When you walk into Hanna’s Design & Alterations, almost every inch of the small store is lined with various garments. At the centre of it all is the owner Hanna Prochownik, travelling back and forth between the sewing machine in the back and the steady flow of customers in the front.

After a long day, Prochownik points to her fitbit and says, “7,300 steps. Just in the store.”

A lot from a little

Since the start, Prochownik’s custom designs have been high in demand. Growing up in communist Poland, there was a limited selection to buy from, so Prochownik made do with what she had. Her closet was always filled with handmade dresses that her friends would ask to borrow.

Prochownik says her sewing teacher was her situation. Whenever she had an idea of something she wanted to wear, she would find a way create it.

“All my life was like that,” Prochownik says. “If I need a new sweater, I have to knit the sweater. If I don’t have the wool, I have to rip the old sweater and knit the new one from old wool.”

Prochownik later began a business making ballroom and Latin dance outfits for boutiques, but because of Poland’s inflation at the time, it was difficult to make ends meet.

PolanddressA dance outfit Prochownik designed while she lived in Poland. Photo courtesy of Hanna Prochownik.

In the late 1980s  when Prochownik was 30, she had had enough. She sold her car, bought an airline ticket to Toronto and left her life behind.

“I didn’t have a plan at all. It was like jumping in the ocean without swimming.”

Starting from scratch

With very little English and no friends or family to help her, Prochownik was back to making the best out of her situation. To support herself and her daughter, she took on several odd jobs cleaning houses, working in restaurants and sewing for clothing factories.“It was like jumping in the ocean without swimming.” – Hanna Prochownik

When she moved to Calgary, she sent her resume to the Alberta Ballet “a thousand times every day” until finally they responded. They called her in for an interview and asked her to bring samples of her work. Prochownik showed up with a full suitcase, and they hired her to help with costume designs and fittings.

Prochownik considers herself lucky to land her position, but despite the prestige of working for the ballet, she missed having the space to do her own designs. She was also spending a lot of time driving around Calgary doing alterations for other stores.

“It’s different when you have a boss over your head, and you just see his finger when they show you what to do, what not to do,” Prochownik says. “The best for me is to have my own store, because I am free. If I want to do something, I do it, and whenever I am obligated with someone, it’s only my customers.”

HannaWorkingProchownik working on an alteration.  Photo by Andrea Wong.

Hanna’s Design & Alterations opened in 2001, but it would not be the last time Prochownik worked on costumes.

In addition to ballet, Prochownik has done tailoring and custom designs for singers and dancers from Calgary’s Samba, Latin and Scottish groups. She has also received requests for Halloween costumes.

Though it is a slight stretch from what she began with, Prochownik rarely turns away a customer.

“If you like your job, you prove your job every day even if you don’t know. You are willing to make more and do more,” she says. “If I can think how to do it, I will try to do it, and I will do it.”

 CostumesProchownik has done costume requests for Latin dance groups, Halloween, pets and ballet. Photo by Andrea Wong.

Seaming it all together

There is hardly a time when Prochownik isn’t busy. Every second requires her full attention. Every detail needs to be carried out perfectly. It’s all worth it to see her customers put on the finished product.

“The biggest happiness is when I do something that people like. Almost every day there’s satisfaction.”

Though her work often leaves few hours in the day, Prochownik’s greatest enjoyment hasn’t changed since her younger days in Poland.

“The most fun could be one week, lots of fabric, and do my own ideas and make my own clothes with no rushing for clients,” she says. “Sometimes you have the feeling you just want to go somewhere, no ending, and you just walk but you don’t have a goal of somewhere to be. This is like me doing something for nobody, just for me.”

DressesProchownik’s handmade wedding gown and dress displayed at the store. Photo by Andrea Wong.

Prochownik has sold some of own her pieces at the shop, but she primarily focuses on meeting the needs of her customers. Prochownik may have to put her spontaneous projects on hold, but she still has room to grow.

“Every day is important. Every day you learn something new. You see different people … It makes you feel like your life is full of everything grand.”


Editor: Ian Tennant | itennant@mtroyal.ca

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