The Globe and Mail (Alberta Edition) - - GLOBE STYLE -

Al­berta is known for many things – beef, oil, con­ser­va­tive pol­i­tics – and now, re­ports Caitlin Agnew, it’s adding ap­parel and ac­ces­sories to its list of ex­ports

It may come as a sur­prise to many liv­ing out­side of Al­berta that Wild Rose Coun­try is ac­tu­ally a thriv­ing hub of fashion and de­sign, thanks in no small part to the ef­forts of grass­roots or­ga­ni­za­tion PARK. Short for Pro­mot­ing Arts Re­defin­ing Kul­ture, PARK was founded in 2008 by pres­i­dent Kara Chomis­tek and vice pres­i­dent Jessie Li. In­spired by the Los An­ge­les yard sales held by party pho­tog­ra­pher the Co­bras­nake, the two de­cided to or­ga­nize a mar­ket at the Univer­sity of Cal­gary where 50 or so de­sign­ers, artists and mak­ers from across the prov­ince gath­ered to sell their wares. “It was re­ally more an ide­ol­ogy and a con­cept and brain­storm­ing of how we could keep cre­ative tal­ent at home,” says Chomis­tek.

Nine years later, PARK has ex­panded into a full-time op­er­a­tion for Chomis­tek, an en­gi­neer, and Li, an ac­coun­tant. The or­ga­ni­za­tion hosts mul­ti­ple events each year, in­clud­ing PARKLuxe, tick­eted run­way shows fea­tur­ing es­tab­lished de­signer la­bels like Paul Hardy and Narces, PARKShow, a three-day mar­ket, food-truck fes­ti­val and run­way event, and PARKFo­rum, a series of sem­i­nars and work­shops geared to­wards ed­u­cat­ing young cre­atives. “We’re re­ally try­ing to teach them that this is your job, this is a business, it’s not just a pas­sion now,” says Li.

To fur­ther sup­port the com­mer­cial side of run­ning a fashion la­bel, a sig­nif­i­cant as­pect of PARK’s man­date is the shopthe-run­way model, an ap­proach they launched in 2011. “It’s a lot more tan­gi­ble when there’s ac­tu­ally trans­ac­tions tak­ing place,” says Chomis­tek. In Au­gust, they opened PARKS­tore, a re­tail space at Edmonton’s Lon­don­derry Mall where con­sumers can shop de­signs by a range of Cana­dian la­bels at vary­ing price points, in­clud­ing House of Nonie, Coutu Kitsch and Gypsy Soul.

It’s a model that’s bol­stered the ca­reer of 24-year-old de­signer Spencer Badu of S.P. Badu. He first dipped his toe into fashion about six years ago as a PARK vol­un­teer. While S.P. Badu has al­ways ben­e­fit­ted from nat­u­ral buzz, the de­signer’s time work­ing with PARK taught him the nitty-gritty of run­ning a la­bel. “Peo­ple kind of re­al­ized, OK, he’s grow­ing, he’s pay­ing at­ten­tion to de­tail, he’s not just show­ing up with a rack of clothes,” he says. “It helped me be­come who I am now.”

Up next for PARK is the de­but of Otah­pi­aaki x PARK Indige­nous Fashion Week, run­ning from Sept. 17 to 23 in part­ner­ship with Cal­gary’s Mount Royal Univer­sity. The cel­e­bra­tion of indige­nous beauty, fashion and de­sign goes be­yond the run­way as a ges­ture of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, fit­ting char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally with PARK’s un­con­ven­tional ap­proach. “We def­i­nitely don’t claim to be an in­cu­ba­tor and we don’t claim to be a fashion week,” Chomis­tek says. “We are re­ally fo­cus­ing on pro­vid­ing peo­ple with a foun­da­tion of sup­port.”

SHOP THE RUN­WAY Gypsy Soul is one of sev­eral Cana­dian la­bels whose fash­ions are avail­able to pur­chase at PARKS­tore, a new re­tail space in Edmonton.

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