Profile: Savannah Belsher
by Jane Ledwell
Last spring, after an inspiring PEI Talent Week showcasing Island fashion, and after another winter of great new local music, Savannah Belsher’s friend Christina Gaudet uploaded the first and last pages of a comic she had created to Facebook, “That was it,” Savannah says. “I wanted to read everything in it.” All she needed was a place to publish those elusive middle pages alongside the fashion, arts, and culture Savannah saw everywhere around her. “Then I wrote a business plan,” she says.
The plan became Panache, a magazine featuring PEI fashion, music, food, and environment. With a little help from Google (“I literally googled ‘how to make a magazine,’” Savannah admits), a lot of help from friends and writers and photographers and artists, and a boost from MasterCard, Panache will bring out its third seasonal issue in March.
Reading other Canadian fashion magazines, Savannah found little content about Canada. She wanted an Island-based magazine that was unabashedly “Island,” and written for Islanders of all ages. “I wanted it to be glossy, and beautiful, with funky, classy text—Flare mixed with Mother Earth News mixed with The Coast from Halifax mixed with The Buzz.”
People may not automatically think “fashion” when they think of PEI, but Savannah insists, “We have some really, really beautiful people on PEI.” Savannah also thinks PEI has more than its share of quirky style mavens. “On the Island, some people don’t want to stand out, it’s true,” she says. “But some people think, you know me already, so why would I bother being anything other than who I am?”
Savannah’s own arts background in dance (especially choreography), music, and jewellery design motivated her interest and also let her find another less performance-based role in the arts. “I’m really reclusive,” she says. “Starting a magazine keeps me involved in the arts, but I can expose other people, not have to be exposed myself all the time,” she says. “A magazine is kind of like a dance, when it flows properly with the articles. Like when I choreograph, I try to find where the flow happens. I want Panache to be more like a song that tells a story—but sometimes the song is more like a rhapsody.”
Although it is always in the long-term budget to pay contributors to Panache, it is “completely, 100% volunteer to date. All the photography and writing has been donated, a lot by people still doing their training or just out of school, building a portfolio,” Savannah says gratefully.
“Youth don’t want to move away. Sometimes it seems the only people able to stay on the Island are in arts and culture,” she says—“and are willing to live on macaroni and cheese,” she adds, as she smells the neighbours’ supper.
“People want to stay on PEI, but they also want something to live for here,” Savannah says. “Whether they are retiring or trying to decide where to go to university, there’s an underlying vibe, an underlying language we’re speaking. It seems more and more urgent. We’re losing more and more young people to work in other parts of Canada.
“What I want to do is to generate careers here. Not only in arts in culture, but by featuring and promoting small, locally-owned businesses where people can buy well-made and spectacular things made close to home,” Savannah says. “People talk about the 100-mile diet and eating locally now. What about 100-mile everything?”
For local fashion, wouldn’t that mean a lot of wool? “Yes, at first, but maybe the more itchy we get from all the wool, the more other things we will want to develop and support on PEI,” Savannah laughs. “The more new ideas we will want to try.” Savannah Belsher certainly has the itch, and by scratching together “Panache,” she’s letting readers know that PEI already has a lot to offer in fashion, arts, environment, and creativity, and as the season for wearing wool mittens passes, a season of growth and sun is sure to follow.