A fire that whipped through its warehouse, destroying years of work, isn’t keeping a Nanaimo First Nations clothing company from one of fashion’s biggest runways.
Sisters Aunalee Boyd-Good and Sophia Seward-Good — who own Ay Lelum: The Good House of Design — are heading to the Big Apple for New York Fashion Week on Friday feeling thankful their gowns festooned with family designs and ancient stories were not lost in the Aug. 27 blaze, which destroyed 90 per cent of their creations.
The cause of the fire on the family’s property near the Nanaimo River in Cedar hasn’t been determined, but is thought to be electrical, said Seward-Good. Luckily, the garments destined for New York were in the nearby homes of the sisters.
“It was hard to lose so much of our inventory, but we are forging ahead,” said Seward-Good, a mother of five.
“We had spent years building our clothing line and can’t believe how quickly it was gone.”
The sisters have suspended web sales while they try to rebuild their inventory. They also sell clothing through B.C. Ferries gift shops, Flying Solo Boutique in New York City and in other First Nations stores and galleries on the Island.
The New York collection is a series of gowns displayed with Indigenous music and storytelling by generations of the Good family. The story is about how two wolves came down from the mountain and shed their fur crossing the Nanaimo River to become man and woman.
Seward-Good said the ancient story is relevant to modern times, as society emerges from the pandemic “into a new world.” It also has new meaning in the wake of such a devastating fire, said Boyd-Good.
The sisters, who were mentored in fashion design by their mother, Sandra Moorhouse-Good, are eager to share their stories through the patterns they have designed and sewn in their home studios.
The New York show is a collaboration with Vancouver-based Global Fashion Collective, which promotes talented new designers. It runs from Friday to Monday.
Ay Lelum is truly a family affair, with father William Good and brother Joel Good of the Snuneymuxw First Nation both master carvers who help to create designs from family legends.
Seward-Good said the music for the creation story in New York was written and recorded by eight family members over several generations.
Each song has a unique attribute, such as having different family members participate, and using traditional instruments and unconventional sounds such as carving wood or spinning wool.
The custom garments are all made in their Cedar homes, while their ready-wear pieces are designed on the Island, but manufactured in Vancouver.
A fundraising campaign organized by Nanaimo’s Vanessa Lesperance on Fundrazr.com had raised nearly $6,000 as of Tuesday.
She said the fire not only destroyed most of the sisters’ inventory, but damaged important family and business keepsakes.
“This is a huge setback,” said Lesperance. “They need our help to sustain them and get back on their feet so they can continue to thrive.”