Lisa-Louie Ittukallak grew up around seamstresses in Nunavik but didn’t have the courage to try sewing herself until her sister started hand-making parkas. In the end, she tells me it was sisterly impatience that gave her that final push; she taught herself to sew at 21 when her sister took too long to make her a winter coat. Now, almost 10 years later, she’s one of 18 designers from Canada’s four Inuit regions—Inuvialuit, Nunatsiavut, Nunavut and Nunavik—commissioned by Canada Goose to each create five one-of-a-kind parkas as part of Project Atigi. (The Inuktitut word “Atigi” means “parka” in English.) She calls the appointment overwhelming. “I am proud. I never had a Canada Goose parka and I always wanted one. Ending up making parkas for Canada Goose is so special.”
Project Atigi, now in its second year, enlists the talent of Inuit seamstresses to create bespoke parkas using their traditional skills and Canada Goose’s beloved cold-combatting materials. After being selected from a pool of applicants, 18 women were sent kits including Canada Goose’s Arctic Tech fabric, fur for trimming and finishings like zippers and lining, “intended as a jumping off point for each woman’s unique point of view,” according to the brand. What the women did with those materials was up to them.
The result is a striking blend of beauty and functionality, tradition and technical excellence in the form of 90 gender-neutral parkas. Proceeds from the sale of the collection—available for purchase January 23—go to Inuit communities through Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), the national Inuit representational organization that works with the four Inuit regions of Inuit Nunangat. Through ITK, proceeds from last year’s collection supported self-directed Inuit education, employment and cultural preservation programs.
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Mother of three, Parniga Akeeagok got her first sewing machine at age 12 and credits the elders in her Iqaluit community with passing their skills onto her. In fact, one mentor was so special to her that she named her daughter after her. “She inspired me as a seamstress.”
Sharing the skills she learned as a child with future generations—and the fruits of her labour with the public—is crucial to Parniga. “It’s our identity. So it’s important to me to pass that on to future generations.”
For Parniga, sewing is also a form of therapy. “I often sew alone at home but [when I sew in a group] working together brings such tranquility and healing to each woman who is sewing and sharing their stories through their craftsmanship.”
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Lisa-Louie, whose grandmother was an adept craftswoman, agrees that keeping traditions like hand-making parkas alive across generations is crucial. “It’s very important because it was our way of surviving,” Lisa-Louie says. “My father was born in an igloo. They used to make hand-stitched parkas so for me it is very special to pass on the hand-made parkas.”
“He’s very, very proud,” she says of his reaction to her working with Canada Goose. “He’s like, You have your grandmother’s hands.’”
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I sit beside Parniga at a long dinner table in New York City’s West Village to celebrate the special collection. As we chat while feasting on dishes inspired by traditional Inuit delicacies made for us by Inuk chef Sheila Lumsden, she sums up the importance of the parkas of Project Atigi in one thought: “It’s more than just a coat.”
The Project Atigi 2020 collection, which includes men’s and women’s styles, will be displayed in select Canada Goose stores across North America and Europe, and available for purchase beginning January 23 on canadagoose.com or by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.