A PRAIRIE FASHION BOOST
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.