Toronto-based fashion designer Channa Francis isn’t making your typical Raptors swag. Exuding effortless ‘cool’ with thick-framed, yellow-tinted aviator shades, a red cropped windbreaker and chunky gold hoops, she spoke to us about the latest collection for her streetwear brand, Channa Karasi.
Francis started upcycling vintage Raptors jerseys back in 2019 after she was commissioned to create a custom bodysuit for Killa Kels, the resident DJ for the Toronto Raptor’s Jurassic Park. People loved it, and the interest sparked an idea in Francis to create a larger collection. She got to work sketching concepts, sourcing materials from Kijiji, eBay, Facebook Marketplace and local shops and grafting and sewing the pieces to create “The Deconstructed Collection.”
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The 4-piece drop included a long and short sleeve bodysuit, a skirt and track pants in sizes ranging from XS to XXXL. She also launched face masks at the beginning of the pandemic, bralettes and a swimwear capsule collection in collaboration with plus-sized influencer and fashion designer Sasha Ruddock of Flaws of Couture. It immediately sold out.
Francis’ eye for design started young. Her earliest memory is flipping through her mom’s Victoria’s Secret catalogues, copying the designs to create pint-size versions for her dolls. Over time she taught herself to sew and began upcycling clothes for fun, turning jeans into shorts and buying basics from the Gap she worked at in high school. She would spend hours adding eyelets down the side of otherwise simple t-shirts, weaving ribbon through the holes to create edgier pieces from inexpensive basics.
“When I was a kid I was really into sports, but I was also really into fashion, makeup and hair. For me, streetwear for ladies allows me to blend my interests into a style that really expresses who I am. When I create a piece, I’m designing for creative, confident women who want to be comfortable but also make a statement,” says Francis.
Initially self-taught, she took some sewing classes in high school and then later pursued fashion design at George Brown College and fashion management at a private college in New York City.
Francis started her brand seriously as a business back in 2013, selling unisex silk chiffon t-shirts boasting colourful prints. These styles leveraged bright colours and intricate patterns to create an atypical streetwear-inspired look that could be seen on the likes of Grammy Award winning singer Lizzo and TV host Angela Simmons.
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Her designs and personal style pull inspiration from music, culture and family, in particular late 90s and early aughts R&B and hip hop, her Jamaican roots and designers like Alexander Wang.
“People want a piece of old, authentic culture,” she says of the appeal of using vintage jerseys for the looks in her collection. Designs like the “Past Present Future” track pant – Channa’s favourite – or the Throwback Skirt, achieve exactly that.
The track pants feature nylon material, front mesh inserts, side pockets and an adjustable stretch cord at the waist, knee and ankle, incorporating the names of players “Carter” and “VanVleet”– an ode to the team’s past and present.
The skirt is made with the waistband of the Raptors white retro shorts, combined with a full jersey mesh skirt that can be dressed up with a heel for a night out or dressed down with a sneaker and a jacket for a more casual look.
Both items feature the old purple and red logo with the new black and gold colourway.
For those looking to cop the entire Raptors collection – you’re out of luck. The highly coveted line has sold out, but Channa does take custom commissions if there’s a piece you’re dying for. As for designing a similar collection with different sports teams in the future, Channa has no currents plans.
“You want to leave certain things in the past as a designer. So I’m not sure if I’ll re-launch the collection or branch out with different jerseys. That said, people have definitely been asking.”