Sabrina O’Donnell, creator of Sabrina Butterfly Designs and a Parkdale-Cromdale resident, has been selling her clothing for 20 years. It’s a favourite of Folk Fest attendees, Premier Rachel Notley, professionals, mothers, daughters, and anyone who favours comfortable yet classic clothing.
I met with O’Donnell at her new spacious store in the Montrose neighbourhood. Upon walking in, I spotted her creations, like the loose orange sweater that skimmed a mannequin’s curves or the wide-legged trousers that are a staple of her line.
O’Donnell creates timeless, comfortable clothing using natural, quality materials with a stretchy blend. Her clothing features classic silhouettes, like a-line skirts, wrap tops, and simple yet tailored dresses.
Her career in design is no accident. She comes from a creative family and from a young age, she “created and crafted”, often working alongside her grandmother, who affectionately called her Little Grandma.
“I learned to sew in Grade 7 home economics,” O’Donnell said. “Every time we had a project, I pushed it farther.”
Although her high school only offered basic sewing classes, O’Donnell’s teacher recognized potential in a few of her students and helped nurture and develop their sewing and design skills.
“My teacher was awesome. We were able to create a whole class and got credit for it.”
By Grade 12, she knew she wanted to pursue a career in fashion.
“A lot of design comes from finding the fabric first,” she said, explaining she likes the feeling of fabric and sewing. “I love texture, how fabrics change. I love when fabrics change form and shape. I love earthy tones and finding unique buttons.”
She’s inspired by fashion from the early 1900s to the 1950s.
“The sewing just comes to me really easily. It’s like sculpting for the body.”
O’Donnell completed a two-year fashion design course at the University of the Fraser Valley in British Columbia. After graduating, she cut clothing designs for her mentor Angela, who produced clothing for plus-sized women aged 40 to 70. Soon, Angela asked her to bring in her own collection.
“It gave me experience in making clothing for different shapes. It was good in having to tweak designs and keep things simple.”
She worked for Angela for two years, then worked independently for a year as part of her collective before moving back to Edmonton.
“I wanted to recreate myself. I asked myself who I wanted to design for. I wanted to make clothes for people my age [then in her 20s] and in a regular range of sizes.”
O’Donnell’s clothing is for “the naturally comfortable woman.” It’s versatile and can be layered to wear throughout the year, with sizes ranging from XS (sizes 4-6) to XL (sizes 16-18).
“For the most part, my clothing sells itself. People know what they want to wear it for.”
She built her business steadily, selling her clothing in SUB (University of Alberta), festivals, community halls, and church spaces.
“My business started through word of mouth. It was hard but good. Word of mouth can be the best thing.”
Her husband Keith Walker, who has many forward-thinking ideas, pushed her to start an email list and pursue larger craft shows, markets, and festivals. Eventually, she discovered local clothing stores and stores across Canada who were interested in showcasing a small collection of her line through consignment and wholesale.
In September 2007, she opened Sabrina Butterfly Designs in the Highlands neighbourhood. Ten years later, she moved to a new location because she wanted space for a workroom in the store to create her clothing. Walker set aside his art career and devoted a year to completing many of the renovations needed to transform the space. They opened the new location in September 2017.
“I just wanted everything under one roof,” she said. O’Donnell had created the clothing at home prior to the move. “There wasn’t anything available in Highlands.”
Throughout all those changes, the quality of her clothing has remained the same. She laughed as she explained customers say the clothing simply doesn’t wear out. While she’d like those customers to buy more of her clothing, it’s obvious it’s quality clothing.
“It’s neat to hear that clients are still getting compliments over pieces they’ve owned for years.”
Visit O’Donnell at her new store in Montrose.
SABRINA BUTTERFLY DESIGNS
6007 120 Ave
Tues-Sat, 10 am-5 pm
Featured Image: Sabrina O’Donnell, creator of Sabrina Butterfly Designs, displays the comfortable and fashionable clothing she creates. | Talea Medynski