Fashion designer Jill Setah showcases her traditional First Nations clothing designs for children. Image Credit: Contributed

First Nation fashion designer invited to Paris fashion show

A fashion dream is coming true for one B.C. woman

Every budding fashion designer’s dream is to have their clothing creations showcased at a Paris Fashion Week runway show.

For Jill Setah, that dream is about to become a reality.

Setah will be traveling to Paris to showcase her work during Fashion Week at the invitation of Oxford Fashion Studios from Sept. 25 to Oct. 2.

She was invited based on her specialty of designing traditional First Nations regalia.

“I first heard from (Oxford) last September and I was supposed to go to their show in March but my husband suffered a workplace accident so I had to take care of him and my family until he recovered,” Setah said.

To pay for this second opportunity, Setah received a grant from First Peoples Cultural Council that covered her $5,600 registration fee and her flight travel costs, but she was left shortchanged by the 2-1 value of the Euro against the Canadian dollar in figuring out her costs.

Determined not to miss out this time, Setah reached out to social media for fundraising support to cover her $1,500 cost for her accommodations and food, along with selling Indian tacos at the Ki-Low-Na Friendship Centre. That goal has now been met.

“It’s just been crazy the support people have given me. It’s been no easy task but this is huge for me, it’s been my dream,” Setah said.

Adding to the challenge of this trip is the reality of raising seven children, four of her own and three foster children related to her sister, between the ages of 3 and 19.

“Believe me, it’s not easy,” she laughs about trying to be a mom and running her fashion design business, called First Lady, out of her home dining room.

Along with the support of her husband and some respite relief, Setah said she takes advantage of the down time in her parental responsibilities to work on her fashion designs, trying to build up her brand name.

She is currently working on the last two of six outfits she will be taking with her to the Paris fashion show.

“I think it will be an amazing feeling, butterflies in my stomach for sure, to be there and see professional models wearing my fashion designs in Paris,” Setah said.

Setah grew up in the Chilcotin Nation reserve in the Cariboo and now lives on Westbank First Nation land in a home built under the Habitat For Humanity program.

Her journey into the fashion world dates back a decade ago when she would hand-sew a traditional outfit for her son for First Nation traditional gatherings.

The creative inspiration from that experience led her to consider fashion design school, and she enrolled in the Centre For Arts And Technology program in the summer of 2010, graduating two and a half years later with a diploma in Fashion Design and Merchandising.

A new sewing machine was purchased for her as a graduation gift by her band.

“I never was taught how to operate a sewing machine. My husband had to teach me how to use it,” she said.

Word about her clothing designs since has spread across the fashion industry, initially helped along by her participation in a National Aboriginal Fashion Week event in Saskatoon where she rubbed shoulders with other designers from across Canada and the U.S.

She has since attended other fashion shows in Los Angeles, New York and across the province.

The New York trip was another dream of hers, but Setah admits the experience left her with mixed feelings.

“It was amazing and life changing for me, but at the same time not what I thought it would be. All fashion shows are different and it was hard for me to go in blind and not really knowing what you are doing at that point,” she recalled.

“Everybody was busy and didn’t really have much time to be as helpful to someone like me at that time as I thought they might be.”

At this stage of her career, Setah is focused on building her brand name, which is everything in the fashion world, and doesn’t really have time to think of herself as an inspiration for other people who share her dream.

“I was just determined to make this happen for myself and it’s been hard to be sure, but now we’ll see where it goes from here,” she said of her fashion design aspirations.

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