The Art Institute of Vancouver - Suman Faulkner, Lata Design

By Darian Wong of  Wayward Wanderer
There are a number of ways to catch my attention and I think Art Institute of Vancouver grad Suman Faulkner knew them all. She introduced herself preshow and charmed me with her big smile and generous nature. After the show I was torn. I was seriously impressed with her feature dress, but wasn't quite sure about how all the looks meshed as a collection. And as the portfolios were not available that night, I didn't have that extra input.

No worries.  A short time later Faulkner reached out again with just the right, light and open touch. As I asked questions, she had a great attitude and ready answers. She offered photos of more looks from this collection that were not seen that night. When I asked for some of her fashion illustrations, they were in my box almost immediately. She had already launched her own brand - Lata Design - and then there was her impressive list of awards while in school -

  • · Best of Show at the portfolio presentation
  • · Induced to the Wall of Fame at The Art Institute
  • · Featured video by The Art Institute
  • · Was on their Global marketing package for Fall/Winter 2014 for the Art Institute
  • · Excellence in Execution Award at the Art Institute’s Atelier Fashion Gala.
  • · Was selected for Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, but her Burlap Collection did not meet the theme of the runway's collection
WOW! I love determination and when it is paired with talent and business savvy, well the sky's the limit. I was hooked. This designer had to be featured on my website. It was no surprise when I sent her the Q and A to find it completely finished and in my mailbox the very next morning. Oh, and in case you're wondering where you've heard her name before - Faulkner was recently in the news. She created the burlap prom gown worn by a local teen - a story that circled the globe.

Lata Design fashion show at Studio 560 - Image by Paul Fitzgerald, See It Live

Without further ado, I offer you a look into the journey of this talented designer who after a life-changing challenge walked away from her career to embrace a new future in fashion design. I know you'll end up as inspired as I was.

= = = = = =

Where were you born, where did you grow up?

I was born in the Western town of Lautoka, in Viti Levu, which is the biggest of the 300 Fijian Islands.

What you like when you were young?

I liked the carefree lifestyle I had when growing up - the closeness of my family. People were friendlier to approach, and back in Fiji, things were at a slower pace. There was respect for others. We got to enjoy life more than in the hectic lifestyle people have now.

What were your interests in High School?

I had a hunger for education of any sort. Even though I had a keen interest in sports and participated in almost every event, I was more drawn to my studies. The school system in Fiji is very different from what we have here in Canada. In Fiji it is very structured with a lot of competition. Your time is spent mostly on academic courses during your school years rather than other activities.

Looking back, can you remember any signs that you would end up in fashion? A personal story would be great here.

I started crocheting around the age of 8-10, picking it up while watching my aunts. Next came embroidery from my mom, who was very good at it. Fiji at the time was not as much influenced by the western culture as it is today, so most of the garments were either sew by a tailor or done at home. This prompted me to learn how to sew so I could make something a bit complicated for my mom. I was very academic, so never thought that I would end up in fashion. I learned because it was just normal at that time for girls to learn, and also, I had an interest in it. Let’s just say there has always been an artist side in me that I only explored whenever needed.

Talk about when and how you decided to study fashion design. Was your family supportive?

I have a background in Finance and was an Accountant for the past 12 years,  working in a very comfortable corporate world before I started to study fashion design. I had a life altering situation (medical) a few years ago which almost took my life. After being on medical leave for 2.5 years, and being told by the specialist that he could not help anymore, I prayed and made a decision to change the life I was living, and for who. It was time to do something only for me for the first time in my life - not to be bound by my culture and society. I did return to accounting after being on medical leave, but only survived for 8 months. Too many changes had happened in my work place and I just felt I did not fit into the new environment.

By Claude Duke Photography
I was struggling to decide what to do next - whether to work for another company or to do something that I really loved and was passionate about. This was when one of my nieces asked me to answer without even thinking and I said fashion. Looking back at that moment, I can simply say that I made the best and right decision.  However, I am taking my accounting and finance knowledge into the fashion world.

My family has always been very supportive of anything I did in my life, After all, I have proven myself by becoming a self-made person in Canada. I came to Canada by myself when I was 18 as a nanny and worked my way up with no help to where I am today. My mom and family are still living in Fiji, so I knew I was on my own. They never questioned me on anything I wanted to do. They knew I chose to travel this journey alone without anyone’s influence in my life. I was unhappy with where my life was before Fashion, and it took an illness for me to realize that life is worth living and to not complain. Happiness would only come if I made a change in my life. Today, I can proudly say that I did it alone (although with support from those who believed in me), and this gave me the strength to keep pushing forward.

By Darian Wong of  Wayward Wanderer
Why did you choose to study at The Art Institute of Vancouver?

Before I got sick, I was looking into culinary school as I loved cooking, but with my diet restrictions, I could not pursue that career. So I did know a bit about the campus and the kind of programs they were running. I also knew someone who studied Fashion Marketing at The Art Institute of Vancouver. I had two schools to choose from and I was going to go to both for information. But the other school's next session for Fashion was not for 14 months and I didn't want to wait that long. I would have to go back to Finance while waiting, and the comfort of this world would stop me again from doing something I really wanted. I had done this 7 years prior, so The Art Institute it was. I was enrolled into the already running program within a week of application, and was helped to catch up on the missed classes. Today looking back I am very glad this happened because having already studied in other institutes, I got the kind of study I was looking for here.

Talk about your time studying Fashion Design. What was hard for you, what was easy for you, are they any high, low or funny moments you can share?

