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Sea to Sky swimwear designer and surfer launches collection

Ocean Folk is 100-per-cent Canadian made



Allison Gagnon wants to make you one of her Ocean Folk.

Using the tagline "Follow the Call," the Squamish designer launched her women's swimwear collection of the same name in April this year.

"It was a three-year process. I finished school and started testing fabrics, trying to find the right materials. My goal was to create 100-per-cent Canadian products. That was definitely challenging and it took a while to be able to source what I wanted to work with," she says.

Ocean Folk is the first business venture for the young entrepreneur.

"For now, I have concentrated mainly on fit and my testing went really well. I spent so many years working on it, so it was great to get it out there and into the real world," she says.

"For our Spring 2014 collection I've got five styles, so I've got two one pieces and three bikini sets. For one pieces, I've designed them to act like a rash guard and one, The Florencia, has full sleeves with more cover, and one without sleeves."

When asked whether a designer needs to study anatomy to get the collection right, Gagnon laughs and says, "I made a lot of samples. It was a lot of trial and error and I tested them on myself as well."

Some of the pieces use printed photographs taken by Gagnon; the rest use patterned fabric designed by her. And she sought feedback on her swimwear from the women who would need it.

"People who have been doing all sorts of sports have been wearing them. Not only water sports, but also yoga and climbing, also running. Basically anyone active," Gagnon says.

With fabric from Montreal that is Squamish-designed and Vancouver-made, the swimwear is available at The Beach in Whistler and Urban Alpine in Squamish. In Vancouver and Victoria, Ocean Folk is available at Sitka, and in Tofino at Live to Surf. Swimwear can also be purchased on the Ocean Folk website: www.oceanfolk.ca.

Prices range from $180 for the long sleeve one-piece Florencia surf suit, to $65 for bikini tops.

"I think people were excited to have something local," Gagnon says.

She took a few months off her full-time job at Resort Reservations at Whistler Blackcomb in order to follow this dream.

"I really wanted to create something that was affordable, to show that we can do this kind of thing here in Canada. We can use the resources we have here, rather than import or export. And the mill that makes the fabrics processes the material using 70 per cent less water and energy," she says.

Gagnon studied photojournalism and fashion communications and, later, textiles and fashion design at Capilano University.

"I love travelling. I love surfing," Gagnon says. "I get to combine everything I love in life... I always knew I wanted to do something like this, I was always drawn to fashion and once I discovered surfing, being able find something where I could use my education and also include all my loves in life... yeah, I was really excited by the idea."

Gagnon first clambered onto a surfboard while on vacation in Hawaii in 2006 and from her vantage point it was a pure idyll.

"It was a life-changing experience. I went with six girlfriends and we lived on the beaches, had one rental car with all of us living out of it... It was such an awesome experience. After six weeks of beach culture I was definitely hooked," she recalls.

From there, surfing was central to Gagnon's further travels to places like Indonesia, Europe, Morocco, Central and South America.

There is no plan to do menswear at this time, says Gagnon, adding that she plans to expand the collection in Spring/Summer 2015.