Untangling Edmonton fashion
How Alisha Schick overcame the stereotype
of the city as a place just for oil and hockey
By Shanghetaa Alfred
PURSUING A CAREER in Edmonton would not be the first option for someone wanting to make it big in the fashion industry. The city is known for oil and hockey, not needles and thread.
You see people in Oilers jerseys, rather than the latest colour-block trend off the runway. However, people in the growing Edmonton fashion industry would disagree that the city is only known for oil and hockey.
There are many individuals quietly making a living in fashion – like Alisha Schick, a brand owner, illustrator and instructor at MC College and House of Sew.
Former MC instructor Marni Walker, and Schick’s mentor, writes in Muse that Schick had “mad creative skills, a natural talent for illustration and limited sewing skills,” but her “tenacious spirit” made it possible for her to be who she is in the industry today.
“I never really felt that stigma,” Schick says of Edmonton’s oil-and-hockey image. “But I know the stigma exists.”
Growing up in the small town of Devon, roughly 40 kilometres northwest of Edmonton, most of her fashion exposure came from sewing lessons in school, watching shows like Project Runway and going to local thrift stores.
“It was nothing much to make me realize that I would actually have a career in fashion, but here I am,” Schick says.
During the discovery stages of her life, she says, she mostly thought of fashion as personal style and expression, but never thought she could draw and bring her thoughts to life. It was a high school drawing instructor who opened her eyes to the possibilities, and that changed her whole perspective on what fashion is.
Since then, she says, her journey has been “serendipitous.” She started her fashion journey at MC College after a friend recommended the career school. It has been two decades since she started in the fashion industry.
Throughout her journey, Schick says she has experienced many challenges, from working as a designer at Foosh clothing apparel to being an illustrator for various companies.
She says dealing with the creative process was the biggest challenge she had to endure while growing her career.
Edmonton did not have many fashion options back in the day, so it wasn’t easy finding a community and people who had the same interests as her.
“My process involved a lot of hard work and networking, and it took a long time to find the right people,” Schick says.
Finding someone who would believe in her vision and could support her was difficult because not many people understood the concept of fashion in an oil city.
However, “the perspective of embracing the challenges and learning from them really kept me going.”
Schick never gave up on the city, but made the best of what Edmonton had to offer and drew inspiration from it, constantly networking with people who had the same interests.
“She was determined to do it right, and didn’t give up until she got it her way,” Walker writes in Muse.
Growing in fashion in a city like Edmonton wasn’t easy, but Schick says she always had a positive outlook.
“The challenges that came my way pushed me to create Suka clothing.”
Suka was an evolution that also happened serendipitously. Schick jokes that the name was an accident of bad spelling, but the fact that someone pointed out it was a bad word – in a different language – made her want to keep it. (It translates as “bitch” in a Japanese dialect.)
The name gave attitude to her brand, which was inspired by a mixture of someone who loves art, music, and high fashion. The whole idea of creating Suka was “to inspire and be inspired.”
The brand started in 2007 and has evolved into her personality and the people who have supported her. Her clothing is detail-oriented and comfortable, and she focuses on making sure her styles are wearable to the Suka woman, defined as “a rebel who is not afraid of making mistakes and loves to have fun.”
Schick says her target market has grown up with her brand, so even the type of clothing she is creating is evolving as the target market ages.
Her brand took off with the opening of Bamboo Ballroom, a store that supports local designers by giving them a platform to sell their clothing and accessories. They brought her in and supported her brand, providing her with a little space for a studio to design and create Suka.
“I was very lucky to be offered a studio as, at that time, nobody was offered a space like that,” Shick says.
“With fashion enthusiasts visiting the store, we designers are getting the recognition we deserve.”
Fast forward 10 years and Schick is juggling multiple roles, from being an instructor at MC College and House of Sew to curating collections for Suka.
“Her teaching experiences also allow her to mentor and build community with students and peers who share her passion,” Walker writes in Muse.
Schick has been featured in Avenue, Fashion, and Georgia magazines and has showcased her clothing line in the Park show in Edmonton and Calgary, as well as in Western Canada Fashion Week.
“It has been tough but, as I’ve gotten older, my juggling has become a lot more balanced,” she says.
Over the years, she has grown up with the fashion in Edmonton. Now, as she says, “It is sad that people still think of the city as not a fashion-forward place.”