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Like a bee makes honey, I was born to make clothes!
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It all started with my mom, who you can see here in about 1986 looking gorgeous in a wool Christmas dress she sewed herself (and doesn't fashion go in a circle - that would be ultra-chic if she wore it today!) That's me in matching jumper, also made by her of course. Mom was always sewing when I was small (she made awesome soft toys too!) so I had the opportunity to catch the bug early.

Keli Schmidt at age 6

According to my mom: "You were three (!) when you were asking to sew (begging might be more accurate).  So I finally threaded a needle for you and knotted the thread.  You proceeded to cut fabric (no pattern, just freehand), hand sew it together, and voilà: clothes that fit your Barbies! Very sadly I did not take any pictures when you were that little (picture taking wasn't as easy "back in them old days").  Wish I would have realized the significance of what you were doing at the time!"

I started attending Kids Can Sew classes at age eight - every Wednesday after school I went to Susan Unruh's basement where she patiently taught me and three like-minded little girls to sew. We got "speeding tickets" if she caught us sewing too fast and were not allowed to sew over pins :)

Until age 11 I used standard home-sewer patterns from Fabricland, but then disaster struck: I spent several weeks making my first-ever tailored shirt (with a collar and cuffs) only to discover it was TOO SMALL!! Aside from learning a very important lesson about doing fittings along the way (ha!), I also declared a moratorium on bought patterns, and thus began my real adventure. 

Designer Keli Schmidt at age 10
Haliburton Clothing Designer Keli Schmidt at 17

In my teen years I had budgetary limitations (and textiles were much more expensive back then) so I had to think laterally. I scoured the racks at Value Village for items with large enough panels that I could cut new garments from them - this little yellow number was made from the lining of a 70s bridesmaid dress (can't remember what I did with the orange chiffon overlay).  

In my late teens my mom discovered a fabric outlet store where they sold off ends from local factories. It was a goldmine! We quickly became chummy with the saleswomen Charlotte and Whitney and they would stash the best pieces away for me ♥ This gorgeous polka dot chiffon was one of those!

Haliburton Clothing Designer Keli Schmidt at 19

I made a lot of fabulous outfits in my early twenties with no more training than the Kids Can Sew classes, no wonder school felt like a dawdle when I finally went! Here are some highlights from a little photo shoot in the field behind my parents' house:

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Some of the most fun projects were (and still are) up-cycles: folks have given me fancy dresses and fur coats to cut up and make something new! 

And then there was the time I made the skirt out of bus transfers... (I wish I had a pic!)

I made a lot of dresses cut from curtain panels and my local V V even had a fabric bin at the back where I would occasionally get lucky and score some fresh yardage!

I also received donations - a lot of people have ancient fabric stashed away that they're happy to send to a good home :). 

One evening in 2002 I was enjoying some beverages with a few coworkers at the restaurant I worked at and the conversation turned to my outfit - the boss chanced to walk past and said, in an offhand manner, "Keli we should have a fashion show for you". Of course I agreed, never actually thinking it would happen. The next day (getting home from the beach around 4pm to shower before my 5pm shift) I was shocked to find a message on my answering machine informing me of the date of my fashion show (three weeks hence).

 

Long story short I pulled it off, but only with a lot of support and encouragement from my coworkers. They covered the cost of fabric for the outfits I made them, donated many hours to fittings, and of course did the modelling!

After the fashion show, it seemed clear The Universe was pushing me in a direction I hadn't considered. It turned out the wife of the Vietnamese refugee couple my grandparents helped sponsor back in the 70s was now working at George Brown College in Toronto as a sewing instructor, and she gave me some helpful advice to get the ball rolling. The nephew of some "regulars" at my restaurant job was living in Toronto and his Aunt Norah volun-told to help me find an apartment. I'll never forget my first brush with Toronto real estate: I walked in to a 150 sq. ft. bachelor apartment (which cost 20% more than my 700 sq. ft. Winnipeg apartment) and asked "where are the other rooms?". My guide Corey smirked and laughed. My first Toronto apartment was 6' wide and 21' long; perfect for laying out lengths of fabric on the bare concrete floor:

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My time at GBC passed quickly and in second year a teacher recommended me as assistant to a local designer. I was initiated in to the industry working alongside him and his contractor for three years - I learned a lot from the sewers on the production line, picking up tricks and getting to know what works for mass-production. During that time I also sold my own designs as part of a fashion collective. 

