Keli Schmidt said she was born wanting to sew, getting her first needle and thread at age three and learning how to operate a sewing machine by age eight.

The designer and clothes maker has worked freelance in the fashion industry for the past 15 years, creating patterns for Ontario brands. But now, she is making her mark by starting her own business, the Haliburton Clothing Co. She plans to launch her first line in June.

“Retail fashion is kind of hibernating right now, so I haven’t had a lot of work,” Schmidt said. “It just feels like the right moment. There’s such a wonderful arts community in Haliburton and I’m not aware of any other fashion designers operating here, so I thought there was a good opportunity.

“It’s just in my bones.”

The company is a one-woman operation, with Schmidt producing everything out of the Haliburton home she moved into last November. Her first line will include T-shirts, hoodies, dresses, pants, shorts and underwear.

“Like all artsy people, I have 1,000 ideas, so the challenge is to always stay focused and do one thing,” she said. “Just looking for some comfy clothes that would be great for life up here in the Highlands.”

Schmidt credited the Digital Comfort Studio for helping her online storefront. The Arts Council Haliburton Highlands program helped 14 local artists through a free six-week seminar to teach them digital marketing.

“I’m a sewer. I like to sit in my basement and make clothes,” Schmidt said. “All that world of online marketing was definitely a scary thing, so that has really helped.”

“We discovered that focusing on story was very beneficial. She just has a great story,” program coordinator Sandra Clarke said.

“She will definitely be very successful.”

Ethical production is also a focal point for Schmidt. She said she will price her clothing to providing for a fair, living wage. She added international clothes production has many issues with wages, and prices have not kept up with inflation.

“Just stop buying it isn’t the answer. It’s a very complex issue, but we have to start talking about it and being aware,” Schmidt said. “If you want to consume mindfully, the best way to do that is just to buy less stuff.”

Schmidt said her clothes are staying online for now, but she will gladly help anyone with fit to ensure they order the right size.

The designer said she would be glad if the business experiences enough success so that she can do it full-time.

“I hope people buy it and then I’ll just keeping making more clothes,” she said. “I make all my own clothes and I haven’t bought clothes for 17 years, so I have a very practical understanding of what works and what doesn’t.”

The store is available through haliburtonclothingco.com.

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