Meet Makenew & AKG
Researching and sharing amazing brands is hands down one of my favourite parts of running FL. When I find someone who is doing a great job making gorgeous, ethical pieces that fit different body types, it seriously lights me up. Makenew is one I am ridiculously excited to share with you. Anne Gilkerson runs Makenew, a little shop in Halifax, NS, that not only curates secondhand clothing, but also has an in-house line called AKG that is made in their city out of natural fabrics. Her pieces are magically flattering, and her underwear is the most comfortable I have ever worn. She also carries a selection of other awesome brands, some of which are from Calgary. Read on to get to know Anna's journey to this point, what inspires her, and how she finds purpose and balance in life.
Tell us about how you got started – why fashion?
Ever since I was little I love dressing up and cutting up clothing. My first job was working at a vintage clothing store - like an actual vintage clothing store, where everything was pre-1965. I was really young (13-16) when I got to play in the store and do all sorts of merchandising. I learned a lot about pre-mass consumer clothing, like construction details, fabrications and styles. So I guess that shaped my love for clothing and fashion.
Vogue magazine was my first love. I started getting Vogue (not Teen Vogue) at age 11; I got a one-year subscription as a Christmas present from my parents and I got it for about 8 consecutive years after that 1991-1999. I ate those pages up. Kate Moss was a hero and designers like Versace, Jil Sander and then Tom Ford (who came a little later with Gucci) were inspirations. Those were some really great years in fashion and I guess what inspired me most was less the minimalism and grunge rock. I think those two very opposite looks shaped how I love clothing.
My mom sewed a lot and used to make costumes, dresses, napkins, curtains and quilts. We would be in a store and I would say "oh I love that" and my mom would say "I can make that"! So I guess her positive attitude always showed me that the "sky is the limit" we can always do it if we put our mind to it. My dad was an artist to a fine arts painter and writer so he was never one to tell me to stop drawing and focus on math. I decided to go to art school instead of involving myself with academics, but after a year of painting and figure drawing I decided I wanted a skill that I could take further. I was in New York City at the time, so I thought fashion school be pretty darn fun and that I could possibly apply it to a real job someday.
What made you shift from working in the more traditional fashion industry to carving your own path?
I guess I had to carve that out quite skilfully living here in Nova Scotia.It's hard living in a smaller city with less resources and less of a community to draw from and work with, but I really love Halifax and Nova Scotia so wanted to live here and raise my daughter. It's hard to make money as a designer unless you go really big or if you work at a local micro-level. I guess working in mass production and having had studied a little bit of organics when I was in Italy pushed me in the path of sustainable fashion. My parents were old hippies from California and I was always taught that our earth is sacred so I wanted to mix fashion with that somehow.
I started my first company in 2007, which is when sustainable fashion was just starting to make ripples. It wasn't just for crunchy granola hippies or only hemp sacks and patched hand me downs. Brands like John Patrick Organic, Preloved and Nicole Bridger were a few designers that were taking sustainable fashion to the forefront. In eight years it's blown up. I called my first clothing business Deux FM, which I also had here in Nova Scotia. Running that I learned a lot about business - I never took business in school, so that experience helped me be able to apply it to Makenew and AKG so that I am financially on my feet. Nova Scotia is also known for its thrift shops. Because there's less shopping here people have always done more secondhand shopping. We get some really good stuff coming by the truckload from the United States. You wouldn't believe what people would throw away or give away! Perfectly brand-new beautiful clothing! So I guess all of those factors pushed me into the slow fashion movement. It's so great to see almost 75% of emerging brands focusing on some sort of ethical or sustainable path. I felt like I was contributing a small part of that movement and I think with enough players it is becoming more the norm then just a movement.
What is the philosophy or driving force behind Makenew?
