In a world that often revolves around fast fashion and mass production, Wendy Van Riesen stands out as a true innovator in the realm of eco-fashion. Her remarkable journey from a career in theatre to becoming an acclaimed textile artist and designer is a testament to her dedication to sustainability, storytelling, and creating wearable works of art. As she embarks on her final curtain call, Wendy’s last hundred garments are set to make a remarkable appearance at the Circle Craft Holiday Market in Vancouver, offering a unique opportunity for fashion enthusiasts to witness her creative legacy.

A Journey of Transformation

Wendy’s path to becoming an eco-fashion designer was far from conventional. Her journey began in 2001 when she and her family embarked on a transformative adventure, sailing in a converted fishing trawler called the “Marvin B” to Glacier Bay, Alaska, for three months. This expedition would forever change the way she saw the world and her place in it. Wendy recalls, “It was a transformational experience. The landscape and the Indigenous people we met transformed the way I saw the world and experienced being in it.”

This life-altering voyage inspired Wendy to seek a new avenue for creative expression, one where she could tell her own stories through her art. She made the courageous decision to leave her acting career, where she had been “telling other people’s stories,” and embarked on a journey to create something truly unique and meaningful.

The Birth of Dahlia Drive

With a passion for making things by hand, Wendy had always been involved in crafting, from creating her own clothes to making jewelry and teaching her children how to knit, sew, and dye. Her transition into the world of textile art was a natural evolution of her creative pursuits. Wendy shared, “The writing was on the wall,” as she pursued a textile program at Capilano University.

Wendy’s early work in textile art was heavily influenced by her family and the profound experience in Alaska. She began experimenting with techniques on a collection of slips, manipulating them to create unique structures. Her journey led her to a discovery that would become a defining element of her eco-fashion brand: the use of curtain sheers.

The Art of Upcycling

Wendy’s approach to fashion is deeply rooted in sustainability. She saw an opportunity to repurpose discarded curtain sheers from second-hand stores, using a process she had learned in school to print and paint on them. The dyes she used in screen printing were water-soluble, aligning perfectly with her eco-friendly vision. Wendy explained, “Slips are all different sizing and structure, so I designed patterns to create structures from curtain sheers that, like the slips, I could print sculpturally.”

As her artistry evolved, Wendy found a cost-effective and sustainable solution by sourcing discarded roll ends from curtain manufacturers. This allowed her to locally cut and sew the canvases for her creations. Her unique process involves painting and screen printing images on paper, which are then wrapped around the garment, pinned, and heat set to transfer the dye. The result is a wearable masterpiece where the painting seems to float around the wearer, transforming them into a living sculptural piece.

Dahlia Drive: Embracing the Body as Art

Dahlia Drive, Wendy’s eco-fashion brand, is a celebration of the human body as a canvas for art. Each garment is a one-of-a-kind creation, embodying the stories and inspirations that have shaped Wendy’s life. Her work resonates with those who appreciate not only the beauty of fashion but also the significance of the stories embedded within the fabric.

Wendy’s connection to her childhood street, Dahlia Drive, adds a personal touch to her brand’s name, highlighting the deep roots of her artistic journey. She shared, “The street of my childhood was Dahlia Drive. That was it.”

The Circle Craft Holiday Market: A Grand Finale

As Wendy Van Riesen prepares to retire after 16 years of design and fabrication, she invites past, current, and future customers to join her in a grand farewell at the 2023 Circle Craft Holiday Market. From November 8 to 12, attendees will have the opportunity to witness the culmination of Wendy’s artistic career by wearing one of their own Dahlia Drive pieces or arriving to dress up in one of the last hundred garments she will ever create.

Wendy’s booth at the event, located at D14, promises to be a visual feast for fashion enthusiasts and art connoisseurs alike. Her garments, with prices ranging from C$200 to $900, will be on display, showcasing the incredible diversity and creativity that defines Dahlia Drive. Wendy’s eco-conscious approach to fashion will undoubtedly leave a lasting impression on all who visit her booth.

A Legacy of Art and Sustainability

Wendy Van Riesen’s journey from an acting career to becoming a renowned eco-fashion designer is a testament to the power of transformation and the pursuit of one’s true passion. Her dedication to sustainability, storytelling, and creating wearable works of art has not only left an indelible mark on the fashion industry but has also inspired countless individuals to embrace themselves as living sculptures. Especially women, who often do not see their bodies as art, Van Riesen’s intention is that her pieces make every person’s body artwork in motion.

As Wendy takes her final bow at the Circle Craft Holiday Market, her lifelong commitment to upcycling and ethical art practices is her legacy in the fashion world.