New Calgary apparel brand helps customers strut out of the closet with confidence and inclusive clothing
A new Calgary-based apparel brand is aiming to change the way we look at clothing.
Megan Szanik is the founder and apparel director of espy Experience and has been in the fashion industry for 25 years.
espy Experience is a designer boutique that opened in Calgary in 2009 with a small, 1,400-square-foot store.
It expanded four times over the years and is now almost 10 times the size, located in the Art Block on the corner of 9 Avenue and 9 Street SE.
“We’re loving every minute of it because the store just keeps getting better and bigger and more inclusive,” Szanik says.
Providing a safe space
Szanik prides herself on providing a safe space for everyone who walks through the doors and says she thinks of it as selling confidence rather than a product.
“I just want people to feel good,” she says, adding that confidence has a positive ripple effect on a person’s life.
“They do the very best for themselves, they become much more successful in their lives.”
Szanik says it’s common for espy stylists to ask the customers how they feel in the clothing and will offer advice based on the shape of an person’s body.
“We are there with you to take you through this journey,” she says, adding that espy has a wide range of sizes and options for all body types.
Taking it to the next level
Late last year, Szanik’s partner, Carol Palynchuk, approached her with the idea of creating a gender-neutral clothing line.
“This is a way to make fashion truly inclusive,” Szanik says.
“We need to stop talking about clothing as gender and just start talking about it like, what’s going to fit you? What’s going to make you feel good? How do you want to be perceived? How do you want to dress?”
Letters Apparel started with undergarments and the collection will be expanded to offer shirts, blazers, pants, jeans, and vests.
Products will continually be improved based on feedback, and eventually the plan is to also offer binders and compression bras.
“We’ve been doing this naturally for years. So to create a line that we can solve problems with, that seems really exciting for us,” says Szanik.
The meaning behind the letters
The inspiration for the name Letters came from a couple of places.
It’s for everyone, including the 2SLGBTQ+ community, and Szanik uses letters to describe different body shapes:
A – small shoulders and larger hips
X – traditional hourglass
H – even from top to bottom
O – weight on the top half of the body with a slimmer bottom half
V – broader shoulders with a smaller bottom half
Letters Apparel can be customized in any of the five patterns with sizes ranging from XXS to 4XL.
“It’s completely inclusive,” says Szanik, adding that everyone deserves to feel great in their clothing.
“We’re people and we’re all different. But we all deserve to feel confident and comfortable in what we’re wearing. Clothing should make you feel good.”
Providing inclusive clothing
Szanik says the feedback from the 2SLGBTQ+ community on Letters Apparel has been very positive.
“A lot of these folks are creating their new identities, they’re taking on new names, they’re taking on new things. Allowing them to create their identity also through fashion and how they’re perceived, it just seems like I was meant to do this.”
Letters Apparel has been a massive undertaking, says Szanik, but one she’s excited to take on.
They are setting up a small factory in Calgary and already have a tailor shop at espy, so the clothing items will be designed and created locally.
Szanik says they are trying to combat some of the waste problems in the fashion industry by making one-offs with leftover fabric and buying the ends of fabric rolls from some of their suppliers.
Letters Apparel also plans to launch a Kickstarter campaign in September where everything will be made to order and a handful of products should be in the espy store by early November.
Strutting out of the closet
In the meantime, some designs will be featured at a gender-affirming fashion show taking place this Thursday.
Strutting Out the Closet is organized by Jamie Campbell and Kylee Roman and takes place at espy Experience from 6:45 p.m until 10 p.m.
In addition to the fashion show, the event will feature clothing fittings and gender-affirming hair stylists.
It is also a fundraiser for Calgary’s Centre for Sexuality, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
“Fashion and style allow us to express how we want to show up in the world. We want everyone to feel a sense of gender euphoria, especially queer folks,” the event organizers say in a press release.
Being an ally
When Campbell and Roman approached Szanik with the idea for the fashion show, she says she agreed without hesitation because it was a natural collaboration.
“This type of event is great for the queer and non-binary market,” Szanik says.
“I want to be as big of an ally as I can.”
Szanik says everybody can and should be accepted just as they are and she hopes Letters Apparel will inspire a bigger movement, especially for younger generations.
“My dream is [for] most of the malls in Canada to have a safe space for youth that can go in and feel good.”
Tickets for Strutting Out the Closet can be purchased HERE.