In 2010 I started my own collection for wholesale to boutiques. I love fine tailoring so I went that route and made some truly beautiful clothes, but I couldn't get a sales rep (which would get me in to trade shows) because I couldn't finance big enough sales to make it worth anyone's while. The marketing was a very tough row to hoe - a lot of cold-calling and rejection. After seven seasons (three and a half years) I was burnt out. Designing wasn't fun anymore, I was just sitting at the drawing table thinking "what will sell?". I had been doing freelance pattern and samplemaking work for other designers the entire time (to actually pay some bills) and I decided if I'm not enjoying the design aspect either way, why not focus on the freelance work pattern and sewing work I actually enjoy (no more marketing!!) and not have to beg to be paid? Plus we were in our early 30s and really wanted to buy a house (it was still possible for blue-collar people back then) so the small amount we had invested in my business made up the needed portion of our down payment. 

Since 2011 I've worked full time doing freelance product development for other designers. This work is enjoyable and challenging and I've worked with a wide variety of fabrics and applications.

 

I have continued to make all my own clothes (it's been 19 years since I bought clothes), mostly from clients' left-overs and donations.

 

I particularly love making fancy dresses, and had a ton of fun making three couture gowns for my wedding (one wedding, three dresses). (A shop on Queen St in Toronto was selling off silk Dupioni for $18/yard!!! So I went a bit nuts...)

My amateur solo marimba performances have also given me excuses to make gorgeous gowns, though they couldn't be quite as wild since I still needed to be able to negotiate a 6-foot marimba.

So now here we are in Haliburton! My husband introduced me to this wonderful place 17 years ago and we have enjoyed many visits in winter and summer, especially the Todd's Independent Bonspiel every January at the Haliburton Curling Club. My husband was angling for the move for ages and had been spending increasing amounts of time working here (he's a masonry contractor) but I was apprehensive about losing all my freelance clients and wanted to wait until we were closer to retirement. But then COVID changed everything.

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First, COVID taught us how to work remotely - my clients and I learned how to work without contact, we even do fittings on Zoom! And then our beloved neighbours of nine years moved back to Newfoundland, and their example taught us it was time to follow our dreams too. 

Wowee am I ever happy to be here!! I have given my husband a majority vote in future big family decisions cause he was right - we should have moved here AGES ago. 

Our dog Whittaker loves it too ♥

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The idea to start my own brand again started to germinate in 2019  when my sister-in-law pointed out that she could not find practical, plain, ethically made underwear. There is plenty of "ethical" underwear out there, but it's mostly frilly or stringy or lacy or made from synthetic fibres like polyester or nylon. I have long been obsessed with making the perfect underwear just for myself so I began to think about making it for others too...

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In the initial pandemic work lull, before masks became a thing, I ordered sampling yardage and started working on my patterns, but then I had to pivot to masks, and in summer of 2020 I took on several new clients.

We moved in to our new-to-us Haliburton home on November 7th 2020. I was very busy setting up house for the first couple months, and all the painting and busywork gave me time to think about the underwear again and the possibility of starting a new brand... 

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Haliburton has an amazing arts community and a plethora of businesses selling "location" apparel with custom artwork printed on mass-produced blank garments, but I'm not aware of anyone actually manufacturing clothing in this area, so why not me? 

When contemplating a new enterprise, a supportive "cheerleader" spouse is the best asset a person can have! After a whole lot of hemming and hawing the name Haliburton Clothing Co. was legally registered in February 2021, and the adventure begun.

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