Laura Stewart is from the future. Or at least her designs are.

The Canadian designer is the founder of Futurstate, a Toronto-based alternative clothing company specializing in sleek, sophisticated designs oozing shadowy futurism.

Founded in 2003, the company has morphed into a major force in the alternative fashion scene, becoming a trendsetter for goth/industrial types with adventurous silhouettes, interesting cuts, and fake synthetics contrasting with eco-fabrics along rubber and surface prints that legions of humanoids, dreaming of a dark aesthetic fit for an apocalyptic world, covet. The result is part Tim Burton, part George Lucas, and all edgy. It’s as if Edward Scissorhands and Princess Leia had a fashion love child.

With both women’s and men’s pieces, the independent Stewart’s designs can be found in specialty boutiques throughout Canada, the U.S., U.K., Europe, and Japan. Pieces can also be found online at the Futurstate Website.

Utilizing the latest warp technology, GALO was able to time-travel to Stewart’s era a few centuries in the future. Here’s what she had to say.

GALO: Could you describe Futurstate’s beginnings?

Laura Stewart: The inspiration for Futurstate came from the time I spent living in the UK. Clubbing and experiencing the alternative scene in London in the late ’90s. Always wanting something new and different to wear out to the clubs, I started designing and sewing outfits for the weekend. It was such an inspiring city, and the goth scene was quite thriving with a huge fashion aspect. When I came back to Toronto, I wanted to further that feeling of self expression through fashion. I kept up designing things for myself and friends and in 2003 I made the leap to start Futurstate.

GALO: When did your interest in fashion first develop?

LS: It started from [a] young age. My mom taught me how to sew when I was in grade school, how to read manufactured patterns and put garments together. I always liked having a distinct style and looking different than everyone else. I had an awareness of how different clothing made me feel. Being a more introverted person, I used clothing as a way to express and differentiate myself.

GALO: What first got you interested in alternative fashion?

LS: Thinking back, some of the trips to Toronto in the late ’80s were a huge inspiration. Going to concerts, or shopping on Queen Street West and Kensington Market when it was full of independent shops. I remember loving the alternative and vintage stores like The Black Market – I used to get these densely over-dyed black jeans there – Groovy Waves, my first pair of Fluevogs, and being intimidated/inspired at Fashion Crimes by Toronto designer Pam Chorley.

Then back in the town where I lived, I would rework vintage clothing, or design new things to wear. Everything was black, except for a few vintage military pieces. For the most part, I’d have to invent things as the Internet didn’t exist, and there really were no shops in my area or any really specific reference points for inspiration.

GALO: Why goth/industrial designs?

LS: It was the feeling it gave me to dress that way. It felt empowering. Clothing has always felt really tied in with my identity. I was drawn toward that subculture — the dark look, I felt connected to the music of the time period, and the feeling it evoked.

GALO: Did you ever create clothing items for yourself when you were younger? How about now?

LS: I’ve always enjoyed creating things for myself. I’d be sewing up until it was time to go out. Growing up, I remember annoying my friends on many occasions for making them wait for me to finish making my outfit. I don’t have as much time for that now, but overall, I can’t say things have really changed all that much. There is a certain thrill, kind of a Project Runway thing… tight deadlines and whatever materials are on hand; then a rush out to meet friends. For me, getting dressed up and ready has always been half the fun of going out.

GALO: What was your fashion background before Futurstate? Did you work somewhere else?

LS: I have an art school background, graphic art and jewelry design. For the most part I’m self taught when it comes to fashion. My art background helped in regards to patternmaking and visualizing. I worked for a local designer/printmaker named Kingi Carpenter and her team at Peach Berserk. I learned proper finishing techniques, screen-printing, and some basic drafting. The rest I’ve learned on the go!

GALO: Futurstate features both womenswear and menswear. Why both?

LS: I started with womenswear for my first set of designs, and had so many men complaining that “there is never anything cool for guys” that I launched into menswear immediately afterward. I really enjoy designing for men and it’s turned into a prominent part of my business.

GALO: What inspires you?

LS: Everything I encounter – art, film, music, typography, dancing, costume design, new fabrics, books, blogs, customers, daydreaming. Loads of time spent daydreaming and sketching. Musing on what I want to wear, what I think others would like to wear. I try to envision what would make people feel sexy and empowered and somehow different than the rest.

GALO: Which has a bigger impact on your work: music or film?

