Ahead of the Pack
Local designer adds sharp edges to athletic fashion trends
Photography by Pederson
The first-ever Edmonton PARKSHOW – a fashion and art showcase featuring local designers and artists – took over the second floor of the University of Alberta’s Saville Community Sports Centre. On a late November day in 2014, the fashion community rallied together to support the newest collections by Edmonton designers.
One collection felt right at home in the sports venue: The “gothletic” collection, a rebellious take on the athletic inspired fashion trend that, at the time, was just making its way through fashion shows worldwide. And while runways abroad featured similar styles, it was this Edmonton line that added a subversive edge. Models in dark, brooding makeup cascaded down the walk in sheers, cutouts and T-shirts sporting ’90s-inspired athletic wear logos corrupted into cheeky anti-ad campaigns. Provocative slogans such as “Just Don’t” and “adictd” accompanied upside-down Nike swooshes and Adidas logos, creating a devil-may-care attitude juxtaposed against the win-at-all-costs world of sports.
The cutting edge looks were the work of Edmonton designer Alisha Schick, presented under her line, Suka Clothing. If you recognize either of the names, it’s because Schick and Suka have been local fashion mainstays for more than a decade. And, though she has been hit-and-miss in predicting trends for her line in the past, this collection was a home run, according to Bamboo Ballroom co-owner Anastasia Boruk. “It was completely on par with what was happening on the runways. Everyone seemed to be featuring some version of athletic wear, so it’s very current,” Boruk says. “And she hit the nail on the head. I mean, she was working on that [collection] over a year ago, and even put her own spin on it with the gothic look, and we are still seeing it on the runways now. I was really impressed.”
It’s high praise coming from a retailer who has worked with Schick for so long. Even before Schick was employed at the Bamboo Ballroom as its in-house designer, where she has been for the last five years, Suka Clothing has been in production since 2007, when the Bamboo Ballroom and the now-closed Meese Clothing in St. Albert took a chance on her designs. Before then, the young Schick, who had graduated from MC College’s fashion design and apparel production program in 2001, had struggled to find her place as a designer, spending most of her time working retail at Foosh while selling her clothes at local markets. Back in the early 2000s, after all, most fashion outlets were grabbing onto the kitschy, cute hipster aesthetic, a far cry from Suka’s hip hop- and punk-influenced bad-girl-gone-straight concept – one that still echoes in the brand today. “Suka means a couple different things in a couple different languages. It means ‘to like’ in Indonesian, and then, in Polish, it means something like ‘bad girl’ or ‘bitch’ or ‘slut’ or whatever,” Schick says.
But when the Bamboo Ballroom opened, Suka Clothing’s high-fashion and bad girl-cross look fit perfectly. According to Boruk, it’s still one of the store’s more popular brands. “People come in and ask for Suka all the time. Even people who live in Calgary will come in looking to buy it,” she says. “She mixes the perfect amount of sex appeal with edgy and pretty. Any type of person can wear that outfit. It’s really appealing to everybody.”
It probably helps that Schick has become a common thread that weaves throughout the Edmonton fashion industry. She has repeatedly been showcased at Western Canada Fashion Week (WCFW); she has been praised by Fashion magazine as “one to watch;” and, for the last eight years, she has worked as an instructor at MC College, mentoring up-and-coming fashion designers, some of whom have made names for themselves in the local and national scenes.
“I was there when … Sid Neigum [last year’s winner of the emerging designer prize at Toronto’s World MasterCard Fashion Week] sewed his first skirt,” Schick says, adding that she also saw Nicole Campre of Edmonton’s Workhall take the first steps of her fashion career. “It’s kind of a hard thing to get used to, when the student surpasses the master. It is a weird place to be in. But I love it and it feels amazing to mentor, and it is really cool that I get to share these beginnings with people.”
And, as if the hats of teacher and designer weren’t enough, Schick still spends plenty of time at the Bamboo Ballroom, where shoppers craving local, handmade clothes can find Suka Clothing and, in return, Schick has the opportunity to do some market research, interacting with customers to target the needs of her customer base.
Schick’s busy schedule has made her name recognizable, increasing her demand – not a bad problem to have, but one that has caused her work to suffer in the past.
Schick cites her attempt to enter the Mercedes-Benz Start Up competition in 2011 as an example, when a panel of judges made up of industry professionals took Schick to task on her collection. “I got Dragon-Denned by people that I worked with and knew in the industry,” she says. “My focus was obviously in a different place and I couldn’t just ‘fake it ’til I made it.’ It was a huge shock to my system.”
Failing to place as a finalist was a shock, yes, but also a wake-up call. It was then and there that Schick began planning out the changes she needed to make for her future.
“I’m trying to think more like a business person these days, and this year is a ‘focus on sales’ year,” she says.
In order to bring Suka Clothing to its next phase, Schick has moved to a new studio in the heart of downtown. It’s here that she will buckle down and try to increase production, put together a catalogue and focus on increasing Suka’s retail presence. And that’s not the only change. Despite the overwhelming success of her “gothletics” line at the PARKSHOW in November, Schick says it’s time to lay off the runway shows – for a little while, at least.
With the Bamboo Ballroom soon to add a retail outlet in Calgary, and with the launch of its Internet sales system, Suka’s demand will likely double over the summer. Add to that an online Suka Clothing retail store and a new line inspired by unpretentious “normcore” and Asian street style, and it looks like Schick is more than motivated to meet her challenges head on.
“It’s weird to look back at Suka clothing and think that, ‘Wow, I’ve been doing this for like 12 years.’ It’s pretty crazy,” Schick says. “But I have reached a point in my career where it is like, ‘Well, it’s time to shit or get off the pot.'”