Love out, love in with SummerSkin
Chelsea Maier has "upendo" tattooed along her ribcage, the Swahili word for love. This ink is a constant memory of working in Africa and defines her apparel and accessories line, SummerSkin. SummerSkin offers custom, one-of-a-kind designs for men and women made from kitenge fabrics from Dodoma, Tanzania. An artist and entrepreneur, Maier believes that the more love you give to the world, the more you will receive.
In July 2009, Maier spent six weeks building the Galilaya Orphan Centre in Dodoma, Tanzania. The Vancouver Island native, who now lives in Winnipeg, studies Environmental Design at the University of Manitoba. Her last semester ended with a new apartment and open opportunities for summer. Then, in the chaos of moving, Maier rediscovered fabrics from her trip to Africa.
“If you want something, you just have to go for it,” says Maier. “The more you talk about it to your friends and family, the more you are accountable and have to follow through with it."
Her recent visit home to Victoria was filled with family graduations and gatherings. Her last day was spent trying to fit new fabrics and notions into an overstuffed suitcase.
SummerSkin is His and Hers clothing, jewelry and custom designs: razorbacks, tulip cuts, crop tops, sleeveless shirts, wire-wrapped bracelets and leather accessories. Each piece mixes intricate African patterns with vibrant colours, textiles that warrant a life in the sun. Maier scours thrift shops and fabric stores to find materials.
“I walk all the aisles, even the clearance section and I feel everything, think about how it will hang and wear, and think about how the colours will contrast with the African prints”.
“SummerSkin is a free-fall, a pursuit, a summer adventure, bringing life to kitenge fabrics hand-picked and traded for from Dodoma, Tanzania,” she says.
SummerSkin is for beachcombers, festival loungers, spirit-junkies, wanderers, and anyone willing to wear something bold. SummerSkin is rooted in laid-back, West Coast culture: “I picture them being worn by someone going to a yoga class or out and about on a really hot day”.
Maier uses wax and batik print fabrics with bold designs from local shops in Dodoma. She is attached to these textiles and the stories woven into them. Her apartment is decorated with framed swatches: “I know that I’m sending them to people that will love it just as much as I have”.
Maier now lives in apartment 9B, which she calls Studio 9B. Her home is an artist’s haven: open space, exposed brick, one bright yellow wall and a spectacular view of the city. Her studio is a mess of fabrics and threads, with inspiration and finished projects on the walls.
SummerSkin is a summer project, making Studio 9B an umbrella for future adventures. Maier welcomes collaboration and speaks in a “we” voice. She recognizes family, friends and supporters for their contribution to her designs: “It doesn’t mean that I’m the only person responsible for them at the end of the day”.
Maier is a fresh thinker with an old soul. She values well-made goods and adores working with her hands. Every order includes a hand-cut tag, dated stamp and handwritten note: “I love snail mail so much, anything in the mail other than a cellphone bill or hydro bill is the best thing ever”.
Maier believes in love out, love in. A corkboard in Studio 9B holds reminders of this mantra: “I see it a lot around me but sometimes you just have to recognize it”. She received fabric donations from volunteers who have worked in Tanzania, and her childhood best friend will be returning from a trip to the East Coast of Africa with more textiles. The first SummerSkin top was even sent as a gift, and a quilted potholder delivered in return. This quilter joined Studio 9b and is selling her designs entitled ‘Sew & Tell’ alongside SummerSkin on Shopify.
When she isn’t creating apparel, Maier builds houses with Habitat for Humanity and explores the arts and culture of Winnipeg. Come September, she will flip the closed sign to focus on school and begin plans for next summer’s product line. SummerSkin will remain open for custom orders.
Sarah Manteuffel joins Maier and the Studio 9B collaborative to help with the production of accessories. This summer, SummerSkin is mailing orders for free within Canada from the Studio 9B's website.
SummerSkin is available at Local Shop Awesome in Osborne Village, Winnipeg, Manitoba and in Victoria, BC at Regalia Boutique. SummerSkin was also showcased in an open market at the Grand Beach Burger Bus: “The more you say yes, the more things are going to open”.