It's that time of the year again when the holiday jingles roll out, but with "Buy Local," "Buy Handmade" and "Occupy Main Street" fresh in my mind, last weekend I checked out Smart Design Mart, a Montreal fair that showcases local, up-and-coming designers, now in its third year.
Housed in a 20,000 square foot industrial loft space in Montreal's hip Mile End neighbourhood, the fair is set up in a boutique-style atmosphere that lets shoppers browse and chat with designers face-to-face. Our first happy encounter is with Mili Sesa, who runs Urban Redress, specializing in colourful upcycled wool sweater dresses, bags and felted accessories (made from wool sweater offcuts), each with a distinct asymmetrical flair.
Next up is OTRA (On The Road Again), run by French expats Julie Ferrero and Guillaume Darnajou, who make gorgeous upcycled jewelry from the inner tubes of bicycle tires. Their fantastic necklaces, earrings and bracelets are handcut into flattering forms.
OTRA's latest lighting product is an abstract-shaped chandelier made out of modular components that can be pieced together in various ways. Coincidentally, the lamps are made of those pesky election boards that have an unfortunate habit of overrunning Montreal every now and then -- a smart re-use if I ever saw one.
Fashion designer Mylène Larivère's company Octobre is another upcycled fashion boutique I passed by, focusing on stylish winter wear for women and children. Made from recycled sweaters and secondhand fur coats (a good way to re-use what would otherwise be unpalatable for people who don't like fur), Mylène's pieces were cozy yet chic.
For the hot-drink-obsessed, I've always thought knitted cozies should make a comeback, and designer Kwok Wai Lau of PMO Design seems to think so too with his tastefully knitted, cup-hugging creations. Though they're made from acrylic, which is not the most sustainable of fabrics since it's made from petroleum, Lau says that the point is to "make something well-designed so that it's not disposable, is cherished and therefore lasts a long time."
Finally, as the fair was winding down for the day, I passed by Bloc Bloc and Furni, both projects run by Montreal carpenter Devin Barrette. Furni, co-run with Mike Giles, features a plethora of retro-modern clocks, handmade from salvaged barn wood and low-VOC finishes. Furni's website also has other custom-made furniture and watches.
Devin also explained his latest project Bloc Bloc, where he takes 100% recycled wood offcuts from his furniture that would be otherwise un-usable and turns them into hardwood blocks for children -- some of them with unique grooves from the table saw that might prove interesting to curious little fingers.
Devin uses food-grade mineral oils to give them a lasting finish, and tells me each block's history. "These walnut blocks came from offcuts from a table I made for a client, the mahogany from a sofa... this pine from a shelf," he says.
Lots of impressive eco-minded design at Smart Design Mart, just in time for the holidays. If you missed them there, some of these designers will be setting up their boutiques at this weekend's Souk at Montreal's Société des Arts Technologiques.
For more information, visit Smart Design Mart at their website, and the designers' sites -- all linked above.