Laura Levitt

HILLSBURGH

OWNER, DÉJA VU DESIGN

RECYCLER, UPCYCLER, HILL-DWELLER

 

 

Laura runs Déja Vu Design in Erin, dedicated to the environmentally-friendly reinvention and recombination of garments & textiles.

“I’ve pulled a lot of really cool Canadiana into some of the graphic designs I am using, like old coins. I’ll put two pennies on the back of a jacket and that’s your two cents worth. Happy 150th, Canada!”

 

When you are cutting 42 coats, like you did yesterday, how do you know what sizes to determine?

I have a crystal ball that sits on the corner of my desk.

 

I’m sure you do.

It is really hard to cut on your own, so I have a couple of women I work with sometimes in cutting. A lot of people don’t realize with garments, and the kind of thing that I do, that the cutting is really more important than the sewing.

I also make a lot of graphics. I create all the digital artwork, then print it, press it, cut it, sew it, attach it.

 

What year are you in now? Are you finally seeing some light?

I started in ’09. My business experience, like so many of the things I did, set me up to do well.

 

Like what?

Well, I worked overseas for an importer/exporter; I worked in China importing and developing lawn and garden furniture. And I did a lot of development for President’s Choice in the early days, and White Rose.

We have this big house in Hillsburgh, and we said (Laura and her husband) what are we going to do with this big house? Our kids are through university now. We live in the country but it’s built into a hill. You walk out at ground level on the front of the house, but on the second floor at the back of the house, it’s on a hill.

 

How did you stumble into the whole upcycling thing?

When I came away from the job where I was working overseas, I really just got to the point where I wanted to do something that mattered. You know, at a time in your life when you kind of look at yourself around 45 and realize that you’d better be doing what you want to be doing — the clock truly is ticking, so if you are going to really take a stab at something, it’s kind of now or never. So that’s what happened to me.

I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I can tell you that the only thing I did know was I wanted to do something that mattered. That’s where the recycling-upcycling end of things came in, because there is so much cheap fashion right now, fast fashion, there’s such a glut. 8% of our landfill is textile based.

 

Was it a family tradition, old values?

I came from a family where we didn’t have a lot of money and that was just the way it was. I often think my grandmother would laugh: just even the word recycle would be a foreign concept to her because that was just the way you live. You would never waste the way we do now.

And with fast fashion we have a whole culture where you buy and you wear something five times and you’re done. So to create a clothing line with a really good weight linen, for example, where it only starts being a good garment after the fifth wash because linen is such an amazing textile, that’s a big deal. I am using a lot of hemp, trying to stay as close to the ground in textiles that I use as I can, especially with the stuff that’s virgin material.

 

How do you get stuff? How do you get the raw materials?

Well, for new material I buy my material in Montreal, Vancouver, and I also buy through local sources. But what I really want to do is use a textile that is different. I am also silk screening some of my own stuff which is great.

I am an artist, and I have lots of friends who are artists. We recently did some artwork, very ’60’s screen print design, and we’ll probably incorporate some of that into the clothing: I’ll print onto the leg of the pant.

For my upcycle stuff, I get my materials all over the place. I have 42 kilts right now so I use a lot of kilt. I love tartan.

My mother had friends who would say, okay, now I will pick kilts for Laura and someone else would say, ok, I will pick only marino wool sweaters…

 

When they say pick they mean garage sales and the like?

Yes, they would go to thrift stores and find cashmere sweaters. I pick all the jackets and vests, hand pick every one of them. Sometimes I cut the arms out, I’ll recut them, reconstruct them, add and subtract.

 

You’ve always been a rural soul… how does that play into what you do?

I was born and raised in the bush around Parry Sound. And I think as a kid I spent a lot of time on my own. My mother was an artist, she was very creative. My dad’s side of the family, they were all musicians, so there is no escaping the creative gene. That was pretty firm in the family.

 

You said a good friend of yours is an artist. There is a whack of them in the Headwaters Region.

Well you know, it’s a personality. I can remember when I really first started doing this and got onto the show circuit, that’s when I first started really getting to know other artists, and it was just amazing for me because I really felt like I found my tribe, people who actually think and behave like me… how about that!

It’s not a money life. Money is not a big motivator to be in the arts. You make peace with that.

 

As the area is a very artistic area, would you go as far as saying that there is a Headwaters fashion style?

No, and most of the stuff I sell I don’t sell locally. One of the things I am really proud of is the women who I work with — depending upon the time of year there are three of them — they are all local or rural women who have a love of sewing, textiles and colour. And we have a blast! How cool is that where you get to the point where you have fun at your job. Of course there are days when it’s not funny, but most of the time it is just an absolute blessing to do what i do.

 

Your models in your photos seem to be more “real woman” looking… there is an older woman and it’s so great, very rare.

That’s frankly my demographic. I think I tend to sell more to women in the 35-65 range. Women who have hit their stride, aren’t really as interested in fashion as they are in style. You’re not driven by what you are being told to wear. You’ve had enough experience where you know what you personally like.

 

There is a lot more there than just somebody just making some pretty things.

It’s clothing with some soul to it. It really drives me crazy when somebody comes in and says, “I really love this skirt i got the other day, it was $8.” And my line to people who say stuff like that is: “I wonder how much the 7-year-old who sewed that for you made?”

 

How about when you need to get away from the studio?

I don’t know if it’s because of where I grew up on Georgian Bay, but for me it’s really important to be able to go somewhere where I can’t hear cars. Whether that’s back in the woods in a conservation area — I can get close to that at Island Lake conservation area in Orangeville.

 

As you know, this is a big birthday for Canada this year… does that ever touch what you do?

I’ve pulled a lot of really cool Canadiana into some of the graphic designs I am using, like old coins. I’ve got some great graphics with old coins from 1867 and 1967. There’s a 1936 penny that was very famous because it was produced with a hole in it. So I’ll put 2 pennies on the back of a jacket and that’s your 2 cents worth.

 

When you’re up there in Hillsburgh, living in your little hobbit hill, do you feel rooted… do you feel Canadian?

I have a bit of a different angle on that. I have ties to some indigenous people, so I feel in some ways that I’m just an earth keeper… I don’t like to think about the ownership I have of land. I’m really just so grateful for the environment we have up here, it’s beautiful. I live across the road from Everdale Organic farm, a really interesting co-op, now 250 people, a learning centre. They have farmers coming in from all over the world. Organic farmers learn to organically farm over there.

 

How would you describe Hillsburgh?

Really very rural, not fancy, no shiny Starbucks. It’s a real community. And the longer you live here the better it gets.

We were blessed to have our kids here. They’ve moved on, they’re living other places but it will be interesting to see. Our son threatened us that we can never sell our house. He seems to think that this should be his abode someday.