A new fashion collection, Cedar in Sec-he Sky – launched this week as part of the 2021 Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto – is the creation of a White Rock-born designer.
Warren Steven Scott – whose latest work draws inspiration from Coast Salish weaving traditions – is a member of B.C.’s Nlaka’pamux Nation, with family roots in the Boothroyd/Boston Bar area in the Fraser Canyon.
But he was actually born in the traditional territory of the Semiahmoo First Nation, in 1988.
“My parents lived in White Rock for a while before I was born, with my two older brothers,” Scott said.
“We continued to live there for a year after that, before moving to the Cobble Hill area of Vancouver Island. I grew up there, with frequent visits to the reserve in Boothroyd, until I moved to Toronto in 2012.”
His bio acknowledges that he spent his formative years immersed in North American and European fashion culture, obsessively flipping through magazines and watching every episode of the iconic Canadian television series, Fashion File.
After an early detour, during which he was enrolled in a local college to study horticulture, Scott dropped out and dedicated himself to his dream of designing clothes – only learning to sew when he began assembling his first portfolio application.
In 2011, funded by an an educational sponsorship from his Nlaka’pamux band (he is also a two-time recipient of the Indspire bursary), he attended Ryerson University, where he later received a Bachelor of Design in Fashion.
After graduating from Ryerson, Scott interned for esteemed Canadian designers Jeremy Laing and Comrags, which he credits as his “formal training” in fashion.
Founding his namesake line of accessories in 2018, Scott received an early boost by being featured in the inaugural Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto, (founded that year by Indigenous artist and innovator, Sage Paul).
His latest venture – in which Scott said he continues to explore “the duality between the modern and the traditional” – follows his success as the creator of a line of distinctive acrylic earrings (he also previously created a range of dresses and tops for IFWTO x Edito Par Simons, alongside a highly acclaimed runway presentation at the 2020 Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto).
Inspired by traditional cedar weaving techniques and woven clothing of the Pacific Northwest, Cedar in Sec-he Sky features a select range of dresses, tops and skirts that are designed for everyday wear.
The new collection also includes nine new styles of his signature acrylic earrings in two new custom colours; ‘Sour Apple’ and ‘Sec-he Sky’. All clothing and accessories are made in-house at Scott’s Toronto studio.
Ever-present in his work, Scott said, is the balance between referencing his Indigenous heritage and the desire to create something new and, as yet, unseen.
“I want to represent myself, as well, in the work,” he said. “That can be me trying to reconnect with tradition, or to connect in a new way.
“I never want to replicate something that already exists – that’s where problems can arise,” he said. “I never see replication as either inspiration, or paying homage.
“It’s easier transitioning art into producing accessories – but it’s challenging to relate art to the inspiration for a dress, without it being some kind of application.”
With the Cedar in Sec-he Sky collection he draws on his admiration for the weaving techniques of the Coast Salish (his own great-grandmother used to weave baskets, he noted).
“I wanted to reference the cedar and even the visual texture of woven cedar while working with polyester fabric,” he said. “The way I did it was to use rows and rows of ruching with the polyester, which will hold its shape and create body.”
Cherry, orange and ‘sour apple’ tones also make a strong colour statement, he agreed.
“I’ve never shied away from colour with my earrings,” he said. “People have told me they have a hard time picking which of my earrings to select because there are so many shades.
“Because this is a limited collection – basically four shirts and two dresses – I went with really vibrant colours. The world doesn’t need someone re-designing the same black dress.”
He wanted his clothing to have the same appeal as his earrings, which have proven accessible to people in “all walks of life,” he said.
“The clothes aren’t form-fitting, they’re inspired by things like smock dresses. I wanted to fit as many people as I could with this collection. I want them to feel that they don’t need an occasion to dress up, or to treat them like precious garments, but rather as clothes they can wear whenever.”
A key inspirational word for him when envisioning the Cedar in Sec-he Sky collection was ‘gathering’ he said – the traditional gathering of cedar, the literal ‘gathering’ of the material, as well as gatherings of people.
“Everyone in the photos in my look-book are friends of mine – not models,” he said. “I wanted the sense of a gathering of friends at a dinner party – or after the dinner party has wound down. That’s something we missed in 2020 – gatherings.”
For the immediate future, Scott said, he wants to consolidate the success he has already had.
“It’s taken me three years to get here. I’d like to say to people ‘look what happens when you support local business and an Indigenous designer’.
“I hope the new collection is well-received, and that I can continue to show my creativity.”
For more information on Scott and his work, visit www.warrenstevenscott.com