'Fashion is transformative': Indigenous designer sees fashion as way to heal and inspire

Stephanie Gamble won the Indigenous Designer Bursary at this year's Saskatchewan Fashion Week and hopes to redeem herself after a disappointing cancellation for herself and Indigenous youth.

The 2018 Indigenous Designer Bursary winner hopes to empower Indigenous youth through fashion

Stephanie Gamble has used Indigenous youth as models to help them get into the fashion industry. Pictured from left: Micaiah, Zoey. (C.Lysias Designs by Stephanie Gamble/Facebook)

Stephanie Gamble started designing at a young age.  

"When I was in school I would design binder covers, pencil cases, even purses," said the 33 year old from Beardy's and Okemasis Cree Nation.

Now she says wants to use her fashion as a platform to inspire change.

Gamble is the winner of this year's Saskatchewan Indigenous Designer Bursary, given out annually at Saskatchewan Fashion Week. The winner receives a Saturday runway time and $2,500. 

Gamble said the bursary will go to materials, a new sewing machine, helping the models with anything they need and hopefully taking her family on a small adventure. (Stephanie Gamble/Facebook)

Gamble said finding out about the award was emotional because of the story that won it for her. In the fall of 2017, Gamble and 13 Indigenous youth were planning a trip to Paris World Fashion week. The show was cancelled by the organizers in November.

"So six months planning that, it just came to an end. It was very emotional, it was a hard time for everybody," Gamble said.

Not only did Sask Fashion Week give her the bursary, it also asked for the models who would have gone to Paris to be part of Gamble's Regina show.

"I can't even explain how I felt when they said that," she said. "To be able to give them a chance to actually walk and actually execute what we'd been planning for all those months and to be on home turf  too in Saskatchewan, it's even better."

To me, fashion is transformative. It can make you feel powerful.- Stephanie Gamble

Gamble said she sees fashion week as a chance at redemption. Her collection's title, Rise of the Phoenix, is appropriate.

"It's going to be a self expression, my heart and soul went into this," she said.

Fashion as a creative outlet

Gamble comes from a designer family. Her grandmother was a fashion designer, her mother crochets and her father designs cabins.

She said her childhood had difficult times.

"I had went through the effects of alcohol abuse in my home," she said. "I experienced foster care, I experienced all this stuff being not having any security growing up."

She said fashion became a coping mechanism and a creative outlet to help connect her to her faith. 

Gamble said she is now inspired by her family and they are supportive of her work.

"They weren't the richest family but they always use what they had and made due with it," Gamble said. "They're my number one support and I couldn't have done this without my family."

In March 2018, Stephanie Gamble (far left) organized a fashion show in her home reserve of Beardy's Okemasis. (Stephanie Gamble/Facebook)

Gamble designs under the label C.Lysias. She said the name has a double meaning. On one hand it's a historical man from the book of Acts, who was the leader of 1,000 men. But it's also an acronym.

"C.Lysias Designs stands for 'creatively love your successful individual authentic self,' and is used to help with self-love and self-acceptance," she added. 

Gamble said she hopes to inspire youth through fashion. She has used Indigenous youth as models and said it helped open doors for some of them in the fashion industry.

She said her style includes bling, sparkle, leather, blacks and golds.

"To me fashion is transformative. It can make you feel powerful, it can make you feel confident and happy and that's just the message I wanted to convey to the people who are buying my clothes."

With files from CBC Saskatchewan's Morning Edition