Victoria Kakuktinniq credits a pilot called The Miqqut Project, which took place in her home town of Rankin Inlet in 2012, for introducing her to traditional sewing.
Victoria Kakuktinniq of Victoria's Arctic Fashion, seen here wearing her parka design inspired by the Inuit "V" forehead tattoo, is opening up shop in Iqaluit. The grand opening will take place October 20. - Michele LeTourneau/NNSL photo
"We had five elders teaching sewing traditional items, amautiit, mitts, parkas, kamiks and much more," said Kakuktinniq.
"After I made my very first parka, I thought, 'This is what I want to do,' They taught us from start to finish. We designed our parka, made the pattern and completed it. Wow. It was so much fun and I just wanted to be able to design more parkas."
Kakuktinniq estimates she's since created 800 parkas.
After a one-year fashion design course in Winnipeg with her one-year-old daughter in tow, she relocated to Iqaluit in December 2013 to start her own business. Word of mouth, a Facebook page and a presence at trade shows spread her fashion fame across Canada, from Newfoundland to Vancouver.
"I do get a lot of interest from Greenland. I'm hoping I can get myself there sometime, for a festival or a big craft show."
Now she's ready for her own fashion studio - creating a bit more balance in her life. Home is home, work is work. Victoria's Arctic Fashion on Federal Road will have its grand opening in late October. Her sister Faith Kreelak has recently joined her from Rankin Inlet, and Kakuktinniq plans to employ more seamstresses.
"I did it all by myself for the past four years and it was definitely a struggle. I just worked non-stop, trying to keep up with the demand," Kakuktinniq said, adding, "My sister started sewing way before I did, so she's just a natural."
With help from the Qikiqtani Inuit Association for a location and funding via the Kakivak Association and the Baffin Business Development Corporation, Kakuktinniq now has a studio with four sewing machines and a showroom about to be renovated.
"Since I moved here I've been working out of my home and it's not as roomy or spacious (as) a studio. And it's not the greatest to have employees come into your own home." Kakuktinniq said.
And now her daughter, six years old and in school, can enjoy the living room.
"As soon as I got this place, I felt more stress-free and more relaxed at home. I was able to go home and do my own thing. And I come to work and focus."
Kakuktinniq blends traditional design with modern trends. Her most popular parka style - about 500 sold - includes the side zipper in an asymmetrical design. Lately, with the growing popularity of Inuit tattoos, she blends those in too - such as the "V" forehead tattoo. A signature aspect of her design is a decorative embroidery, which can be found on her mitts and some parkas.
"I try to keep the Inuit tradition in my collection, but I also try to add a modern twist," she said.
"I also try to keep up with the fashion industry. I read magazines. I look at the newest designs and try to keep up with the fashion trends."
So far Kakuktinniq's designs - parkas, embroidered sealskin mitts and other items - have been for women only, but she plans on launching a men's collection in the fall.
"I just know that with these ladies that will be helping me this year, it's going to be a lot better. Just cutting, putting it together, putting all the finishing touches by myself . I did have to work around the clock before."