Photo taken by Wayne Eardley. Part of last year’s Runway Challenge.


Are you tired of boring old cotton-centric fashion design? Public Energy’s Runway Challenge may be just the thing you’re looking for.

The event is part of the 3rd annual Wearable Art Show, the largest annual fundraiser held by Public Energy, local “animator of contemporary dance, theatre, performance and interdisciplinary work.” The fundraiser will feature live art-making and a silent auction, but the Runway Challenge is the primary component.

The essence of the Challenge is local artists working with materials from retailers who sell anything but typical garment materials; examples include flower shops and a seller of building supplies. Five of the six businesses have participated in previous years.

“Artists are given a gift card for their business and one month to create a runway-ready piece of clothing,” explains Janet Howse, participant and event co-ordinator.

“It’s quite a fun, lovely, crazy, creative event and we’ve had some spectacular outfits made in the past.”

A total of seven artists are paired with the six businesses by ballot, but there are some exceptions. After the ballots were drawn, participants were permitted to disappear into the restroom and trade their matches if they so desired. Other attendants were treated to a mini-runway show featuring some of last year’s creations in the meantime to distract us from the echoing cacophony.

Kirsten Smith, the only high school student involved, was matched with Peterborough Green-Up beforehand in order for her to be able to use her creation in her Art IB program involving human impact on the environment. Hoping to use pop can tabs, this will be her first time in a show as well as designing; due to this and the overlap of her finals with the schedule, she’s approaching the experience with nervous excitement.

Cath Adele and Judith Mason, the first pair to take part in the Wearable Art Show, are the last of the exceptions. Their aim is to create a work which draws on or reflects their own life experiences, also incorporating “the many dresses, labels, faces and dimensions that women carry and wear.” With an aim of sustainability, the duo plan to use the resources allotted to them in an efficient way instead of just employing as much material as possible.

Both women seemed optimistic about the structured nature of the creative process. Adele spoke positively about the tidy and discreet amount of time, and Mason believes that “if you have too much time you can just get more elaborate and go round in circles, so I see this as quick, edgy, ready to go.”

“I’m drawn to reworking, reusing, repurposing what we already have, so the idea that I’m going to be gifted with something to figure out how to make it become functional and magical is very much in keeping with the way I tend to work with materials,” Adele said about her personal technique.

Mason’s work tends to focus on psychic spaces and domestic life, and pointed out that “we’re scroungers, we’re artists, right? I live in Value Village most of the time, so now we get to live in another store and have a little budget to create something from.”

Vicky Paradisis, one of last year’s models, is taking part this time around as a designer, and expects the prior experience to play into her creation. Her day job being a milliner, she plans to make some sort of awesome giant hat for her piece, which should be quite interesting seeing as she was matched with bulk food store Lakefield Pantry. She was adamant that the time constraint and not the materials would be the main challenge, as her inspiration comes only upon beholding her materials.

Paradisis is also the director and choreographer of the Dream Players, a local group of singers and dancers made up of people with intellectual disabilities who will be performing as the show’s opening act.

As artistic producer Bill Kimball says, the Wearable Art Show is an opportunity to create “something that shows off the originality of visual artists and designers, and choreographers and dancers too.” Original ambient music and IDM tunes will be provided during the event by Nostalgic Home Highways, a recording artist and DJ from southern Ontario.

The Wearable Art Show takes place on February 9 at Market Hall. Tickets are $20, or $15 for students and under-waged.

For additional information, visit or contact Laurel Paluck at [email protected]

An interview with two of the Runway Challenge designers: