after a disappointing time in the postsecondary system prior to attending VCC. After graduating from high school with very good marks, Thomas bounced from program to program in university because they couldn’t find the right fit.

      The experience left Thomas feeling like a number. But their world changed when they signed up for a fashion-design course at VCC in the summer of 2013.

      The thrill was immediate. By fall, Thomas was a student in the fashion-design certificate program.

      Because they belong to the Snuneymuxw First Nation on Vancouver Island, the band agreed to pay tuition.

      “For VCC, because of the way the course worked out, I could only do the part-time program,” Thomas revealed. “Otherwise, I would have to pay for more out of pocket on my own.”

      But it worked well with Thomas’s life: they could work during the day, take classes in the evening, and work on patterns and design after, often into the early hours of the morning.

      “It really helped to push me to my limits, physically,” Thomas recalled.

      Stevie Thomas appreciates the design challenges that VCC fashion-programs head Sarah Murray presents to alumni.
      Roger Mahler

      By the time graduation rolled around in 2015, Thomas had learned a long list of skills, including pattern drafting, couture sewing, industrial sewing techniques, and designing fashion for a collection.

      The highlight came when Thomas presented their design at Vancouver Fashion Week, which was held in partnership with VCC.

      “It was amazing,” Thomas said. “There were a lot of emotions for me just because we had been working so hard and for so long.”

      Afterward, Thomas felt on such an emotional high that they walked down to a park on Main Street near where the event was held. They needed a moment to process everything that had occurred.

      “I cried from emotional exhaustion and joy,” Thomas said.

      Thomas credits the VCC fashion-programs coordinator, Sarah Murray, for continuing to be a great resource for alumni. The green dress that’s on the cover of this week’s Georgia Straight resulted from one of Murray’s design challenges.

      “It’s been a fun way to stay involved, stay motivated, and stay driven, creatively,” Thomas said.

      Thomas is going through the process of transitioning while being in the midst of launching a fashion brand. It’s called Stevie, like the name Thomas has chosen to use personally.

      It’s not an easy time to be launching a business, but they're receiving financial help from their First Nation. But Thomas doesn’t want to be too exposed to the vicissitudes of the retail industry by producing works on consignment. The last thing Thomas needs is to have a bunch of merchandise returned, because that would clutter up their apartment.

      Instead, the Stevie brand will offer products via ecommerce, starting with T-shirts.

      “I am going to be using illustrations and words, and I want to tie my language back into it,” Thomas said. “I’m not fully fluent in Hul’q’umi’num’, the language of my people, but I want to pick words. Then from the words, show the English translation as well as the illustration that can tie into it.”

      Roger Mahler

      Over the longer term, Thomas plans to create products in different segments.

      There might be three or four pieces of Native art, then others with a street style, then evening wear.

      “I want to build my Indigeneity into my brand,” Thomas said, “but I don’t want it to be the whole catalogue because I’m more than just my Indigenous heritage.”

      Nowadays, the VCC Fashion Design & Production Certificate program takes two to three years to complete. Students learn a wide range of skills, including fashion production, technical illustration, pattern drafting, and draping.

      There is also instruction in garment construction, textile print and dye techniques, branding and marketing, and precision drawing. In addition, students learn how to create knit garments, lined dresses, and
      office attire. That’s in addition to lessons on testing and sourcing fabrics, textile-industry ethics, fashion history and culture, and fashion-industry issues and trends.

      “For myself, as someone who likes to be challenged and intrigued and just wants to learn, it’s a great place to go to,” Thomas said.

      “If you have any doubts about what you’re doing for schooling, I would say dip your toe out and explore," Thomas continued. “The whole reason I got into this is because I took a noncredit class for fun on my own free time.”