The Canadian fashion scene has long been concentrated in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, with Calgary being largely overlooked as a viable place for designers and manufacturers to set up shop. But that trend is changing, thanks largely to organizations like PARK, and the passionate, entrepreneurial designers who have opted to invest their talents and sweat equity in propelling the burgeoning Calgary fashion industry, as opposed to flocking to cities with more established fashion scenes.
PARK is a social enterprise that promotes creative talent across Canada. Since 2008 the team at PARK has been organizing events, programs and partnerships designed to support aspiring entrepreneurs in the business of fashion and art. We caught up with Kara Chomistek of PARK to talk about the Calgary fashion industry, why they founded PARK and get the details on their upcoming PARKSHOW event happening in Inglewood May 26-28.
PARK | Promoting Art Redefining Kulture
In 2008, PARK President and Co-founder, Kara Chomistek, and Vice President and Co-founder, Jessie Li were both students at the University of Calgary, studying biomechanical engineering and accounting, respectively. Both passionate about the local arts and fashion scene, they noticed many of their friends in the fashion and arts industries were leaving Calgary, bound for bigger city centres boasting more available opportunity. Determined to support those artists in creating opportunity for themselves here in Calgary, Chomistek, Li and six other students came together to create PARKSALE: an outdoor market, offering young artists and budding fashion designers a venue to sell their ceramics, prints, clothing and accessories. From the humble beginnings of an event hosted outside the U of C engineering building on a $200 budget, to a flourishing social enterprise supporting and promoting creative talent in Calgary and across Canada, PARK has hosted more than 40 shows across Canada and mentored more than 650 designers and artists.
Originally setting out with an agenda of supporting all arts in Calgary, PARK found the greatest need to be in the fashion industry. “There were a number of organizations dedicated to supporting visual arts and performing arts in Calgary, but the fashion industry seemed forgotten. It’s not typically classified as ‘art’ in the mainstream sense of the word and as a fledgling industry wasn’t really viewed as a significant part of Calgary’s local commerce” says Chomistek. “There just wasn’t enough awareness that you could be a successful business owner in fashion here in Calgary and as time went on we discovered one of the most valuable benefits we could offer people was supported entrepreneurship.”
Ultimately, PARK’s programming is designed to support local designers and creative businesses in ways that affect their bottom line. That began as helping get those designers, makers and creatives in front of the right consumers with markets like PARKSALE, and championing growth and awareness of the industry locally and across Canada. Overtime it became apparent that there was another opportunity to support local designers, artists and creatives who were all facing the same questions and challenges. PARK FORUM launched in 2012 in response to that, offering business mentorship, coaching and collaboration in pursuit of common goals, at first with primarily fashion focus, and more recently expanding to include a broader cross section of creative industry. “Really, it’s the sense of community and willingness to support each other that makes PARK such a rich experience for people. It’s very much a collective where everyone is encouraging and supporting each other. Lifting each other up as creative entrepreneurs,” explains Chomistek.
Over the past few years, PARK has seen a number of amazing starts up grow exponentially, from under $50k in annual revenue, into medium sized business, bringing in 500k to 1 million annually. “The perception of what it means to be an artist and be a successful artist is shifting. In the past there’s been this perception that you have to suffer and starve to be an artist. But more and more, people in creative industries are looking at opportunities with curiosity and passion, blending art and entrepreneurship. That makes for an exciting time of growth and change in Calgary.”
We couldn’t agree more.
PARKSHOW | May 26-28
If you’ve never been to a PARK event, you’ve got to go. PARKSHOW is just around the corner, taking place May 26-28 at the Yellow Warehouse in Calgary’s historic community of Inglewood. And this isn’t your average fashion show. An immersive cultural experience, PARKSHOW brings together the best of Canada’s emerging fashion designers, rising artists, musical performers, and culinary talents. If you can’t make it to one of the runway show events on Friday or Saturday, check out the PARKSHOW Market on Sunday, May 28 from 12-5, which gives Calgarians a unique way to support Canadian culture. Get all the details at ourparkonline.com