If you ask Iqaluit-born Papatsi Anrango Kotierk what inspired her to become a designer, she’ll tell you about the time she won a sewing machine at a Christmas party. But it was years later before she actually learned how to use it.
At the time, Kotierk was only six years old and her mother said she was too young and small to operate the machinery. So, Kotierk stood idly by and watched her mother feed fabric through, turning a pile of material into beautiful parkas for the family.
“I’d feel excited that she was using my sewing machine and knew one day, I’d be able to use it,” Kotierk says.
When Kotierk finally got permission at 10 years old, the young girl immediately ran to the store to buy fabric.
“I had made… an amauti to carry one of my younger siblings—that’s the first thing I made. My mom didn’t help me.”
In her mid-20s, Kotierk now has a waitlist of customers wanting a Papatsi-made parka, but in the beginning, sewing was a lesson Kotierk learned by trial and error.
Her first attempt—a purple parka with sparkly bias tapes and yellow fur lining the hood—was not particularly well done, she says, adding that her mother was slightly embarrassed by it. Regardless, that coat brought Kotierk’s skills to where they are today.
“When I reflect back on it, I’m very glad my mother didn’t hold my hand through the process, but she let me figure it out for myself. Because that’s how I developed the skills I have—through trial and error and observation.”
She eventually got better and sold her first parka as a teenager to her biology teacher at Inuksuk High School. But at first, she suggested he ask someone more experienced.
“I wasn’t confident enough to accept an order from someone… but he was like, ‘No, I want you to make it.’” She eventually sold him a navy bomber style parka with silver fox fur lining the hood. That got the ball rolling on the many other orders she began taking.
Although Kotierk is currently self-employed, she temporarily worked as a seamstress for the shop Qiviut, while living in Greenland. Kotierk was offered a job on the spot, after the owner saw the parka Kotierk had made for herself.
“When I went to checkout, she offered me a job there, but I didn’t think she was serious. As I was leaving, she said, ‘Let me know if you want to work here or not.’”
Kotierk took the position while attending school at Knud Rasmusen Hoskolia. When the five- month school program ended, Kotierk was offered a full-time position at the shop, but instead returned home to Iqaluit.
Kotierk credits Qiviut with helping her hone her skills, but she’s not done learning.
If a client asks for something Kotierk hasn’t done before, she’s always up to the challenge. In fact, doing something new is what motivates her.
“It’s still fun because I’m doing something different and it will still be a little challenge. If I hadn’t done it before, I still say I can do it. I’ll figure it out.”
Kotierk is currently revamping her website with the hopes of getting her name out there and eventually opening her own studio. It’s something she’s been working toward her whole life.
“As young children, we have role models and people we look up to. And as a young girl that’s how I felt about the seamstresses in my life.”