Family of Fashion Designers

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By Joe Carrel, Buffalo Exchange HQ (with photos by Jessica Pruitt and Christy Klep)

The family that sews together grows together. We asked Portland’s Irene Veldstra about fashion, upcycling and her ultra-creative household.

How would you describe your fashion style?

Feminine, quirky and colorful. I love mixing patterns and textures – anything with ruffles and lace and color. On days that I feel down, I probably dress the most flamboyantly. How can I stay stuck when everyone around is delighted at my colors and I am making their day happier too?

How long have you been designing clothing?

As long as I can remember. My grandmother loved sewing and would make me beautiful dresses with crisply pressed pleats in the skirts and layers of tulle and lining I couldn’t get enough of. For me, it was very “learn by experience” as I studied ready-to-wear, sewing by pattern instructions and just making a lot of mistakes. Once I had a handle on basic sewing skills, I became more confident and artistic, combining different textures, patterns and notions in creative, Irene-like ways.

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You’re a previous winner of the design competition for Modified Style Portland (a sustainable fashion organization). Tell us a little about your children and how they’ve become involved.

Anneka, 14, modeled for me one year and began designing when they added the youth division a few years ago. She had to do an eighth grade project this past year and chose: how style and personality relate (or not). She dances in folk dance, and loves learning about how other cultures dress, the history of it and why the costumes have special meanings. Anneka’s a great artist – much of her drawing is fashion design style. She was in charge of her class play costumes this year and really enjoyed that kind of a role.

Atticus, 12, has also designed for several years, winning in 2014. He loves clothes shopping and likes bow ties, beautiful suits, hats and cool shoes. He will iron his button-down shirts himself to make sure they are nice and crisp. With his projects, Atticus always takes such great care with his designs and can pour over the button choices for so long, not unlike his mother!

Angelena, 9, joined in this year. With us sewing, we had fabric pieces all over our house. She started playing with the discarded scraps and wound up designing her own project. She put her dress together and modeled for the first time on the runway at this season’s show.

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(Christy Klep Photography)

When did you begin incorporating upcycling into your designs?

Through high school, I was skinny and tall and nothing ever fit right. So I would sew fabric or lace to the bottoms of my pants so they would be long enough, or edge my sleeves or add buttons to things to make them more my style. After my first child was born, I went to the thrift store more frequently to get my daughter clothes and I would find things for myself. My favorite thing at that time was to find men’s clothes and turn them into something feminine. I would also make aprons, bags and skirts. It was always a fun challenge and strangely addicting (pre-Pinterest days!).

Who are some of your favorite fashion designers?

I like the fun of Phillip Lim, Missoni, Marni, Roberto Cavalli, Stella McCartney. Of course the beauty and workmanship of Chanel and Valentino and Oscar de la Renta. There are just so many creative designers!

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Where do you find creative inspiration?

I really like looking at photos of new runway looks, avant-garde type things, and thinking how I can create something a little more wearable. I also just like seeing how women all over Portland put their outfits together and use color and lines.

How much of your wardrobe consists of your own creations?

Probably 80% of my wardrobe is either vintage, thrifted, swapped or given to me. About half of that is something I have upcycled or altered in some way. Upcycling is a fun way to show your style, to reuse fabrics and garments in a creative way and, of course, to help care for the earth.

What are the most fun and challenging aspects of creating clothing?

I really like playing with closures and finding odd little ways to add them – a cool vintage buckle here, an oversized hook and eye over there.

It’s frustrating when I have these ideas in my head and it’s not coming out quite as well as I had imagined, but I guess a good challenge requires learning to not be so stuck on the end result, to go with the creative flow and see something even better than imagined come out of it!

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