Fernie seamstress and fashion designer, Caitlyn Bellavance. Phil Mclachlan/The Free Press

Innovative seamstress sews future in Fernie

Inside the workshop of Fernie seamstress, Caitlyn Bellavance, lies the possibility to create just about anything.

Bellavance, owner/operator of Bella. V Designs, finds good use for all four of her sewing machines. The ever-increasing demand to dress uniquely has caused the local clothing line to become a sensation.

Bellevance gained popularity in the winter season, when her skills with sewing allowed her to repair almost any article of clothing.

Self taught on her mothers sewing machine since the age of 14, Bellevance has been making clothes ever since. Dabbling into clothing modification later on, created a desire to pursue design work as a career. In 2014, Bellevance took her passion to the next step when she attended the Fashion Design program at Blanche Macdonald.

What kept her pursuing the art of fashion design was both a desire to make clothes, and the inability to find what she wanted in the stores.

“I’ve always had a strong drive towards clothing, fashion, sewing and the construction of it,” said Bellevance. “It’s something I’ve always been super passionate about. It lights me on fire, for sure.”

Bellevance’s love for fantasy and whimsical characters has inspired much of her work. Bright colors, fanatical designs and unconventional fabrics often find their way into her work. Costume design also takes up a large portion of her time.

“I will make whatever custom request, but I do prefer to work with really colorful, holographic… super ‘out-there’ costumes,” she said.

One year ago, after Bellevance arrived in Fernie upon completion of school, her plan was to launch a clothing industry and strictly make clothes. However, Fernie’s demand for repairs and alterations has allowed her to expand her horizons.

The encouragement of Mark Hall at GearHub is a big reason Bellevance and her boyfriend, Sam Moffat, moved back from Vancouver.

“He said, I have over 20 sewing jobs for you, come back right now,” said Bellevance.

“And that’s what kind of sparked the idea… so I came back and one year later, (I’ve got) a full-on business.”

Bellevance specializes in repairing Gortex.

“Anything that has a seam, I can do it,” she said. “I just love needlework.”

In the past, Bellevance has specialized in women’s clothing. She is now starting to focus more on men’s clothing, because she believes there is a definite lack of variety in this area.

“That’s one of the reasons I got into making clothes and altering it, because I was sick of the redundant stuff you get from stores. The mainstream (clothing), it’s boring,” she said.

Bellevance tries to stay away from the fashion industry. Coming from Vancouver, she was exposed to this culture, and found distaste in the high-cost, prestigious mentality.

“I do appreciate the art of fine clothing… but I can’t justify a $20,000 shirt,” she said. “It doesn’t sit right with me.

“That’s why I do my own thing, keep it sustainable and local.”

A difficult aspect of her job is when she is asked to repair something she does not know. Diving in and trying to find the best way to repair an article of clothing can sometimes take a long period of time, and time is money.

Another difficult part of being a designer in Fernie is the limited access to fabric. Although there are stores in Cranbrook, the selection can be minimal. Many of her fabrics are ordered online.

Bellevance works with five machines; a walking foot for heavy-duty leather repairs, an industrial straight-stitch, an industrial serger, a cover stitch and a domestic multi-use machine.

Her collection is not quite complete.

“I’m looking to get more,” she said, explaining that a goal of hers is to get a machine to sew shoes and boots with.

“Once I get an Adler shoe machine, I can pretty much sew absolutely anything on the planet. That’s the last step here,” she said.

This Adler shoe machine comes with a shoe arm, capable of sewing shoes and sports equipment including hockey gloves.

Bellevance believes the demand for shoe repair in Fernie is huge, and she can’t wait to add the Adler to her collection.

The now-established clothing designer is pleased with where the last year has taken her, and is excited for what the future will bring.

“For this next year, my goal is to, yes, take the business further and keep doing alterations and repairs for the people of Fernie but also to have custom clothing and an active clothing line,” said Bellevance.