The pandemic has brought a shift into the world in many aspects and in the fashion industry this would not be different. In the fashion world trends come and go depending on the era we live in, but how can you be “trendy” in such a tragic time? As COVID-19 was out in the world, masks were in, and Kiona Harrison, a former Humber College student, has a collection of them to sell as well as other fashion apparel in her new business.
Harrison is a fashion management graduate who during the early months of the pandemic, April 2020, opened up her online store, Icarus Apparel & Alterations. She began selling handmade cloth masks. Later on, she invested in selling tote bags, scrunchies, and offering clothing alterations once she launched the virtual store in June 2020.
The name “Icarus” has an important significance to Kiona, since when she was a child she used to love reading about Greek mythology and took a liking to the myth of Icarus. A story of the son of a craftsman called Daedalus, who once tried to escape from Crete along with his son, by means of crafting wings for him. She takes this story as an inspiration as she states in her website: “This story inspired me to always reach for the stars; to rise above but to always keep a level head.”
And just like Icarus, or rather Daedalus, Harrison also had a passion for crafting, “I was always crafty, making bracelets and duct tape wallets as a kid,” she says.
Her father, Andray Harrison, who used to be graphic designer for 20 years, couldn’t agree more with the fact that his daughter had always been creative and passionate about fashion and sewing.
“From a very young age Kiona has always been very creative, so design and sewing just came naturally. She would always be drawing different outfits and combinations of clothes, dressing her dolls in many different outfits,” he says. “She had more ideas than dolls and paper so we bought her one of those fashion design sets with templates for drawing combinations of clothing one Christmas. When those ran out, I designed and printed off tons more for her and she has never stopped.”
She would be introduced to sewing by her grandmother. Eventually, she would also end up exploring more of the technique in high school. “I started sewing with my grandmother as a kid, but I never stuck with it. In high school, I had the opportunity to take a sewing class in 12th grade as an elective,” she said.
However, she wasn’t the only one in the family that had an experience with sewing, her father also did. “When I was younger I dabbled with a sewing machine and clothing design as well, so it kind of runs in the family,” Mr. Harrison said.
During the time of crisis COVID-19 had left the world, her father saw the opportunity for his daughter to put her degree in practice. “I noticed online that a few of my friends and some people started making masks to aid in slowing the spread of Covid-19,” Mr. Harrison said. “They were donating [masks] to different organizations and I saw an opportunity in the market for Kiona to use her Honours-Business Degree in Fashion Management to start her own business by selling masks for an affordable price.”
Mr. Harrison, however, said that his suggestion did not strike her at first. “It took a bit of convincing because she was busy with a lot of other things,” he said. “But when her aunt advocated for her and brought some significant pre-orders she was off and running and hasn’t looked back.”
After her aunt came in requesting cloth masks from Kiona, the opportunity to make her dreams come true came along. “I would be sewing small stuff and a couple side projects like bags and skirts for myself. Then the pandemic emerged and I had requests from my aunt to make her masks. From then on, I got more requests and my dad suggested I start marketing as a business,” she says.
To Kiona, this kick-start of creating her business was only natural.“I’ve always wanted to be my own boss ever since I was younger so it seemed natural to me, especially since I was taking a business focussed course in college,” she says. She goes on to explain that even the expansion of more products went on instinctively. “I got help cutting out fabric and elastic from my mom and grandmother, while I did the sewing. From then on, I just branched out to bags and scrunchies.”
“I’ve always wanted to be my own boss ever since I was younger so it seemed natural to me, especially since I was taking a business focussed course in college.”
In order to promote her business, Harrison uses the help from ads on Instagram and Facebook. As she’s also BIPOC, she attends markets held by Blk Owned, an organization focused on supporting black-owned businesses in the Greater Hamilton Area in Hamilton, Ont.
Kiona says it’s really important for other BIPOC individuals to follow their passions and pave the way to create a safe space in the small business industry. “I think it’s important for people to feel included and represented in their communities,” she says. “It’s important to see the representation and the success of other BIPOC owned businesses because it inspires and empowers the younger generation. It creates a safe space to be unapologetically BIPOC.”
Her former coordinator from the Fashion Management course, Francesca D’Angelo, compliments the timeliness and cleverness of Kiona’s strategy to open a business during the pandemic. “It is incredibly timely! Kiona’s business idea shows clear insight,” she says. “Besides the obvious need of masks, Kiona picked up on the symbolic nature of dressing practices to understand that it was only a matter of time that people would want […] their masks to take on a more personal stylized and above all fashionable element. It is so clear that Kiona knows what fashion is all about and what purposes it serves,” D’Angelo says.
“It is so clear that Kiona knows what fashion is all about and what purposes it serves.”
Handmade apparel is not something new, the work Harrison does is definitely a growing trend. Since the beginning of the 2020s, the growth of handmade clothing has been increasing in the fashion industry more than ever. The movement of “fashion consciousness” has been taking over with the purpose of ‘sustainability’ being its main agenda.
This is clear once you scroll on TikTok just to see multiple videos of handcraft clothing and thrifting hauls posted all over your feed. Consequently, this would not be different in the realm of high fashion with fashion houses presenting knitwear outfits, embroidered work, handmade bags, and patchwork on their shows.
Kiona says that the pandemic has had an important influence on the growth of craftsmanship work in the fashion industry.
“I think the pandemic has played a huge part in the rise of handmade apparel. Buying local and supporting small businesses really took off at the beginning of the pandemic and continued throughout,” she said.
When it comes to the craftsmanship of repairing clothes, D’Angelo explains the sentimental value takes part in the trend. “Mending one’s clothes is a current theme in our post-pandemic world that sees shortcomings in supply chain, limited goods, limited resources and people’s desire to hang on to ‘good’ things,” she says.
The program coordinator at Humber College also points out that the purpose of sustainability and the effect of the pandemic might be one of the other reasons for this growing trend. “There is of course also an environmental element here that sees people’s level of consciousness around excess,” she says. “However, I do not see this as the main thread (pun intended) for why people are into mending or repairing their clothes. There is perhaps a symbolic sense that so much has been lost during the pandemic that there perhaps is the sense that there are things we would like to hang on to instead of lose.”
However, a ‘trendy’ item that Harrison believes won’t keep on growing is simply the one that kicked off her small business in the first place, the famous masks.
“I think that masks will be a fad, in the loosest description possible, since they were mandatory they kind of muddy the term fad,” she says. “I don’t think they have become the creative outlet that they could aspire to be. Also since many institutions are now recommending or only allowing surgical masks (ex. Brock University) cloth masks are fading out.”
Now when it comes to the future of Icarus Apparel & Alterations, Kiona says, “hopefully someday I’ll be making clothes, but for now I’m focussing on expanding my line of bags.”
Harrison also plans to give out sewing lessons and even have a physical store with employees.
“I’m also planning on teaching some sewing classes as well. I would also love to have a brick-and-mortar shop. I would love to expand my business and get some employees on board in the future.”
Whatever plans Kiona Harrison has on her mind for her business, it’s clear that her effort, hard work and determination will certainly lead her to great things. Stories such as hers are an inspiration to demonstrate that people can still find opportunities to thrive in difficult times and lead the path to others that wish to do the same. After all, taking a chance to rise above, reinvent your reality and make your dreams come true never goes out of style.