It wasn’t hard to spot Jagmeet Singh during his first trip to Nunavut.
The NDP leader made his first visit to the northern territory with newly elected Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq last week. When the duo walked in to an Iqaluit cafe, where they planned to meet with locals, they arrived in real style — sporting custom-made parkas with distinct Inuit detailing.
The parkas were made by Inuk seamstress Marlene Watson, a 43-year-old Nunavut resident who’s worked with Canada Goose. This isn’t the first time her intricate parkas have been modelled on a high-profile politician: In 2015, she made one for Justin Trudeau before he was elected prime minister.
Watson said Qaqqaq had given her a heads up that Singh was coming to Iqaluit some time in November. Singh was there to announce Qaqqaq’s role at the NDP’s critic for Indigenous affairs and took time to meet with local representatives to get caught up on the issues affecting the area.
Qaqqaq requested that Watson make one for Singh but also asked for one herself.
“She told me I could decide the design but she wanted NDP colours,” said Watson.
Making one of her parkas in an intensive process “no matter who it’s for,” she said. It usually takes her about a full day to finish one, depending on the style.
“Knowing it’s for a well-known person, it’s quite stressful,” she said.
She stuck to the NDP theme, picking a stunningly bright orange for Singh’s parka, with Inuit detailing on the front and a fur trim.
On the back, she stitched on the NDP logo, and below it, in Inuktitut script, she stitched the words “Ililnnut piliriavit” — the NDP slogan, “In it for you.”
The best part was when Watson finally got to give Qaqqaq and Singh the parkas.
“Wow!” is what she remembers thinking, but she admitted she was too excited handing them off to fully remember her feelings in the moment.
“Jagmeet’s visit was wonderful,” she said. “He makes you feel very welcomed; he treats you like a friend.”
Singh picked a good travel companion for his first trip to the territory. Qaqqaq’s win was reason for massive celebration in Nunavut, given her Indigenous focused platform — she hit a lot of firsts, being the territory’s youngest MP and the first NDP candidate to win Nunavut’s single riding since 1980. Her community celebrated by throwing her a parade.
“Mumilaaq’s win was a special one,” said Watson. “Very exciting!”
Watch: Before Mumilaaq Qaqqaq became an MP, she gave a speech in the House of Commons. Story continues below.
To celebrate her, Watson made sure Qaqqaq’s parka had a special touch.
“She wanted to have a bit of seal skin on the parka, and I thought about how I could make it different from everyone else’s,” she said.
“It turned out perfect.”