For the most part, Kayla Fells’s dorm room on the top floor of Cochran Bay at the University of King’s College looks like your average female student bedroom.
Piles of clothes, headbands and bins claim territory on her floor.
It’s what’s in those bins and what’s on her bed that makes her, and her room, different.
Her bed is draped with Chinese silks and bold coloured pieces of tulle, a lightweight but stiff fabric that consists of netting, most commonly used for veils and ballet tutus.
Nineteen hats hang from the ceiling and on the wall, something that she says can add a little something to each outfit.
Or hide a bad hair day.
Fells is in her third year as a theatre and costume design student at King’s, which has allowed her to pursue her love of fashion and the art of design, something that really sparked her interest when she was 15.
In high school, the Yarmouth native competed in beauty pageants, where donning beautiful dresses that sparkled across bold patterns and colours was something she did weekly.
She didn’t realize that just a few years later, her love of fashion would grow so much that she would turn into a career.
At 23, Fells is showcasing her eight-piece collection, Fantasies in Milan, at the Vaudeville Fashion Show in Halifax Mar. 15. Approximately six other designers will debut their own collections.
The name Fantasies in Milan was inspired by Fells’s appreciation for the Italian fashion capital, although she says that her actual pieces don’t reflect Italian fashion.
The details of the collection are being kept a secret until revealed at the fashion show, but she hinted it consists of formal wear.
All of her drawings are hidden in one of her many faded yellow sketchbooks, and the actual designs are being held at the Dalhousie Costume Studies Studio, which is only open to students in the theatre and costume design program.
While prom dresses and evening gowns are her speciality, her ultimate goal is to design wedding gowns. She hopes to be recognized as the Canadian version of Vera Wang, an American fashion designer, who is one of her biggest inspirations in the fashion world.
She also loves Israeli designer Pnina Tornai, whose work has been featured on nearly every episode of TLC’s Say Yes to the Dress.
“There’s not a very big wedding dress circuit in Canada, and I want to change that while selling my own gowns for a reasonable price,” says Fells. “Designs from Vera Wang and Pnina Tornai are beautiful, but I know that most people can’t afford them.”
Fells sketches most of her designs in her bedroom, which she describes as “messy, but livable,” although she also enjoys drawing at the campus bar, the Wardroom, where she works as a bartender.
She can usually be seen sitting at a table in the Wardroom working on her sketches, whether it’s during the day by other students working, or surrounded during open bar hours, where she continues her work surrounded by the sounds of clinking beer glasses, pool sticks being rubbed with chalk and music pouring out of the speakers.
She also has three other jobs, one of which includes working nightshift at the front desk of Alex Hall. While it keeps pretty quiet most nights, she still needs to stay alert in case of an emergency, such as having to dispatch Patrol to someone’s dorm on campus to calming down students after seeing mice in their room.
“I don’t really know how I find the time to do it all, it just kind of works out. I’ve always had a strong work ethic and am passionate about everything I do, but sometimes my sleep schedule suffers,” she admits.
Working four jobs, being a full-time student and designing an eight piece collection might seem like a lot, but that’s not all Fells is doing.
She’s currently in the midst of finalizing a contract for renting a store in Yarmouth, where she plans to open her first business, Ladykay’s Formal Attire.
Ladykay is the childhood nickname she received from her family–”Kay” deriving from the beginning of her name, and “Lady” due to family members thinking she had a snobby attitude.
“I swear, I’m not like that anymore. But apparently as a kid, I always had my nose stuck up in the air,” says Fells. “I think that changed as soon as my sister was born, though.”
Kristen Sora, Fells’s best friend, believes her business will be successful due to her creativity and innovative thinking.
“Her work is just like her–a little different, fun and full of glitter. Opening a business so young shows just how motived she really is,” says Sora, who first met Fells when they lived together on the same floor of residence during their first year at King’s. “It doesn’t hurt that I’ll get cheap, if not free, things,” she jokes.
Fells is hoping for Ladykay’s to open in May, and plans on hosting self-esteem workshops for young women in Yarmouth.
To her, nothing is more important than making her customers, and women in general, feel beautiful and confident.
“Fitting is so, so, important, and I think it’s especially important to let voluptuous women know how special their body types are,” says Fells. “Self-esteem is a huge issue in the fashion industry, which is why I choose my models based more on their personalities and how they carry themselves when walking opposed to what size they are.”
The majority of Fells’s dresses are custom made in order for them to fit each customer properly, and finds particular enjoyment working on plus sized dresses.
“Even if the media is telling women their bodies aren’t beautiful, my goal is to make my dresses prove that they are,” says Fells.
She plans on being the only employee at Ladykay’s for at least the first year while taking time off school in order to run the store, but depending on sales, she could potentially hire employees to help her, which would also allow her to keep the business and go back to school so she can finish her final year.
The store will originally consist of prom dresses and other formal gowns for a price estimated to be between $50 and $85, but plans on making and selling wedding dresses at that location, which will sell at a much higher price than what she is currently working on due to the time it takes to design and create a wedding dress, and the material, which is more expensive.
Fells plans on keeping herself busy until Ladykay’s opens, and while she’s anticipating being able to have her own store, she’s still living in the moment.
“I’m always thinking ahead about future design ideas and plans, but right now, I’m just soaking up where I am,” Fells says. “I think it’s important to think about what’s going to happen next, but even more than that, I think it’s important to be in the present.”