Designer Spotlight: Treana Peake

For Treana Peake, the day goes something like this: the alarm jangles at 5:30 a.m., emails and phone calls start pouring in, the kids are up and dressed and out the door so Peake can make it to her Mount Pleasant studio and adjacent factory by 9, for a full day of collaborating with designers, seamstresses, and factory workers busy producing her fall/winter 2011 collection (body-conscious cocktail dresses, billowing blouses, smart trousers and skirts, accented Japanese lace, vintage Italian silk, angora, and mohair) before it’s back home to the kids and the husband (musician Ryan Peake, guitarist for Alberta-bred stadium-rock group Nickelback) and the dog and eight stick bugs and two bunnies and a big house and more email and more follow-up calls late into the night.

No one said running your own label, not to mention heading up an industrious charity, was a cakewalk.

Peake, 38, founded the edgy-luxe Obakki clothing line in 2005 as a way to create opportunities for the talented but often ignored creatives working in the Canadian fashion industry. She was stalwart in her support of local talent and local skill, not only designing but also manufacturing her line in Vancouver (sales, marketing, design, production, retail, and wholesale all operate under the same roof); she proved business savvy by keeping volume in check and maintaining excellent sell-through rates. Her reward has been 50 to 60 percent growth each season since 2009 (when most companies have seen decline) and plenty of international buzz—coverage in UK Vogue, UK InStyle, and WWD; presence in over 100 stores across the U.S., Canada, and the U.K., including Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom, and Shopbop; and support from celebs like Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Hudson.


Success in one arena inspired action in another, and Peake soon realized that her other great passion in life, philanthropy, could work in tandem with the fast-paced fashion world she orbited daily. In 2009 she launched the Obakki Foundation, its goal to promote self-sufficiency, health, and education in African villages, “I saw, through brand awareness, a way to draw attention to the other projects I was working on.” Peake’s philanthropic achievements were impressive from a young age. At 18 she worked alongside Canadian military officer Ed Smith to provide supplies to orphanages in Romania. “I had always been drawn to this type of work, and Ed tested me. He asked me to gather up books , so in one week I had filled my house. I called every school, every library I knew.” Peake’s determination and drive resulted in two military trucks full of books being shipped to Africa.

Twenty years later that experience and dedicated groundwork give the Obakki Foundation a palpable edge over other similar charities, and Peake has seen some formidable results. With education and water access as its primary focus, the Obakki Foundation has built 10 schools in Cameroon since 2010 and 100 water wells in south Sudan since January 2011. The goal is to have built 300 wells by the new year. Peake describes the wells as “quick-impact” projects: “a mere $8,000-10,000 investment has staggering results. Once the population has access to water, right away they don’t have to roam. Then they build houses, then crops, then schools.”  

There are so many growing pains when you start a charity. Coming in with governmental and military connections, along with the long-held relationships fostered with the local populations and leaders means “We’ve already sorted through the framework.” One hundred percent of proceeds raised by the Foundation goes to projects, and all administrative costs are absorbed by the fashion arm of the Obakki empire.

Today the Obakki Foundation operates out of the same office as the thriving fashion label, both sharing a successful model of steady growth and singular vision. “I’ve learned to trust what I love and follow my instincts,” says Peake. Those instincts have served her very well indeed.