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Waneta Ryan

A Career in Stitches

Halloween night, 2009. Waneta Ryan and her date step out dressed as Lydia and Beetlejuice. With the door barely closed behind them, a truck screeches to a halt, the driver entranced by the costumes. Discovering Waneta has sewn the over-the-top dress herself, she asks the question that launches a business.

“Do you do bridal?”

Waneta had been making garments through her own venture Double You, but nothing for weddings. Still, she wasn’t about to say no. She laughs at the memory of landing a contract because of a poufy red Goth gown. “That was my first bridal commission.”

The Fashion Arts alumna had landed her first full-time job soon after graduating in 2007 after pounding the pavement, resumes in hand. She believes a key interview was based on the unusual spelling of her name. “I impressed the pants off her anyway,” Waneta says, of the woman who gave her a foot in the door as a CAD technician working on colours and patterns.

Serendipity may have opened the door but Waneta’s dedication, tenacity and the skills she learned at Seneca have kept her career climbing. Today, rather than impressing pants off, she fits them, designing bottoms and graphic tees for actor Matthew McConaughey’s clothing line Just Keep Livin’. Before that, she spent three years as Nautica’s Canadian Design Director.

By day, Waneta works exclusively in menswear. By night, the satin and sequins come out. Spurred on by growing requests for custom-fit dresses, she’s developing an online design-your-own service called Paperdoll Partydress.

Catering to personal measurements rather than retail size is important to Waneta. “I believe in equal rights in fashion,” she says, pointing out that plus sizes are separated from “regular” sizing in many stores. “I should be able to go out with friends and shop in the same places.”

Growing up as a big girl in a small town created challenges, she says. Elliot Lake, in Northeastern Ontario had few fashion options, so Waneta would repurpose men’s clothes with safety pins and hand stitching. By 17, she felt compelled to study fashion so girls like her didn’t feel left out.

She looks back with gratitude that Seneca accepted someone who had never touched a sewing machine before, and wouldn’t have known how to thread one.

“Seneca taught me my first stitch,” she says, and she still has it on a square of beige muslin she sewed in first year. In return, she comes back, sharing her expertise with today’s students.