A career by design – AB Yukii Li

A grey dress by AB Li made for her graduation fashion show. It’s a mixture of cotton and leather, with the leather work hand cut by AB Li.

A grey dress by AB Li made for her graduation fashion show. It’s a mixture of cotton and leather, with the leather work hand cut by AB Li.

Melissa Atkinson, Lookout Editor with files from Captain Lisa Evong ~

It’s a quiet evening aboard HMCS Nanaimo as the ship’s bow slices cleanly through the Pacific Ocean.

The rocking motion isn’t enough to hinder AB Yukii Li’s sketching. On a modest sized pad, she pens her croquis, a fashion world term for an exaggerated tall model form. Bold, black lines connect to create a modern female sailor in a fashion pose – one hand on hip, the other loosely at the side, lanky legs disappearing at the skirt edge. It is a loose drawing, but the talent is obvious.   

This is the road not taken. Passion colliding with practicality, but it comes without regret.

A few years ago, AB Li was without rank, studying fashion design at Seneca College in her hometown of Toronto. A love of art in high school coupled with an attraction to fashion inspired her to try for one of the most prestigious careers.

For three years she learned the A to Z of designing clothes, from an idea to a paper sketch, to sourcing fabrics, buttons, zippers, to measurements to create a pattern, to the construction of a garment.

“If everything is done perfect, you can breathe, rest and smile,” she said of the process.

Each piece she has created has a hint of inspiration from Japanese fashion, mainly Gothic Lolita and Visual Kei style and Victorian/Baroque era fashion. Her favourite piece is a grey dress from her graduation show.

“I put a lot of time and effort into it and am very proud of it. It’s a mixture of cotton and leather. The leather work was hand cut by me and overall it came together very elegantly.”

Employment in the industry was an unpaid internship, and this lack of pay led her to make a difficult decision about her career path.

“I made the decision to not pursue a career in fashion design because I am a person that needs planning, structure, and stability in my day-to-day life. I was unable to attain that in fashion. I need to plan out my routines and budget accordingly or else I get severe anxiety. When I stopped and took a long hard look into my future I saw that if I were to continue with fashion design I would end up hating something I once loved. That was the moment I understood the real meaning behind art is a hobby. Not in a bad way though.”

Her father suggested the Primary Reserves Program. AB Li’s uncle was a medical officer and spoke positively about it. Her cousin was in the army and deployed to Afghanistan.

She signed up for the navy reserves and became a naval combat information operator; her most recent deployment was sailing on Operation Caribbe from January to March.

During her time as sea, she used her skills to remove the flag patch off uniforms due to the new change in dress.

Fashion design and art are still very much a part of her life – albeit a hobby rather than a career.

“I am financially stable and I can always make clothes for myself and friends when I have the time. I can take on smaller projects or commissioned work if I want to, which I prefer to do because I put so much work and attention to detail in every piece I make.”

What sort of clothes does she like to wear?

“Anything that fits the mood but always makes a statement.”

For now, that statement is her blue naval combat dress.

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