Chie Duncan, the itty-bitty-pretty Tokyo based designer, seamstress, blogger and mum-to-be jumped into my inbox this week and reminded me that even at times of distress and loss, there is new life and hope to be found. On her blog, VivaVeritas.blogspot.com, Chie takes us through her pregnancy journey (she's now 36 weeks in) and talks about maternity styling (not an elasticised jean in sight!). She has a lovely, gentle way with words, which reflects her unashamedly girlish clothing line, and her faith, but owes nothing, she says, to the journalism major she undertook at university.
How is your country? Your fellow countrymen? Japan has seen better days. It is quite hard to see your country go through something like this but the sad reality is that such things happen everyday somewhere in the world. I am getting news through both American and Japanese media. But, to be honest, if the news were not telling me that this was a big deal, I would have no idea.
How has your pregnancy gone? You have already named your little girl... is this customary? My pregnancy has gone very well. I might be the luckiest pregnant woman in the world; I never had a morning sickness, and have been out and about without any problem at all! My baby girl's name is going to be "Sophia Kiko". Since my husband is American and I'm Japanese, we decided to give her both English and Japanese names. My name, Chie, means 'wisdom" in Japanese, so we are giving her the Greek equivalent. As for Kiko, my husband and I both like the sound of it. The Chinese character for Kiko 希湖 will be "hope" and "lake", so it kind of means like "full of hope".
Your maternity wear recommendations? I have not bought any maternity wear. I own a lot of comfortable dresses which have continued to fit me through the pregnancy. I bought additional tights and leggings to pair with the dresses during winter but that has been about it. One of the most frequently used items in my wardrobe are my belts. I tie them around my waist for different dresses and tops in order to give the outfit some shape. This way I don't look like I'm huge wearing a bed sheet!
I love that you shared your thoughts on your husband, Andy, hating black opaque tights, which are your wardrobe staple... Yes, that was such a surprising confession to me since I wear black opaque tights almost everyday! But, this revelation hasn't stopped me from wearing them - they are so comfortable and I think they match with almost everything I own so there is no way I could give them up. I make many of the clothes I wear. I also own a lot of vintage. I hunt Etsy, ebay and thrift shops here in Japan and the U.S. when I travel there. When I design/dress, I think selfishly. I think of what I like to wear. I don't see the point in designing something that I would not want to wear.
How/when did you meet Andy? We have been together almost seven years. Man, I am getting old! We met while atending university. We both went to Temple University in Philadelphia, PA. Andy was a friend of my friend's boyfriend. When I first moved to the States, I was looking for a church to attend but was having a difficult time deciding. After a few weeks this topic came up in conversation with my friend, and she recommended that I meet this "weird Christian guy Andy because he goes to church". Our first meet took place at a movie theater, and the four of us watched "Team America: World Police" As I look back, I am surprised we ended up together...not exactly the most romantic first meeting.
How did you come to be a seamstress/designer? Was it your childhood dream? Where did you train? It's funny, I never expected myself to be a seamstress! When I was a child, I told everyone that I was going to be a doctor, because I knew that answer excited my father...sadly, I don't have brain for it. During college, I wanted to be a news reporter so I majored in Broadcast Journalism. I enjoyed the program at Temple, but the opportunities did not pan out. After graduating, I got a job working at an IP law firm as a paralegal. My job was 9-5, and I decided to pick up a hobby to occupy myself in my free time, and that hobby happened to be sewing. My best friend lent me her sewing machine and at first I made small things like pillow cases and what not.
Then I happened to come across a website called "BurdaStyle" where you can download garment patterns for free or very low cost and learn sewing step by step. I got really hooked, and made more clothes than I could wear so I had to find a place to get rid of them. Thankfully, another friend recommended that I sell online. I did not have formal training, but picked things up online using tutorials. A lot was just experimenting with different patterns and fabrics and learning from mistakes.
Where do you work from? Do you have help with the label/store? I work from home. I have a little studio set up in my house. Sadly, I don't have any help at the moment. Sometimes my useless husband will help me to de-stich seams but he is unable to do much else. He does make a good cheerleader though!
Where did the inspiration for the Secret Garden collection come from? Actually, that was not my idea. The photographer, Amelia Aventine, with whom I collaborated for that project was the brains behind that idea. When she proposed it, I really liked the the sound of it and as it turned out, really enjoyed making the clothes. Before the Secret Garden collection I had never done any theme type work but I can say now that it is my preferred way of making a collection.
You majored in broadcast journalism at college. Can you tell us about that; do you parlay those skills into blogging now? Unfortunately, I don't think my major has helped me with blogging. I am a pretty bad writer, and being ESL, Andy has to fix my writing often!
When did you set up your Etsy store? How have you marketed yourself? Who are your clientele?
I set up my etsy shop in June 2008. At first, I did not do any marketing. I did not think that Vivat Veritas would ever be more than just a fun hobby so I waited for sales to happen. It's been little over two years since I started selling on Etsy, and 'm still learning how to best market myself.
Blogging is a good way, as are Facebook, Twitter and BurdaStyle. Outside of that, I am open to suggestions!
My clientele seems to be women who mirror me I think. its hard to know your customers when you sell online. I would really like to meet and get to know the people who buy online from my store but sadly I can't do that. Recently I have been starting to attract your females, high school aged young ladys looking for prom and graduation gowns. That has been a fun and interesting development.
What are some of your inspirations? I read a lot of blogs! I also spend a fair amount of time just going to fabric stores and toughing the material. I like to imagine what could be made out of a particular textile. Also, other people give lots of practical inspiration as well. For example, being pregnant I began to think of my fashion life with a newborn. I realized that necklaces would no longer be an option so I tried to come up with a dress that would highlight the neckline. That was the inspiration behind some of my spring collection.
Your favourite magazines...
Sweet and Vivi are my two favourites; they are Japanese publications. I highly recommend them!
Your five fave blogs...
Of course, GWAS. Cupcakes and Cashmere, Late Afternoon, Cherry Blossom Girl and Elegant Musings. Each have something in particular that keeps me coming back.
How do your faith/beliefs play out in your life? What a great and impossible question to answer in entirety. My faith in Christ impacts every part of every day. It confronts me with the wretched mess that I am while at the same time giving me hope for perrfection for in a man capable of making that wretched mess perfect. Recently I have been reading the Westminster Confession of Faith. It has as its opening question: What is the chief end of humankind? The answer is short and profound: To glorify God and enjoy Him forever! Why do I sew? To the glory of God! Why do I work and play and rest? To the glory of God!
Chie sells her beautiful range on Etsy. The latest collection is called "Secret Garden" and this is my pick...
Want to help Japan? Perhaps you can buy "Songs for Japan" on iTunes with proceeds going to the Red Cross?
Girl With a Satchel