New designers make their debuts at Fashion Art Toronto New designers make their debuts at Fashion Art Toronto
Fashion Art Toronto (FAT) wrapped up its fall/winter four-day fashion week, showcasing collections from 40 Canadian designers last Sunday, Nov. 19. Designers from previous... New designers make their debuts at Fashion Art Toronto

Fashion Art Toronto (FAT) wrapped up its fall/winter four-day fashion week, showcasing collections from 40 Canadian designers last Sunday, Nov. 19.

Designers from previous fashion weeks returned this season, but FAT also welcomed new designers.

Among these fresh faces was Sanya Rambally Conklin, founder and designer of Sandy Bottom Swimwear.

Last year, as she and her husband prepared for their daughter Aija to go to university, Conklin says she was faced with an overwhelming amount of time and space for no one but herself. She wondered, “What is it that you could do that would give you a challenge?”

As Conklin began sketching out the swimsuit designs, bringing all sorts of her brand ideas to life, she says she gave herself 18 months to “see where this goes.”

Conklin says she envisioned a swimwear brand that was targeted for everybody. Whether you are 20 or 50, there is hope for no limitations to provide the perfect swimwear for every individual, she says.

“Every piece is either a combination of a few things that make it stand out. That’s where Sandy Bottom is different,” Conklin says. “It’s bringing those less conservative, nonconventional pieces to the Canadian marketplace.”

A few of her challenges came from navigating the consumer feedback from marketing campaigns shared on TikTok or Instagram.

“There are so many people on these platforms, but how do you stand out from the crowd?” she asks.

In late June, FAT designer applications opened. “When I went into looking at FAT, I think at the time I had 150 followers on Instagram,” Conklin says.

Designers like Conklin celebrate FAT for the opportunity to gain brand awareness within Toronto and the Canadian marketplace.

Since designer applications closed in mid-August, Sandy Bottom Swimwear has now more than 2,000 followers on Instagram.

“Toronto has a ton of talent,” she says. “Canada has a ton of talent trying to put ourselves out there to reach the Canadian masses.”

Conklin curated a 12piece collection for the fall/winter event, from a shimmery gold one-piece swimsuit to a handcrafted crochet bikini set. The collection was worn by a diverse selection of models, including a 19-year-old student and a 65-year-old woman.

“I was very proud of being able to put a line-up of women who complimented each other but also highlighted their differences so that it really stands out as it doesn’t matter who you are,” she says.

Sandy Bottom Swimwear FAT F/W 2023

Sandy Bottom Swimwear FAT F/W 2023 Photo credit: Alexa Duarte Mendez

Pre-fashion week, Conklin says she thought back to when she first began her journey and challenges within the highly competitive fashion industry. She had initially advised students or anyone slightly interested in starting up in fashion, to “just start.”

However, after some reflection, she says, “I change my answer. The biggest key to any start-up is not being afraid to stand up after you fall, learning lessons from the past, and applying them to your situation.

“You may fail 10 times, but it’s at the eleventh time that matters more than anything else.”

Hayley Spurdle, founder, and designer of RaccoonGuts, agrees with this advice and says, “Whatever you’re doing, nothing is over for you until you decide it is.

“The moment that you give up on yourself and you believe it, that’s when it’s over for you. Anything can sort of knock you down and you can still get back up from it and keep moving forward until you believe that you can’t. I would say that is the killing blow I’ve seen in many people or organizations or businesses.”

Spurdle says she first started RaccoonGuts from her hometown in Alberta, with a unique intention behind the brand’s name.

“It’s sifting through other people’s trash, finding things that I can work with, kind of saving stuff from the end of its life span,” she says.

Spurdle says she began by upcycling items such as denim jackets and silk-screening t-shirts all sold through her Etsy shop.

Last winter Spurdle was kept busy by designing her TMU graduate collection named Trigger Warning.

“It’s meant to be an introspective collection where I was examining trauma and mental health and my own experiences,” she says.

Spurdle says she added three new pieces to the initial five-piece collection that was designed for her graduate collection and was also showcased at New York Fashion Week (NYFW) in September.

“Being able to show my stuff to people outside of Toronto who’ve never really seen it, nobody has any idea who I am and people coming up telling me they really like my work and not just because they know me –my god, I love it, it is amazing,” she says.

Spurdle says she crafted Trigger Warning to share an intended message, “The collection is meant to kind of be that sort of dissent from someone who maybe felt a little victimized, a little nice to just like just a dissolution of a lot of the things that made you to just this.”

RaccoonGuts Runway

RaccoonGuts Runway FAT F/W 2023 Photo credit: Cosplay

Spurdle says it is important to recognize that artists may only intend for a single message to be shared through their art, especially in the fashion industry where there is a lot of wiggle room to make your own interpretations of what you are being presented with.

“I think that everybody can have their own take on something and walk away with a different experience. I believe that the artist should know what they are trying to say,” she says.

Spurdle says this collection is intended to embody the person you were before, during and after trauma. The eight-piece collection was concluded with a distressed black gown featuring an LED heart on the centre of the corset’s chest.

RaccoonGuts Runway FAT F/W 2023

RaccoonGuts Runway FAT F/W 2023 Photo credit: Cosplay

“After going through a lot of trauma, metaphorically, you’re bleeding everywhere before you’ve started to heal at all. Whether it’s through your relationships, through your life, through your emotions, it’s this constant flow of nabbing almost no control over it, it does feel very exposing in that way,” she says.

As Spurdle prepares for the final days leading up to her debut FAT show, she shares her gratitude for FAT’s creative flexibility, which she says is an extremely important component for designers that not many fashion shows may provide.

“One major thing for me is the amount of creative control I get to have. I feel like you can really activate your creative vision and tell the story the way you would want it to be told.”

Alexa Duarte Mendez