Design scene still lags behind Paris, New York, London

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In the past decade, designers such as Paul Hardy have helped put Calgary’s name on the fashion world’s map, drawing attention to our city’s budding industry.

Although the fashion industry already seems to be putting on a good show, some Calgary fashion insiders say it still has much room to grow.

“The beauty of this city is that there is such a large ‘can-do’ attitude about everything,” says Kara Chomistek, president of the Calgary-based non-profit organisation Promoting Artists Redefining Kulture (PARK).

Chomistek founded PARK while attending the University of Calgary for engineering with some friends four years ago. She says PARK was derived out of a need to bridge the gap between emerging artists and designers, and the professional world.

PARK has grown very quickly in the past four years. Chomistek credits the growth of the organization to entrepreneurial opportunities within Calgary.

“It’s pretty incredible that you can think up stuff and just do it,” she says.

Rebecca King, who moved to Calgary from Saskatoon for more fashion opportunities, has been designing since 2005.

King says she thought she would have to take up a waitressing job until establishing a name for herself in Calgary’s fashion scene.

“I came in and I did the PARK show in March, and I got a lot of good press from that,” she says. “Studio Intent called in April, and I started selling at Market Collective.”

Hadija Gabunga, a Calgarian designer for the brand Hipband, agrees that the city is full of potential.

“I almost feel like it’s in its adolescent phase,” says Gabunga. “It’s trying to figure out where it’s going, what options it has.

“There’s an endless amount of very talented people that want to tap into it, and there is room for a lot of people,” she says. “There’s not just one particular style or format. There’s lots of room for other designers to grow and make their own mark.”

Benefits of the Calgary fashion scene

Chomistek says that a benefit of the fashion scene in Calgary is the fact that the industry is still relatively new.parkluxe mainThe PARK team (seen here) plays host to PARKLUXE 2012, an annual fashion show and art exhibition featuring local talent that helps connect Calgarians to the designers and artists they love.

Photo courtesy of Jessika Hunter Photography

“It’s a wonderful environment for entrepreneurs,” says Chomistek. “It’s a really forgiving environment for people to grow and learn about their brand and identity, and what people like or don’t like.”

King also says that Western Canada has more freedom to be more creative than a lot of other fashion houses — especially out in Eastern Canada.

Chomistek adds that the driving force behind Calgary’s developing fashion scene is the influx of young professionals who are moving to the city in search of opportunity.

“Now that we have a higher urban population and a younger population, there is a lot more interest in fashion, art, culture and music,” she says.

And yet… the challenges

However, Chomistek also says that while the city’s fashion scene is certainly growing, it will always be different from those within “bigger centres” such as Paris, New York, London or even Toronto.

“Calgary… it’s fresh and it’s so new, so to expect that it will have the richness and the culture of cities that are hundreds, if not thousands of years old, is naive thinking,” she says.

According to Chomistek, an additional challenge is lack of local manufacturing. This means that top designers, such as Paul Hardy and Lara Presber, often have to look elsewhere for their fabrics, she says.

“For emerging designers trying to keep an even price point, like Rebecca King, a lot of them have chosen to manufacture themselves because that’s really the only way they can do it,” says Chomistek.

For King, remaining small is where she’d like to stay as it gives her more creative control. King says if she lost that control, she wouldn’t be doing her job anymore.

Gabunga says that although she’s been approached by overseas producers, she chooses to have her samples produced in Toronto in conditions she’s aware of. Gabunga hopes her brand grows to a national level.

Chomistek says despite challenges, it’s not impossible to have an industry here. Calgary just has to go about nurturing the fashion industry differently.

“I think there’s definitely potential here,” says Chomistek. “But, I think people need to stop looking at what everybody else is doing and focus on what we can do here.”

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