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Art by Karissa Besharah Design Studio. Photo provided.

From fashion to sustainable art: interview with Ottawa entrepreneur Karissa Besharah

By Sonya Gankina on August 25, 2021

Lemonade stands. DIY Halloween costumes. Haute couture. Sustainable art. Ottawa local entrepreneur Karissa Besharah has done it all. Apt613 met with Karissa to learn more about her creative drive, shed light on the local fashion scene, and to see how art prints can also be eco-friendly.

Apt613: You’ve been an entrepreneur from a young age. Can you tell us more about your time in fashion?

Karissa Besharah: Even as a child, I always wanted to build businesses—my sisters and I organized toy garage sales and lemonade stands. When I wasn’t running all of my little ventures, I would sew summer dresses and Halloween costumes from scratch, using stuff around the house.

This hobby led to me enrolling in Ottawa’s prestigious Richard Robinson Academy of Fashion Design in 2014, where I focused on haute couture. My creative side flourished here—all my signature pieces were art-driven. One of my favourites, Flourishing Uncaged, was a cage design covered in over 300 silk flowers, each flower uniquely hand sewn. Creating a wow piece that I liked to refer to as “wearable art” was super important to me!

Karissa Besharah, leading the runway showcasing her original designs. Photo by Jerome Chiabaut.

 

Flourishing Uncaged, one of Karissa Besharah’s signature pieces while studying at the Richard Robinson Academy of Fashion Design. Photo by Richard Tardif.

What are charity fashion shows in Ottawa like?

I participated in the CASCO Gala, organized by Telfer students at the University of Ottawa, which raises money for CHEO [Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario] with an extravagant night of performances and fine dining. Charity shows are an opportunity to get involved with the community and to meet new people.

Runway for Hope is another important one – it helps designers starting out in fashion to meet makeup artists and other people in the industry they will be working with later on. It’s crucial for new designers to get their names and pieces out there. It’s really difficult to make a name for yourself as a fashion designer. When you are young, you are full of hope and optimism but there are a lot of barriers in the way.

CASCO charity gala models wearing Karissa Besharah designs, with Karissa third from the left. Photo provided.

What do you wish to see in Ottawa’s fashion scene in the future?

OK, this is a big one. Support for new designers is a must. There is nothing in place to help designers straight out of school to produce their first line, they have to use their own capital and it’s not sustainable for many. It’s really sad because Ottawa has so much talent.

We need more funding for designers to start their own business. We need more community involvement around fashion.

Bring back Ottawa Fashion Week. The last one ran in 2014 and we haven’t had a Fashion Week here since! Ottawa can absolutely run a FW at the level of Toronto FW, with lots of community support. Ottawa designers are allowed to go to Toronto FW but it’s not accessible to many – think about how much you need to bring to showcase your line – all of your clothes, your entire team.

Now onto the new art venture! What is your new business?

My new business is Karissa Besharah Design Studio – I create beautiful, affordable, and eco-friendly digital art because I believe that everyone deserves to have art in their space. I partnered with a local company which is one of the top eco-friendly printing companies in Canada to make prints on recycled paper. I also am committing to not use any plastic for my packaging, using minimal packaging, and making sure it is properly recyclable. Community is really important to me, so I will be donating 10% of yearly profits to CHEO.

Art prints from Karissa Besharah Design Studio. Photo provided.

An art print from Karissa Besharah Design Studio. Photo provided.

Art prints from Karissa Besharah Design Studio. Photo provided.

Did your family play a role in inspiring you to create the new business?

My 3 children always push me to do my best. My goal is to create a legacy for my family. I want them to say, “Oh, look what mom did!” and maybe, later on, they will be interested in art too! That’s what drives me every day.

Being eco-friendly stemmed from my family too. Since having kids, I’ve been paying more attention to the products we use around the house, buying organic foods, and recycling properly. I wanted to incorporate that in my new venture too, and make sure that I am reducing my carbon footprint.

Being creative has always been a part of me. I always wanted to tell a story with my fashion pieces and that’s what drew me to making art now. I focus on visually stunning, unique pieces and I get so much joy out of creating art and sharing it with people. This new business gets me really excited because I can be fully expressive again!

Karissa Besharah poses with her art prints. Photo provided.

How can we support KB Design Studio?

I just launched my new website! There, you can shop for new art for your home and you have three options to purchase:

  • A print on eco-friendly paper from a local company
  • A print with a frame
  • A digital download where you get all the sizes and you can get it printed at your local shop or on a mug if you’d like. You can get it printed a few times too!

In the future, I’d like to incorporate fashion and include eco-friendly totes. Long-term, I’d love to offer home decor and help people make their spaces more comfortable.

Follow Karissa’s Design Studio’s Instagram to stay tuned for updates.