There were some courses that were a bit challenging in the beginning, particularly the computer programs.  I got better by spending more time on the program. This was not the first time I was going through post-secondary, so I knew what to expect.  It was hard, but if you listened and followed the instructions and did your homework, it gets easier. The Art Institute of Vancouver has a high standard. The only reason I got good grades was because I tried to meet that standard. When my stitch was not straight and I knew that marks would be deducted regardless of how tired I was, I unstitched and redid it. Just the look on Shainin Hudda’s face was enough to make me redo it, and opening something to redo to is the last thing anyone wanted to happen.

Looking back at it today, this was what gave me the discipline to accomplish the work I do today! It was also a very intense two year course with many long nights… and sometimes into the next day working on assignments. The long hours taught me what it means to work within a deadline, not something I was new to. I would not trade my experience for anything. I got to meet so many new people that are now a huge influence in my life. I say that I lived my 20's while at school with my school mates - the 20's I never got to experience before as I was too busy trying to survive in Canada.

What was the inspiration for your grad collection? Share anything you'd like readers to know?

My grad collection was inspired by my friends and family, and my experience in the South Asian community. After surveying about 100 non-Asians and Asians, both men and women, I realized that I was not the only one experiencing the lack of a fusion in our community.

Describe your collection.

By Darian Wong of  Wayward Wanderer
My collection is a fusion of our multi-cultural society combined with my traditional Indian culture. I am also using cotton. My collection is primarily made out of cotton voile. I am bringing simple cotton into the luxurious world of fashion. I do all of the fabric manipulation, beading and embroidery work myself. It is custom and high end, with my own passion and hard work a part of each garment.

This collection is for anyone who loves fashion and individual pieces can be mixed and matched with whatever is already in their closet.  While aimed at women 16-55 years of age, there are some pieces older women can also wear well. This is also designed for the Non-South Asians. When I did the survey, I found that there are times when the other minorities are invited to events (especially at temples) where they are to wear traditional garments, but they are not comfortable with what is in the stores around here or feel overdressed.

What is the palette? What fabrics did you use?

I originally choose black and red…. two very significant colors in my Indian culture. Black (darkness) is the main color of choice, with red (happiness/success). Then other colors were added after seeing Holi, (the traditional Indian festival) and, and Color me Rad. It’s taking darkness into the light of life - just how the change in my life led me to venture into the fashion world. There are a few additional pieces with green, blue and fuchsia in the collection which was showcased at The Art Institute’s 2015 Atelier Fashion Gala, and RAWartist Vancouver fashion show in January 2015

Do you have a favourite look?

I love all the looks I had made for this collection. Each of the pieces has a story to tell…even with the design. I also like the Burlap collection I made after graduation that was inspired by Courtney Barich, a high school grad. My fast pace into the fashion world started with volunteering my time to design a burlap gown for her prom. That event was in the media not only in Canada, but also with NBC, ABC,, The Mighty Girl  and Daily News UK, and helped raise almost $18,000 for an orphanage in the Philippines.  I did something for charity without expecting anything, but the outcome was amazing. I wanted to start this life with something positive and meaningful. Giving back to the community was my way.

Burlap Grad Dress
What do you think you can bring to the fashion world that is new?

Walk around the South Asian fashion stores and see what you can find today. It is all the same mass produced, similar looks store after store. There is nothing that looks fresh and clean, out of the ordinary, or glamour using cotton (a breathable, comfortable fabric of my choice). This is what I am trying to bring - keeping the tradition with a twist to it so you could wear it to any events. At events, everyone is wearing similar looks with the similar fabric manipulations. I also do not believe that “One Size” fits all. A completed garment should not have to go through so many alternations in order to fit one’s body, so I am focusing more towards custom pieces catered towards a client’s individual style and body type.

Where do you go from here – are you going to work for others for a while, launch your own line, take a break and travel?

I am working on custom pieces. I recently made the silk gown for Kritisha Nandan who was one of the delegate for the 2015 Miss World Canada. I am also involved in a lot of charities and organizations, i.e, Miss Fiji Canada Pageant, Courtney Burlap Charity. Help Change My City and am a board member (treasurer) with SMOC – Society for the Museum of Original Costumes.. I guess you could say that I am becoming a philanthropist. I am also teaching knitting and crocheting at the Langley Continuing Education, so there is a lot on my plate while I am trying to build my business. I did go back to accounting work for a small company. Fortunately I have a very flexible employer who understands my passion and lets me have my time off when needed.

Can you share a quote on what fashion means to you.?

Fashion is a sense of ones individuality, everyone dresses to express what they are feeling at that moment. There are no rules to fashion, but yes, there are dress codes for different organizations that people normally forget or ignore. I'm normally in jeans and a t-shirt with no makeup, but then there are days I love to dress up, and it does make me feel like a million bucks.

Anything else I didn't ask you want mentioned?

I was unhappy with who I was and where my life was leading. Then one day I decided to do something about it instead of constantly blaming the world and putting myself down. I had no financial support, had just ended a 6.5 year relationship, had a medical condition - prescriptions to buy, medical debt, bills to pay after coming from medical leave and money for basic life survival. But that did not stop me. I was relying on my savings, worked at Walmart while going to school, and I did it. I knew if I gave up, I would always regret it. I am blessed that I have a very supportive handful of friends - as well as my cousin (Manorama) - who were always by my side. It did not come easy for me. It was simply believing in myself and knowing that change would only happen if I let it happen.

To see more of Suman Faulkner's work or to contact this designer, please visit her website at

For more information on the Fashion Design program at The Art Institute of Vancouver go to  And check out my show coverage of all students at Metro Living Zine - just click HERE.