Halifax designers compete on the runway

Students to expose their designs in Montreal

After months of work applying to Canada’s Breakthrough Designer Competition, Laura Corkum was done with waiting. But a delay in the results meant waiting One. More. Day.

“I spent that day with my stomach in knots telling my friends to leave me alone because I didn’t know,” she says. “I finally got to sleep only to be woken up by a cryptic text message from my teacher. It wasn’t until the next morning that I realized I was a finalist.”

And then came the feelings of nervous excitement.

Corkum and fellow classmate Sarom Curtis are two of 25 finalists who’ve won an all expenses paid trip to compete in the nation-wide student design competition. More than 500 students submitted their designs to Télio, a high-fashion fabric company in Montreal, who hosts the Breakthrough Designer Competition. After weeks of waiting, the finals start tomorrow, Thursday, Feb. 7 as part of the Montreal Fashion Week.

The prizes total more than $15,000 in scholarship money, but “just the experience of being with so many creative and dynamic people will be inspiring,” says Corkum.

Both students have been hard at work over the past few months to meet the rigorous entry requirements.

The contest “has quite stringent requirements,” says Michelle Kulyk, head of the Fashion Program at The Centre for Arts and Technology. “[Students] know if they get in that their life is hell for about six weeks.”

Sarom Curtis at the Centre of Arts and Technology
Sarom Curtis dreams of having his own brand one day. (Photo: Vanessa Ratjen)

“Once I committed to the competition it was all-consuming,” says Corkum. “School always came first but once I was chosen as a finalist I knew that every spare second was going to be devoted to my creation.”

The theme of the event is Overexposed, Curtis explains. Contestants had to take the ideas “soft armour, minimalism and sophistication — and incorporate them into a design.”

Once picked, the students had to make their idea a reality.

“That may sound really easy, but it’s not,” says Kulyk.

Curtis, a second-year student, had never sewn anything before attending the school. He says this is just the seventh garment he’s ever created.

Their school program has been good preparation, but the competition offers real work experience, Curtis says: “The experience of getting something on a time schedule and showing it on a runway, the whole spiel.”

“School gave me the tools but the competition put me in a situation that allowed me to use those tools,” says Corkum.

The Centre for Arts and Technology is a digital arts and technical training college with campuses in Kelowna, B.C., Fredericton, N.B., and Halifax. The fashion program has only been running for three years and students from the school have been selected for the Breakthrough Designer Competition two years in a row.

With limited job opportunities for them in Halifax, Kulyk says, the “networking opportunities [at the competition] are huge.”

This bodes well for Curtis who sees himself moving away after graduation. Maybe to study in Europe, maybe to move to Vancouver, Toronto, or New York “where there is a for-sure job” for him.

“But we’ll see how that goes,” he shrugs with a smile.

Corkum says she will likely stay in Halifax for the immediate future and continue working on her skills as a designer. But she is keen to keep learning “and will not pass up any opportunities.”

The competition helped Corkum figure that out. “Even though the experience was tough, it reaffirmed my passion and drive to be involved in the fashion industry.”

The show will be streamed live on the web at Montreal Fashion Week.