Vancouver Label Obakki on the Brink of Big Shot

Designer Treana Peake's Obakki brand is gaining worldwide popularity while maintaining its home in Vancouver.

Credit: Peter Jensen

Local designer Treana Peake says Obakki will always belong to Vancouver


When I call Treana Peake, Obakki’s founder and creative director, she is making very important decisions somewhere in the guts of the sartorial beast.


“We’re scrambling,” she apologizes, when she gets on the line. “Nothing seems to wrap until the runway.”


Two days out from the show and the buzz at Obakki is tangible; the entire staff is hustling to prepare an event (that took place on April 28th at the Gothic-style St. Andrew’s-Wesley church on Burrard) where Obakki debuted their highly anticipated Fall/Winter 2011 collection.


It’s a vital moment for the label. Obakki, which began as a luxe local fashion brand in 2005, is poised on the precipice of making it big. Although Obakki’s following has been steadily increasing, this year it has taken off.


So far in 2011, Obakki has graced the pages of Vogue UK, Elle Canada, In Style and Grazia. 115 global retail locations now carry the local fave. Celebs like Kate Hudson, Gwyneth and Anna Calvi wear Obakki. The world is paying attention.


Obakki nude lace dress

The body-con nude lace dress is the show-stopping archetype of the nostalgia and playful romance in Obakki F/W 2011. (Image: Peter Jensen)


The spirit of Obakki


If you cultivate personal mystery by staring at the bricks in the sidewalk when you pass the conspicuous flagship at 44 Water Street, deep in the hipster heart of Gastown, let me familiarize you with the look.


Obakki rocks the effortless appeal of the contemporary high-end by nodding to global runway trends without losing the elusive quality that allows a garment to stay relevant in a woman’s wardrobe season after season. This enduring quality is the fashion addict’s version of “Kokumi” —the foodie’s sought-after sixth taste—and Peake’s creative team has it.


“Our themes are an undercurrent—never an in your face sort of thing,” explains Peake. “The Obakki look is intended to be timeless.”


The F/W 2011 collection references nostalgic romance that translates visually into mod Japanese lace alongside Italian silk, in a palette of antique white, sage, umber and garnet. Peake and team used a mix of silhouettes from statement-making sheer maxi dresses to body-con cocktails dresses, tapered trousers, mid-calf length skirts and femme blouses with billowed sleeves.


But beyond Obakki’s look, Vancouver’s recent push to become the greenest city in 2020 makes it instinctive to consider a native label’s ethos along with their aesthetic—particularly their eco cred. After all, Vancouver launched a biannual Eco Fashion Week near and dear enough to the government’s heart to warrant an opening speech by Mayor Robertson.


“We don’t market ourselves as eco,” says Peake. “We focus on being local.”


Obakki dress

This Obakki F/W 2011 sheer maxi is made from Italian silk, one of Peake’s fave textiles, chosen for its fluidity in motion. (Image: Peter Jensen)


While Obakki continues to expand, Peake wants the brand’s roots to stay in Vancouver


While Eco Fashion Week’s publicity makes it easy to credit the event with establishing Van’s fashion-with-a-cause image in 2010, Obakki has always had a distinct yen for raising issues. Peake, an ardent locavore, made the unusual decision to manufacture Obakki’s high-end collections at The Studio, an established Vancouver business, which she purchased in 2006.


Motivated by her need to control the elements crucial to a brand, and by the reality of the garment industry—where quantity is prioritized over quality—the Studio provided a way for an emerging designer to collaborate with a production team without having to order an inflated minimum of garments.


Like a European atelier, every aspect of production happens under one roof on West 7th Avenue. This reduces the brand’s carbon footprint and provides jobs for 25 Vancouver residents, whom Peake pays hourly wages, rather than by the piece.


Yet in the advancing history of Vancouver’s apparel sector, local production initiatives haven’t always survived expansion. Lululemon, Vancouver’s most notorious apparel success story, expanded to use factories in China, Thailand, Taiwan, India, Peru and Indonesia.


“We’ll always keep the manufacturing base in Vancouver and keep the brand local,” Peake says. “I love Vancouver. I live here, work here; my kids go to school here. Vancouver has always been really supportive of Obakki,” she adds.


When it comes to going green and using eco-textiles in Obakki collections, Peake is open.


“We’re always looking for sustainable options. I’ve noticed that the green textile industry has grown a lot in the last five years. When I first started looking into eco textiles, they didn’t have the luxury vibe that you’ll see more of now.”


Obakki is recognized for the quality of textiles used in the clothing line. In the F/W 2011 collection, Peake fell hard for the sheer Italian silk used in maxi dresses—because of the movement it created on the runway.


“Fabric selection is an intricate process,” Peake elaborates. “We go to Paris and there are thousands of options. We think of season, trend and durability. And the quality needs to be there at our price point.”


Obakki dress

Delicate knits in umber and burnt petal frequented the runway at the Obakki F/W 2011 show, with scarlet-lipped models sporting tousled fish-tail braids. (Image: Peter Jensen)


The Obakki Foundation is more than just fashion


It’s impossible to assess Obakki’s total brand philosophy without taking a look at the brand’s non profit side, the Obakki Foundation, which Granville covered for the March 22 “Women and Water” event. Peake has a long-term involvement with international aid and when she eagerly dives into a conversation about the Obakki Foundation’s work in Sudan and the recent Sudanese referendum, she seems more alive than she did discussing lace.


“We’ve partnered with a local NGO Ruwassa to drill 80 wells. Water has such an immediate effect—as soon as you have a well people can start to plant crops, build homes and send their kids to school,” she says.


The Obakki Foundation is funded by sales of Obakki products and will continue to drill wells at a cost of $8,000 per well.


When I ask what’s next for the label and the foundation, Peake says, “We aim to keep pushing, to keep raising the bar. Otherwise what’s the point? You might as well stop.”