TORONTO — On any given day Obakki founder Treana Peake juggles innumerable hats, including that of designer, mother, philanthropist and wife of Nickelback guitarist Ryan Peake.
Yet after launching her high-end sustainable label in 2005, Peake ha also added altruistic storyteller to that list, weaving the tales of people in need in developing countries into everything she creates from her Vancouver-based studio.
“We’ve always been a philanthropy-first brand that tries to give fashion purpose. But we are also a luxury label,” said Peake, the winner of 2018’s Design Forward prize, now the only sustainable fashion award of its kind in Canada.
Peake used that momentum to launch the Obakki Foundation in 2009. Since then the registered nonprofit has helped bring medical care, clean water, sustainable agriculture and education to Africa, in particular Cameroon, South Sudan and Uganda — all through funding from Obakki’s net profits and donations.
Obakki’s African connection, in fact, colors the entire label, including the scarves it introduces annually, like 2018’s Bidi Bidi scarf, which was created by the women Peake met while touring the world’s largest refugee camp in Uganda.
“Instead of waiting around for the United Nations to help them, we got together with these woman and with their own hands they made this happen,” Peake said.
Decorated with icons that represent their past, present and future, the item — much like everything Obakki produces — is connected to the idea that “people who are buying our clothes want to know the larger picture here and that they are part of it,” Peake said.
That overarching goal is also directed toward issues like poverty in Canada with the donation of blankets to the homeless made from leftover fabric.
The environment, too, is also on Obakki’s radar with its newly launched T-shirt essentials, which are made with vegetable dyes, no pesticides and a fabric comprised of 50 percent recycled water bottles and 50 percent organic cotton.
To date, Obakki boasts a large presence in Japan and a strong U.S. following on its web site as a result of speaking to consumers through a business model that exposes them to philanthropy.
But Obakki also speaks to the potential in environmentally sustainable apparel.
“There’s been such a drastic divide between sustainable fashion and fashion itself. But if you looked at Obakki you’d never guess that it’s a sustainable brand,” Peake said.
“Obakki is a designer’s collection,” said Toronto Fashion Incubator executive director Susan Langdon, one of this year’s jurors for Fashion Take Action’s Design Forward competition.
More than 50 designers vied for this FTA-produced prize, which was awarded at the end of May in Toronto by Canada’s only nonprofit industry organization now focused on sustainability.
“There are lots of people who hear ‘sustainable’ and think ‘I’d never wear that.’ They connect eco-friendly fashion with granola, unflattering Mother Earth looks and Birkenstocks. But events like Design Forward and the work of Fashion Takes Action are breaking down those illusions,” Langdon said. “That’s the point of this competition. It honors those who break through stereotypes and misconceptions by demonstrating that good design and being environmentally responsible can go hand in hand.”