A Conversation With: Erika War
Erika War is a Toronto based fashion designer and visual creator from rural Alberta whose work has bounced between the fashion, tech and music industries, with an emphasis on visuality and digital media. In 2018 she joined the first cohort of tenants at Toronto’s HXOUSE, a talent incubator, which partners with the Weeknd’s XO brand to foster creative opportunities for fashion, music, and visual media in Toronto, and in 2019, she launched a recycling design studio MADE by WAR, and subsequently, a collection of gender-neutral pop-art inspired clothing. We caught up with the prolific young creator to learn about her brand, her time at XHouse and what’s in store for the rest of 2019.
Describe Made By War to us. How did it come to fruition?
MADE by WAR is a recycling and upcycling design studio that I founded in 2018 based out of Toronto. The intersections of design that I am passionate about are sustainability, affordability, accessibility, and individuality. All pieces in the first apparel collection are priced under $100, one-of-a-kind, gender-neutral, and made from 100% recycled materials.
I grew up with two very creative parents who built everything from our home to our furniture, to our clothing. I’ve always had a deep love for designing – but I could never really see where I fit in while staying true to myself.
The fashion industry has been careless with the treatment of factory workers, creating and releasing pollutants, and its exorbitant production of waste – I knew that I could only participate if I was able to do so in a sustainable way. As pieces of my brand vision started to come together, I started seeing how I could create a circular design system – I felt like there was no better time than the present to start following my passion.
You just released your first collection titled One For All recently, can you tell us about the inspiration behind it?
The inspiration came from a lot of places over a long period of time. I’m a huge pop art fan – Warhol, Kusama, Haring, and Lichenstein are artists who have such specific points of view. Polka dots, high contrasts, and graphic elements are a focus in the pieces. I wanted the first collection to be streetwear focused – denim jackets and pants, hoodies and crewnecks – because I didn’t want to overcommit my skill set to anything vastly complex. The collection felt really natural to me – statement pieces that are easily integrable into your wardrobe.
The name of the collection came from the saying “All For One, and One For All”. All the members of a group support each of the individual members, and the individual members pledge to support the group. I wanted to focus on the second half, One For All. The last year of my life has encouraged my perspective that one really determined person can make a palpable difference to many.
Who are some designers and artists that you look up to?
I got to work alongside some amazing fashion designers in the HXOUSE program, and I really cherish the time I got to spend learning from them. Saint of @sexforsaints, Joey of @heymrsaturday, and Rahul of @wil.studios are friends forever.
Spencer Badu of @spencerbadu is another Toronto designer whose work I’ve admired for years. Ahluwalia Studio @ahluwalia_studio out of London is doing mesmerizing things with textile waste.
The works of Daniel Arsham, Joshua Vides, and Takashi Murakami are a big inspiration for the type of studio I’m building and work I am manifesting. They each have such clear perspectives and I really love how they take you completely into the worlds they create. They’re all so multifaceted in what they design, how they design, and who they design for.
How has Toronto shaped the kinds of work you’re putting out?
I grew up in rural Alberta so living in a city, let alone an international hub was a total shift of perspective. I love the ambiguity of a big city. The freedom of self-expression in my appearance, my work, and my life is vital to my happiness as an individual and my output as a creative.
Toronto is so diverse and multicultural – very different than what I grew up seeing. I love that you can be on a streetcar with 30 people of all different religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations, speaking different languages with completely different styles. Sitting on that streetcar inspires me as a designer because I can see all of those unique qualities coming together.
I want the streetcar to be a metaphor for the brand. I want the people who engage with my brand to be as diverse as the passengers – but what I really aspire to have is the brand as a vessel to connect people.
Proceeds from your work are donated to your local community resources in Moss Park. Why is this important to you?
I live with my best friend, Shea, who is in the process of becoming a social worker. She started volunteering and then working part-time at All Saints CCC a few years ago. She encouraged me to come volunteer with her – and my world changed.
It’s one of the most honest, real spaces I’ve had the privilege of volunteering my time. You check your ego at the door. The more time I get to spend there, the better understanding I have for the importance of each plate of food, a safe place to rest, or something as simple as a fresh pair of socks. I have an entirely new appreciation for my neighbours and anyone who may be struggling through a tough time or working on getting to a stable place.
As someone who struggles with a mental health disorder, I’ve come to notice how imperative a support system is – and I want to extend what I can to be that support for someone else. As a creative and entrepreneur – I wanted to make sure that I set my business up in a way to ensure giving back from the very beginning.
5$ from every MADE by WAR piece sold is donated to All Saints Church Community Centre and 5$ to the Egale Centre. These are two resources that act as integral support systems to my community at Moss Park.
You’re a year one tenant at HXOUSE, what has that experience been like? How has it affected your creative process?
The experience has been one of the most challenging, yet rewarding of my life. The unwavering support and encouragement from the facilitators is like nothing I’ve ever experienced in an ‘educational’ space before.
They filled our days with lectures, workshops, panel discussions, design challenges and one-on-one’s. It has been overwhelming to see the commitment and passion of the team, and impossible not to be inspired and fueled by how hard they’re working. Before the No More Dreams program – I dreamt of being in the room listening to the conversations of creatives I’ve looked up to for years. Now, I’m starting to feel like I have a place in that room, and that I have a perspective that can be a part of those conversations.
More than anything, the change in my creative process altered my overall thought process. I have a deeper understanding of not just how – but why, or why not. My brain was reprogrammed to look at ideas from all angles – poke holes – do research – revise – make better. The most impactful part of the journey for me was beginning The Flame Issue 1 to see the confidence build in myself, and confidence in sharing those ideas.
What, in your opinion, do the Toronto arts and fashion industries need most in order to become more globally influential?
I think that programs and incubators like HXOUSE are a really important step for refining talent and creating opportunities to elevate the creatives in the city.
I do believe that great work is coming out of the city, and has been for years. The biggest change- I think, lies with the people who live here, the people who have the privilege of seeing these creatives build from the ground up. We need to see our communities coming out to the smaller events, buying local designers pieces, and putting us on blast. The city has a bad habit of waiting for artists to gain success or acclaim in the US or Europe, before even thinking of supporting – which is so backward. We need to recognize and lift up the talent that is here in our own city first and foremost.
What’s on the horizon for the rest of 2019?
I’ve set aside the next few months to focus on sharpening my branding and releasing as many cool comic book covers as time permits. There are a lot of friends and artists that I am looking forward to shooting with and continuing to create and develop the MbW world.
Cody Rooney is a Glossi Mag contributor.
He is a photography aficionado, masters candidate, fashion enthusiast, avid Ariana Grande fan and lover of all things aesthetically pleasing.