Where will the next new wave in fashion come from?
It just may be the Semiahmoo Peninsula, courtesy of recent Earl Marriott Secondary grad (and last year’s valedictorian) Serena Kealy.
Now studying full-time at UBC and UBC’s Sauder Business School, the South Surrey-White Rock-raised 18-year-old has just booked her debut runway show as part of Vancouver Fashion Week in April.
“Fashion design is my passion and I have studied it all throughout high school, winning local competitions,” she told Peace Arch News.
“I am incredibly honoured and excited to have this opportunity at such a young age,” Kealy said, noting the unstinting support of her family, including younger sibling Julia, and extended family, and the encouragement and mentorship of her textiles teachers throughout her high school years.
“I first discovered my love for fashion when I was in Grade 7, when a wonderful family friend taught me to sew and mentored me,” she said.
“I started taking textiles every year as my Home Economics elective. I realized it was something I could do as a career, and something with which I could create my own brand.”
That brand is ‘Chalanse’ and it – and specifically a new, eight-look collection – will be showcased at the April event, for which specific dates are still being finalized.
Chalanse encompasses the original custom garments that she designs, sews and markets, as well as a line of accessories, manufactured graphic T-shirts, and cohesive clothing collections.
Her concept is her own highly individual interpretation of ‘business casual’ clothing, in which she might take the classic structural elements of traditional clothing, but transform them through her love of fabrics and textiles to include unexpected, luxurious choices – silk for a suit, for example, or a bold pink instead of a formal black, or combining “strong and bold shapes with delicate and feminine styling.”
Kealy created Chalanse – the word is a play on ‘nonchalance’, incorporating an ‘S’ for her first initial – some two years ago, while she was still at Marriott.
Rather than any studied casualness, her clothes are meant to evoke a feeling of “confidence and engagement” on the part of the wearer, Kealy explained.
She counts herself fortunate that, even though she started the enterprise at the beginning of the pandemic, she was able to connect with individual clients during the last two summers for whom she hand-tailored individual pieces, gaining valuable first-hand experience along the way.
“How people like to feel in the garments, and how they like them to fit, helps me refine my clothing,” she said.
It helps that she discovered she has an affinity for business as well, she acknowledged.
“I like, not only being a fashion designer, but also being an entrepreneur,” she said. “I’ve realized this is something I want to do for the rest of my life. Every day as I sew, I fall more and more in love with my craft.”
Studying business at UBC has given Kealy added skills in developing contacts, which gave her the courage to approach the organizers of Vancouver Fashion Week and pitch her her collection.
It didn’t hurt, she said that she has been a long-time follower of the event.
“I dream big,” she said. “And having my own collection in Vancouver Fashion Week has long been a dream of mine.”
She admits that she gets “butterflies” thinking that her creations are going to be showcased in such a prestigious forum.
“Every once in a while I have to go somewhere and do my happy dance,” she laughed.
And the next big dream?
“I think about doing international fashion weeks, going to New York and Paris,” she said.
“It would also be amazing to have the opportunity to work in costume design.”
In the meantime, she said, she knows she needs to keep refining her craft through “practice, practice, practice” – even though her mature approach leaves little doubt that she will has the focus and discipline it takes to go the distance in her chosen profession.
“I’m definitely still a work in progress,” she added, with a laugh.