Athena Couture opened for business in December at 1373 Pembina Hwy. in Fort Garry. In a brightly lit spacious storefront, new owner Jackie Yu proudly shows me the wide selection of wedding and evening gowns. Beautiful white silk and charmeuse gowns adorn mannequins and drape on racks. Rows of turquoise, peach, crimson and amethyst tulle, taffeta, chiffon and crepe evening gowns decorate the store like a flower garden in spring.
Jackie moved to Winnipeg from China just two-and-a-half years ago. She owned and operated a dress shop in Beijing for 10 years, where she designed and sewed formal evening gowns for weddings or other special occasions. Her educational background in fashion design prepared her for the entrepreneurial job. Now she brings her experience of entrepreneurship and fashion design to Canada.
To learn the ways of the dressmaking business in Canada, Yu worked for a dressmaker for two years. Although she learned English in China, she says she did not practise it enough and so took English classes as well in preparation for starting her own business. Now she’s entering the business world.
"I want to design dresses," she says with enthusiasm. As we talk, she serves a cup of hot red tea while her sister bustles in the front door. Jackie’s family has been very supportive of her new business venture.
Jackie says a bride in China wears three or four different gowns at her wedding. Morning begins with the long white gown. At lunch, the bride changes into a traditional Chinese gown and in the evening she changes once or twice again into special evening gowns.
Jackie’s dream is for customers to walk in the door with a specific idea for a dress.
"Maybe a customer likes a design and I will make the pattern and sew it. Everybody has different ideas. They don’t want the same dress as others."
With her expertise and sewing machine she is prepared to take measurements, make patterns, and design gowns for every occasion, but her favourite dresses to make are wedding dresses.
Athena Couture is positioned in a prime location just across the street from Vincent Massey Collegiate, where hundreds of girls look for graduation dresses every spring. Graduation dresses can be made to order as well.
Helen Lepp Friesen is a community correspondent for Fort Garry. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org