Owner Chantal Barchard connects designers with consumers to bring fashion focus local

Chantal Barchard opened Studio Intent – a boutique within Downtown’s Art Central complex that stocks only Canadian-made clothing, jewellery, and artwork – in March of last year.

Barchard was inspired by her own desire for a place within Calgary that offers a supportive environment for Canadian designers and artists to sell and showcase their work.

She says she wanted to create a connection between Canadian designers and consumers, and felt that there was limited opportunity to do that in Calgary.

“I very much think about where my clothing comes from and where I have the opportunity to support an artist,” says Barchard. “I choose to do that because I think it’s important to support the arts community, and you can do that through your clothing purchases as well.”

Barchard’s decision to open a business that caters to people passionate about buying Canadian-made products was also informed by her career as a chartered accountant.

“When I was working in more of a corporate role I was always seeking out things that I could wear to work that were a little more unique, so that informs what I have in the store,” she says. “Having my business background helped me have a foundation to start a business.”

‘Live with intent’

Barchard says that the creative environment she surrounds herself in is very much like the name of her boutique – intentional.

“I think it’s more about being purposeful with what you surround yourself with, and just making choices that are meaningful to you,” Barchard says. “I’ve met the designers I carry in here; I know them in most cases personally. I’ve talked to them about what I’m bringing in and I’ve given them feedback from the customers, so it’s like a cycle.”

Barchard says that through giving customer feedback to the designers each season, consumers feel a closer connection to the designers and are more likely to be loyal to that designer.

Options for local designers limited

Barchard says that supporting local designers and artists through a “passion-based business” is important because there aren’t a lot of other options out there – especially compared to large clothing chains.

“Large clothing chains are focused on margin in most cases, so yes, they’re going for trend-specific pieces and they’re bringing you the latest styles,” Barchard says. “But the designer at the end of the day, they make such a small fraction of what the consumer actually pays in those environments. Here, it’s much more equitable.”

Monetary power

Jessica Fischer, an employee at Studio Intent and a fibre major at ACAD, says thatJessica Fischer reverses the garment to check for any flaws, paying attention to the seams.

Photo by Sarah Comber there isn’t anything else like Studio Intent in Calgary.

“People don’t realize how much power they have with the money they spend,” Fischer says. “Because there is a direct correlation, I mean we can protest about so many different things but ultimately you have to eat, you have to buy clothes, and you might as well do it in an ethical way or in a way that you feel is right.”

Barchard also feels like where Calgarians choose to spend their money is important.

“Calgary has a high disposable income and that when you spend you’re money, you’re voting or making a choice,” Barchard says. “So, if you can support an artist, it goes a lot further to building that community and fostering that culture.”

Keeping local fashion alive

Rebecca King, a Canadian designer who moved to Calgary a year ago from Saskatoon, says boutiques like Studio Intent keep local designers like herself in business.

“If they weren’t there, we wouldn’t be here,” she says. “They are supporting us, so if there’s no opportunity for local designers to sell and to showcase, you’re never going to see us.”

King – who first started sewing as a way to keep busy in the small Saskatchewan town she grew up in – creates every item herself and sews them all by hand.

Staying Canadian, Staying ethical, Staying local

Hadija Gabunga, a Calgary designer, says people want to be a lot more aware of where things come from.

“Cultures are so accessible now thanks to the Internet that you have a better sense of where you want your money to go, and where it’s going to,” Gabunga says.

“Keeping things national or local is so important, and I think there’s a need for it.”

Gabunga has been designing for her brand “Hipband” for eight years.

She says that whether its food or clothing, people are more conscious about what they’re putting in or on their body and how ethical it is.

Studio Intent follows that same sort of integrity, she says.

Customer loyalty, Canadian design

Gabunga, who also works at Studio Intent three days a week, says there is surprise and joy from customers in Studio Intent when they find out that a piece they love is Canadian-made.

Gabunga says that people are conditioned to buying familiar brand-name labels because that is what we think is popular.

“I find at the boutique, a lot of people feel a little unique owning something Canadian,” Gabunga says. “They feel that they’re part of something very unique, and I love that.”

scomber@cjournal.ca