After a countrywide search, FASHION has declared the Saskatoon artist Canada’s Most Stylish Thrifter.
When FASHION embarked on a search for Canada’s Most Stylish Thrifter, we had no idea of what might unfold. Would any “serious fashion people” apply? Would all the submissions come from big cities? And from influencers looking to boost their followers? We knew what we wanted: a true thrifting devotee. Not someone who is trying to dress designer on the cheap. Not a second-hand-shop clerk who has dibs on all the best goods. We wanted a person who enjoys the hunting process, who is discerning when it comes to quality and who doesn’t care what name is on the label. We were also looking for creativity: someone who would surprise us with how they put their finds together. And definitely someone who loves thrifting so much that they would do it even if they had the disposable income to shop entirely new.
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We found all of that and more in Aldeneil Española, a 24-year-old university student in Saskatoon. His submission — which included a full-on fashion shoot inspired by Frida Kahlo, among others — put him at the top of a very impressive list of entrants from across the country. But what set Española apart was his artistic eye and deep connection to what he wears.
“Clothes are so much more than just fabric covering the body,” Española wrote in his application. “I am a queer POC artist who uses clothing to tell stories. Clothing is one of the quickest ways to communicate who you are without uttering a single word. I hope to show the younger generations behind me that it’s important to be visible and that clothing can be an extension of your personality and being.”
When I meet Española on Zoom, he is dressed in a vibrant floral shirt from Value Village that seems better suited to a beach in Maui than his small apartment in sub-zero Saskatoon. His cheeks are glowing thanks to a combo of Fenty Beauty and E.L.F. blushes and Fenty Beauty Diamond Bomb highlighter. He describes how he began thrifting menswear and then shifted to the women’s aisles. “My earliest women’s find was a fur coat with the label, the year and who the coat was made for,” he says. “I felt like I had a connection to the person who wore it and I was carrying on their legacy. That was a big shift in my mind.” Española also began to see the value in vintage clothing, which was made to last, as opposed to the fast fashion that fills so many thrift-store racks. “I love the feel of vintage leather,” he says. Among his treasures is an armadillo bag, complete with head and feet, that he carries like a football because of its shape: “I have never seen anything like this, and it probably cost way more than what I had to spend for it.” The first designer item he thrifted was a pair of Calvin Klein boots from the Raf Simons era that he wouldn’t have been able to afford otherwise.
As Española shares his story, it becomes clear that at one time he dressed for necessity, not personal expression. Born in the Philippines, he was 12 when he landed with his family in the tiny town of Gravelbourg, Sask. “It was the middle of nowhere and we didn’t have a lot coming into Canada,” he recalls. “We arrived in March, so it was still pretty cold. The Filipinos in that community gathered a lot of second-hand clothes, coats and stuff — things we didn’t need when we were in the Philippines because it’s always hot.”
There was little “fashion” in Gravelbourg, population 986, or among Española’s very conservative churchgoing family. “I definitely just dressed to fit in,” he says. But that first experience of wearing only second-hand clothing had a profound impact. “It opened my eyes to the possibility that it’s literally fine for me not to have anything new,” he shares. When Española moved to Saskatoon at age 19, he continued to thrift but began to notice a difference in how people dressed. Social media expanded his world even further, and that, combined with the freedom to break away from his parents’ constraints, ignited a passion for experimentation. Around the same time, Española saw a documentary on Alexander McQueen that confirmed what he had already been sensing. “McQueen was the first person who showed me that clothing can be an art form and a visual language,” he says. “And that really inspired me to explore this part of myself.”
It was also the beginning of his path to self-confidence. “Fashion was the first place I saw evidence that I was good at something,” he says. “And then I thought I could apply that same principle to other forms of art.” Española is now in his second year of a fine arts degree, and he often shares his expressive drawings on Instagram and TikTok, interspersing them with the fashion shoots he collaborates on with other Saskatoon creatives. He is also part of a stylish small group counted on to bring energy to brand events and parties. “This helped me have endless belief in myself,” he declares. “I know that no matter what I want to do, I will always be there to catch myself and bring myself back up.”
Española would love to find a way to combine his passions by creating wearable art and is experimenting with prints, dead stock and painting on blazers. Turning found fashion into art is just one of the reasons he believes thrifting will always have a place in his life. The other is his unapologetically exuberant style. “Clothing costs a lot of money, and thrifting is a really good way for me to be able to create extravagant maximalist looks without going broke.”
Aldeneil Española shares his top thrifting tips:
1. “I don’t shop online a lot unless I’m looking for a specific piece. Clothing acts differently on different bodies. You need to be able to try it on to see if it lies properly, if it moves the way you want it to move.”
2. “Feel the fabric with your hands, and then try the item on. The more senses you bring to clothes, the more you’ll appreciate and understand them.”
3. “I wear basics that cling to my skin so it’s easier to try clothes on overtop. It also feels better to wear something underneath as you don’t know where the clothes have been.”
4. “Travel light. I sometimes bring my own grocery bags and maybe a handbag. Other than that, I rarely carry anything.”
5. “I’m not very fun to go shopping with. I’m very specific, and I need to think. I can’t be having a conversation with someone. So I like to do it alone.”
6. “I prefer it when there are less people in the store, so I go in the evening. It’s usually the only thing on my agenda as I like to take my time to look through the whole store. No time constraints makes the experience more enjoyable.”
7. “Staff in smaller stores are more likely to strike up a conversation. This way, I’ve found pieces that are not yet on the floor. Even though a store is filled, they likely have more stock in the back.”
8. “It’s powerful if you can do alterations. That’s how I got into sewing. I hem pants and take in shirts, and I’ve reconstructed thrifted pieces for other people, usually to make them fit.”
Photography by MOLLY SCHIKOSKY. Makeup by KACIE HANCHEROW. Photo assistants: BERIT JOHNSON.
This article first appeared in FASHION’s April 2023 issue. Find out more here.