Makenew has always been about taking something of lasting design that already exists and make it new and modern. I wanted to take that one amazing piece in the thrift store and put it with other amazing pieces so that it made sense... like a collection. The better the quality of the clothing item, the longer it lasts. With what I do you can really prove that; I'm passionate about saving our planet!! The more I curate, the stricter I am in my editing process, and the better the collections become. It's always a joy when my new customers are confused a little at first, saying "what's new and what's old? I don't get it... help!" but are excited once I explain. It's just a whole new philosophy and way of presenting clothing. I've always worked to take the stigma away from shopping for used clothing. I think more and more people now will buy second hand clothing; I think new clothing is going to get really expensive unless it's sourced and produced on the local level.
What is your purpose or goal with the clothing you design for AKG?
My end goal for a AKG is to produce high quality, well-made, affordable clothing locally on a small scale at a slow pace. I want a AKG to last for as long as possible in people's wardrobes. The fabrics I source only in Canada and are of very high-quality. It was always hard to keep the secondhand basics in the store because they would get picked up so quickly. My background is in design, so I thought if I could make basics for the store that we could always have in stock they would go along quite nicely with the secondhand pieces. I get to work with a couple of my old students and another young lady who does my sewing; it's all very tight knit. We have a lot of respect for each other and it feels great paying local people fair wages for clothing that people are buying, wearing and loving. I think that's what makes me feel the best about what I'm doing for fashion.
How do you decide what you will carry?
I guess as my shop has grown and I wanted to bring some more brands/ products in the mix... I've tried to have a sustainable focus. It's so easy when you have brands contacting you or when you're looking into brands to just say "I want that" or "that's so cool, who cares how it was made or what it's made from or who made it." What drives my decision is: was it fairly made? is it environmentally friendly? was it traditionally made in the country of origin? was it fairly traded?
I don't feel like we need to be isolationists here. We can't make all of these beautiful objects in Nova Scotia as we just don't have the skills or the artisans, but that doesn't mean we can't have those items. I love working with Turkey right now and I have a new brand coming in from Morocco. I am creating some knitwear in Peru for AKG and I think that if we can deal kindly with people in other countries, that's a really great way to look at selling product if you aren't necessarily producing it. Not everyone makes their own clothing line but what they should be thinking about is "what is the origin of this item" and I think there a few different ways to present that. I try to go right to the source as much as possible so that there's less middleman. That way we can keep the prices down but I also know I'm getting it from a solid manufacturer and they can tell me about the social impact of their production and their fair working conditions. These countries rely on larger countries like us to buy their products; if we can't make those products as good as they can, why would we? We can make good products here too, but they aren't quite like the products that come from a special place where they are made with tradition. I think Makenew definitely presents a few different options. I love multiple options!
Why do you focus on ensuring what you do carry is ethical and sustainable?
For thrift I guess I decide what I will carry in a couple of seconds. It will have to grab my eye (I peruse thousands of items almost daily; yes, I buy everyday), it has to feel good, it has to be interesting, it has to be something my customers want, and it to has to be something that I would want. It has to be in amazing condition, which means they are usually really good quality products since those are the ones that last.
For AKG I have to be even more discerning. We're ordering fabric by the bolts and then we're making it, so I need to make sure that will have full sell through - that's where the business side comes in a little bit. But in the long run it's all about me loving it and knowing it'll have a place at the shop. With other brands I like to carry things that are a little bit different, than what you can get elsewhere in Halifax and that's often why I look to other brands in Canada. I like to work with Canadian brands first and foremost!
That brings us into your next question.
You have listed on your site that you carry many great Calgarian brands like Dreamboat Lucy and Jennea Frischke. How did that come about?
Halifax is a small city and we have some amazing brands here, but I find that there's a lot of saturation. When I moved up to the north end from downtown there were a couple brands that I was carrying but decided to stop since shops nearby carried them. You don't want to cross over since isn't ideal for anybody, so I look to other places to bring things in that aren't carried elsewhere in Halifax. It's really hard with the local movement to differentiate yourself sometimes. I think in other cities it's a little easier, but I still see those same brands over and over again popping up in all the stores; I find Canada is a little small. But I think more and more people are starting companies, following their dreams, and going into sustainable design so that's really exciting for consumers. Screw the mall!
Do you have a “uniform” for what you personally wear, or does it change daily?