LS: That’s a tough choice! Music is a huge influence, but films like Dune, Blade Runner, The Fifth Element, and later The Matrix and Children of Men, have been great sources of inspiration. I love watching these when I start designing new work, I have them on in the background while I sketch to get me in the right state of mind. Being out clubbing also inspires me. Seeing what people are wearing and feeling out what I want to be wearing.

GALO: The recent David Fincher-directed American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo features a heroine with a decidedly alternative chic style. Some have said it represents a “mainstreaming” of the goth style. How do you feel about this?

LS: Goth style is often an influence on the mainstream. Some seasons more than others. I find that street style/goth influences the mainstream, which then re-influences goth. It’s a very circular thing and all at a very fast pace with the Internet.

It might sound odd to say this, but I think there are some high end mainstream designers making incredibly dark clothing. I’ve been noticing a sort of dark goth luxury theme happening. It’s an interesting change to find absolutely beautiful and well-made clothing and footwear with dark sensibilities in the market. I find it refreshing.

GALO: Other than black, do you work with other colors?

LS: It’s pretty much always been black. I do consider grey or dark tones from time to time, but it never quite sticks. Though neon does turn up from time to time…

GALO: On average, how long does it take you to design a piece?

LS: Some are much faster than others. I do much of my designing by sketching; I work out most of the details on paper before I start drafting. It could be an afternoon, or several weeks working out all the kinks on a piece.

GALO: Is there a particular material you most enjoy working with?

LS: I love modern technical fabrics, wicking athletic knits, natural vs. super artificial. I like working with fabrics that are resilient and easy to care for. I especially love working with unique hardware and incorporating surface design.

GALO: What trends (related to alternative fashion) do you see being popular later this year and in 2013?

LS: Latex, steampunk, fetish, military, deconstructed, avant-garde, corporate goth. I’m thinking of streamlined and sexy looks, both sharp and serious looking. A little more sophisticated, almost covert goth.

GALO: What are you working on presently?

LS: At the moment I’m in love with black metal zippers and mixing in some more contemporary themes. It’s a fusion of streamlined and refined designs with a rugged deconstructed feel. That and more futuristic and fetish inspired pieces.

GALO: What’s in store for the future?

LS: I’ve been working on designs for a secondary collection Victory & Vice. I’ve found that customers have grown with Futurstate and are now looking for clothing with a slight edge that can be worn to work, rather than just clubbing, and still express themselves.

GALO: Where do you work out of? Are there plans for a Futurstate boutique?

LS: A design studio [in] downtown Toronto tucked away down an alley in the Little Portugal-Ossington area. There may be plans for a boutique area… I’m considering the idea of a studio/shop combination. Building on the idea of knowing where a product is made and involving clients into the process.

GALO: You’re based out of Toronto. Do you travel often, and if so, do your travels influence your designs?

LS: I would like to travel more often! It’s amazing to get to [travel to] other cities to experience culture. There is so much to see. The things you see stay with you, and you can always draw upon them. I’m one of those people who feel influence from everywhere.

GALO: How would you describe your fashion line in three words?

LS: Dark, industrial, [and] futuristic.

GALO: How does running your own line differ from working for other designers?

LS: Everything is on you. Everything from correspondence, sales, designing, managing production, hands on cutting and sewing, packing and shipping, paperwork, planning, visuals. It’s a balancing act blending business and creativity.

GALO: You’ve been a part of various fashion shows. How did it feel the first time to see your work on the runway?

LS: My first show was at the club, Savage Garden. I was in the back dressing models, so never really got to see it, though seeing all the models dressed up backstage was fantastic.

GALO: Do you have a favorite memory from one of the shows?

LS: Alternative Fashion Week – I think it was the third time I had shown there, I walked out on the runway at the end of the show, which I don’t really like to do, but people were clapping and yelling and it felt amazing!

GALO: As someone who’s been in the industry for a few years, do you feel any extra pressure?

LS: I try not to let myself feel pressured while I’m designing. I’m usually so in the groove with that and under the gun time wise that there’s not too much room to worry. But I do get nervous as soon as it’s about to be released online… I just close my eyes and hit enter!

GALO: Lastly, what piece of advice do you have for those who are just starting out in the industry, especially those who want to work with alternative fashion?

LS: Follow your bliss.

I would say intern, gain as much experience as possible, and learn as much as you can before you start.

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