A former Canora resident is now working in British Columbia as a fashion designer producing coats for women of all shapes and sizes.
Laura Warkentin, daughter of Joseph and Carolle Pasiechnik, is the designer behind So Martha So Mary, a company based in Vancouver that produces “modern classic coats with urban attitude,” said the company’s website.
Warkentin, who was originally born near Hudson Bay, moved to Canora when she was seven. Her mother, who was a seamstress, and father, who was artistically inclined, encouraged her passions for sewing, so much so that Warkentin would spend her spare change on fabric.
“My first job was stacking papers at the Canora Courier office, and it gave me just enough money to buy fabric,” she said during a phone interview.
After graduating from Canora Composite School in 1981, when she sewed her own graduation dress, Warkentin decided to study nursing, completing first a three-year diploma program and then a two-year program at the University of Manitoba. She moved all over Canada while working as a nurse before meeting her husband in 1985.
Due to her husband’s demanding job working as a pilot for Air Canada, Warkentin decided to quit nursing and become a stay-at-home mother for her daughter and son, who are now 18 and 16 years old. Once her children grew up, she was left “searching for what I was going to do,” she said.
Warkentin then returned to her artistic hobbies, taking many arts classes, including a fashion course. Inspiration for her new career suddenly struck after Warkentin moved back to Vancouver.
“I was looking to purchase a new coat, but no matter where I looked, I couldn’t find anything that suited my needs. I started thinking, ‘I could just sew the coat myself.’”
She took a fabric drafting course, which led to her taking evening classes at the Vancouver Community College. Taking just one class a week evolved into taking more sewing classes and illustration classes.
“I knew in my heart this is what I wanted to do,” Warkentin said.
In 2012, Warkentin graduated from the program, with her designs being some of the audience favourites in the college’s fashion show. She won the Gabriel Levy Scholarship, a prestigious award that encouraged her to continue following her dream.
“I put everything I could find into starting a business,” Warkentin said, adding that So Martha So Mary was started in 2013.
The coats are made out of European fabrics that Warkentin scouts. Once she has inspiration, she begins drafting patterns. Inspiration can be found in many places, such as in fabric, in buttons, or in family members.
“My next collection is inspired by my dad,” she said.
The coats are produced at an ethical factory that follows proper labour laws in Vancouver and are made to fit women from sizes zero to 16. Warkentin said this is an important trait she attempted to symbolize through the name of her company.
“Martha and Mary were two sisters in the Bible who were very different, but both special. I think the name reflects who I am and shows that all women are ‘perfect either way.’”
Currently, Warkentin is working on getting the name So Martha So Mary recognized. She organizes private trunk shows so people may purchase her coats, and is also selling them at Klassique Designs in Saskatoon. The coats also received recognition at the March 2016 Vancouver Fashion Week.
“Being an independent designer has its struggles,” said Warkentin, adding that most young designers would work with a larger company, but because of her maturity, she decided to go independent immediately.
Though she says the job can be tough, and that the designing business “isn’t what it was like when I was younger,” she keeps going because she knows women love her products.
“I know my product and trust my product.”
Warkentin added that her favourite part of the designing process is seeing women try on her coats and making the women feel beautiful.
When asked what advice she would give to others who are artistically inclined, she said that artists should follow their dreams and passions.
“Explore different areas and find what you really love. Just immerse yourself.”
She added that many people have jobs but dream of doing something else, so people should work very hard and not let obstacles like provincial borders stop them.
“You’ll never regret trying it out,” Warkentin said, adding that her work with nursing certainly helped her.
When not busy with designing and motherhood, Warkentin enjoys taking part in many artistic activities, as well as skiing, sailing and socializing. Because of her husband’s job, travel is also a major hobby, but sewing seems to be her main passion.
“Whether you’re feeling a little Martha or a little Mary,” Warkentin has a coat for you, the website said.