Skirts that started as pillowcases. Tote bags with neckties for straps. Clutch purses made from placemats. If anyone understands the entrepreneurial spirit of thinking outside the box and using what you have to create something new, it’s Winkler-based maker Heidi Friesen.
A 2015 alum of RRC Polytech’s Apparel Design program, Friesen is the owner and operator of Heidi-and-Seek Boutique, an online store that exclusively features her own garment and accessory designs, which are created — as she puts it — with “real, everyday women in mind.”
“People started to notice my creations and say, ‘You know, you should sell those,’” she explains, when asked about the boutique’s origin.
“That’s kind of how it started, people saw what I was creating for myself and they said, ‘Hey, that would be something that’d be good for a gift,’ or ‘Hey, I’d love to buy that.’ So I started looking into how to start a shop.”
The passion that would lead Friesen (shown above, third from left) to one day launch her own fashion brand first took root when she was still young.
“As a child, I always enjoyed the dress-up box at friend’s houses — we called them play clothes at the time.”
“They were parents’ old clothes or grandma’s old clothes that someone had stuffed in a trunk, and I always loved picking out things to wear. It was just the feeling of putting something on that wasn’t your own — it was a way to tell a new story. I always loved that and I always wanted my clothing to be unique and different from everybody else.”
Those experiences led Friesen to consider garment design as a career path, an idea that really gained traction while she was visiting her sister in college, and the pair decided to create skirts from dorm-room pillowcases.
In 2009, Friesen started an Etsy shop and began selling her creations, but found herself seeking more knowledge to take her sales and skillset to the next level.
“I was self-taught in sewing, and I got to a point in my designing where I felt like I hit a wall in terms of how much I could teach myself,” she says.
“I don’t quite remember how I found it, but RRC Polytech was doing a one-day workshop for sewing details. I went to that thinking I would learn a few things and Jan Bones, who was the instructor, told me that Red River had an Apparel Design program. That was the perfect option for me. It was part-time, I could drive to the city once a week and do my two years to get the certificate.”
“I couldn’t have asked for a better teacher,” says Friesen of Bones. “She’s very hands on, she knows how to explain things … I learned pattern design and techniques, I enjoyed the textiles class where you get to learn about different fabric types and different textures. Definitely, being able to be taught by Jan was amazing.”
After graduation, Friesen began moving away from creating strictly with secondhand items in order to reach a wider audience — and to produce garments in more sizes that her customers could feel their best in.
“I learned how to design and I really wanted to be able to create a colour palette and pick the prints I wanted to use. From there, I did make the change to buying new fabrics,” she says.
“In order to still try to recycle and reuse, though, I keep all my scraps and I use those on other pieces. For example, in the current collection I just launched, there’s a sweater dress where I use different scraps to appliqué details onto the dresses. That’s also something my customers really like, it’s something unique.”
With her apparel skillset bolstered, Friesen recently began looking to get better at the business side of her boutique — which eventually led her to back to RRC Polytech and a new course: Side Hustle 101.
The six-week course is a collaboration between RRC Polytech and The Maker’s Collective, which sets students on the path to a successful side business while providing a community of like-minded makers for support. While Friesen’s business was already well underway when she signed up for Side Hustle 101, she still learned plenty of lessons, including the importance of audience-testing a product before it’s released.
“I already had an Instagram (account) and I could conduct a series of questions in my stories like, ‘What do you think of my clothing?’ and ‘Is there a reason you haven’t bought anything? And what would that be?’ or ‘What kind of things have I made that are your favourite?’” she explains. “That polling was something I hadn’t really been doing with intention.”
Another valued element of the course were the regular interactions with side-business experts, who were selected based on the sort of hustles that students aspired to run.
“It was live over Zoom and you could speak in real time to real experts who were there to support you and give help. When they learned the kinds of things that students in the course were going towards, they would find experts in that field to talk to us, whether it was product-based or service-based.”
Armed with these new skills, Friesen is looking forward to achieving her goal of making Heidi-and-Seek Boutique into a full-time venture. In the short-term, she’s also looking to get onto Shopify as a platform.
“It’s definitely a passion,” she says. “I don’t want to keep an office job, so the goal is to have a well-working system that allows me to be able to quit my part-time job so I can do this full-time.”
If connections with — and responses from — her customers are any indication, it won’t be long before that goal is reached.
“I think everyone should be able to wear what they want to wear,” says Friesen. “It’s never fun not to have your size. My customer base has definitely grown based on that — people say the fit is excellent, it makes them feel good and it gives them joy. That’s the most that I can ask for.”
Profile by John Gaudes (Creative Communications, 2012).
Garment photos courtesy Heidi Friesen, portrait by Krysten Cathleen Photography.