I guess I kind of dress based on environment. I like to be comfortable so I wear jeans and t-shirts a lot. I don't think I'd ever have a style blog for myself! I think I pretty much dress in all AKG and thrift now, plus some other smaller labels for swimwear and accessories. I wear all the brands I carry at the shop. I'm trying more and more to spend my money on smaller Canadian brands rather than shopping at big box stores. I think the only one I go to is Aritzia now, and often it's just market research. After thrifting for so long and making my own clothing I have a hard time spending my hard-earned money on something I know that isn't the best quality and was made in China. I do try to put a large portion of my money back into the local economy because I feel like in the long run that's going to be the best for all of us. So I guess that kind of shapes how I dress.
I am a Leo, so in the summer I'm a little more creative. I have a friend - her name is Mimi - and she used to have the best closet! She travels now, so her closet is no more, but we would spend hours in there drinking tequila and putting outfits together and she really is the opposite of me! She would bring me out of my shell a little bit... I tend to not like to draw attention to myself, which is funny since I work in fashion. I'm one of those designers that comes out in jeans and a white T-shirt and waves real quick then leaves. Kind of a utilitarian introvert I guess!
What inspires you?
Pretty much everything inspires me... my dad taught me to always look around and I'll find inspiration in everything. Maybe it's a fault, but I don't read style blogs and I barely read magazines anymore. I do look on social media at the brands I like and try to follow emerging brands, but I like to spend time in nature and with my family. If I was online all the time I wouldn't be present and focused on looking around me.
I also want to avoid being influenced by other people as much as possible. I feel like if we all follow each other it all ends up looking the same. Mind you, as humans we can't help but influence each other, so I can't help but be influenced by my peers and the beautiful things they're doing. But for the most part it's a feeling. I'm inspired by clothing, by function, by colour, by fabric, and I guess I like to have my finger on that little pulse spot - that little thing that people want right now. It's more interesting to me to not follow the crowd and just be inspired by my customers and what I love. I think it's also an energy that we're all a part of. We just can't help influencing each other... that's what fashion is!
How do you define success?
Success is just being happy with what you do, loving what you do, and being able to put food on the table. I think a higher level of success for me would be to be a consistent contributor to sustainable living through fashion by helping people dress more ethically.
What are your goals, both personally and professionally?
My goal short term is to get this webshop going strong so that long term, when we move to the country and have a farm and live off grid as much as possible, I can still make clothing and sell items. Hopefully not so much through a storefront but more online. The only issue this presents to me is the shipping! I just need to work on a Teletransporter like in Star Trek that we don't have to emit any emissions to get something from one place to another place.
I honestly don't know where I will be because my future keeps morphing, but I feel pretty happy where I am. I'd be happy to do this for a long time and just keep getting better along the way.
What advice do you have for those wanting to forge their own path?
I have to give the advice my father gave me which is to do what you love. Do you do what you love and it will never feel like work... Because it will be hard work! Also to carve your own path. Like I said before, to try not to be to influenced by others. Come up with something new and different to set yourself apart. Also, don't worry about what others think. It's so easy to compare ourselves in this digital world. Be careful with money and don't go into debt ever - you will need to get creative. Most importantly, get out into nature more and get off that screen. It will clear your mind for when you do need to be on the computer.
What does balance look like to you? How do you maintain balance with all the projects you currently have on the go?
Balance is important. That said, I'm always working - I work 24/7 on a "non-schedule" schedule. I try to write a list and get everything done immediately, so to not to let things build up and ensure I can move onto the next thing. It's always about moving forward. If something doesn't work out, let it go and move on. I think the biggest thing that business people don't do is let go - if it isn't working, let it go and think outside the box to come up with something new. In this fast moving world we can't sit still. I guess my balance is being able to keep up and still be able to relax. And I think when you work for yourself if you work hard you get to carve out those times for yourself, which are really important.
What do you think needs to change in our world?
I think we pretty much need to just start caring about humans and our earth more. It sounds cheesy and sappy, but it's true. With a little more love in this world we would be so much better off.
What do you feel is the most important thing in life?
The most important thing in life is to love.