The Canvas by Querencia Studio: Open for Better Business

New York City’s New Sustainability Hub


A full house on January 25, 2019 at The  Eco-Art Showcase , hosted by SUSTAIN x The Brooklyn Art House.

A full house on January 25, 2019 at The Eco-Art Showcase, hosted by SUSTAIN x The Brooklyn Art House.

A large warehouse on Bedford Avenue beckons curious visitors and locals alike—inside: high ceilings, a wooden loft and cafe lights present an open space colored with unique fashions and accessories, art for sale, books about sustainability trends and a donation drop-off attended by Goodwill.

This is the New York-based eco warrior’s newest pin drop dedicated to the cause of sustainable business, events, and positive change: The Canvas by Querencia Studio Williamsburg. It is the newest location in a collection of multipurpose venues hosting workshops, installations, galleries, pop-ups, events and experiences aimed at addressing the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals.

Since its opening just eight months ago (its first location is up at Hunter College 68th Street), it has hosted a plethora of functions alongside sustainable fashion platforms like SewEthico and Balanced Fashion, and has become a long-term pop-up in collaboration with Global Fashion Exchange. It has provided space for multiple fashion photoshoots, installed a collection and sales hubs for FabScrap and The Goodwill NYNJ, and hosted countless panels with the movers and shakers of sustainable thought and business. Most recently, it has hosted two PAUSE Conscious Fashion Pop-Ups, as well as SUSTAIN’s very own Eco-Art Showcase in partnership with The Brooklyn Art House.

Few spaces are dedicated to the collaboration and fostering of sustainable business endeavors, making The Canvas a remarkable and entirely needed space for sustainable change makers to convene and solidify their movements.

Guests viewing architectural drawings by Jon Levine at SUSTAIN’s  Eco-Art Showcase  in January.

Guests viewing architectural drawings by Jon Levine at SUSTAIN’s Eco-Art Showcase in January.

Collaboration is at the heart of all things The Canvas.

The team behind the concept is Querencia Studio, a fashion brand and agency dedicated to addressing the social and environmental issues of the fashion industry. For this reason, The Canvas also serves as sustainable fashion’s official brick and mortar home. Currently, it stocks fashion brands committed to being environmentally conscious in their design, sourcing, and business practices.

What’s next? Going global? (Likely—Querencia’s founding duo both studied in the Bahamas, and their company has already showcased collections in Paris as well as Bonn, Germany (presented to the Youth Constituency to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change). The Canvas has grown to over 100 ambassadors in over 15 countries.

SUSTAIN caught up with the founders of Querencia and The Canvas: Devin Gilmartin and Tegan Maxey.

When did the idea of The Canvas start? Why the name?

The Canvas name was born out of realizing that there is a blindspot in the way retail operates in New York City. As highlighted by a recent piece in The New York Times, there is a rapidly rising amount of vacant retail space. We noticed this and have taken to going right to the source, speaking with landlords directly and explaining our vision and purpose to bring their space to an audience while conducting large scale, sustainability-focused experiments and events within them. There must be collaboration for “spaces” to become “places”. We do not underestimate the potential of impact based projects to make an impression and appeal to people who want to do good in the world.

We rarely turn down a project that enables us to move sustainability forward in any way. These spaces, and what happens within them, are canvases for experimentation in informative experience design, hence the name. We want people to walk in to The Canvas, regardless of where in the world it might be, and feel that anything is possible and that their ideas are welcome.

Of course, The Canvas succeeded Querencia Studio, the brand which we started to emphasize the development of “querencias”, or safe places, within the fashion industry, beginning with our own design and production process. The Canvas is the next step of our ambition in this regard. It’s a continuation of our original efforts in a way that is more collaborative and effective.

At The Canvas, the work of designers and artists focused on the topic of sustainability are often displayed.

At The Canvas, the work of designers and artists focused on the topic of sustainability are often displayed.

What did The Canvas get up to when you first opened?

We opened the Hunter College location in July of last summer. There, our programming focused on education and engaging the Hunter College community. We developed partnerships with Balanced Fashion, New York’s Sustainable Fashion Circle and FABSCRAP to begin bringing together the sustainable fashion community and introduce them to the evolving vision we had for The Canvas.

How many designers are you currently hosting in the space as a showroom?

We currently work with thirty brands (and counting) in the space. Just as important as the independent designers here, however, are the strategic partnerships we’ve developed to function alongside them. In January, we opened an Attended Donation Center with Goodwill New York New Jersey. On Friday, we opened the first Global Fashion Exchange Swap Shop. These efforts culminate in a model of “recycle, reuse and retail.”

A piece designed by Querencia Studio on display at the Canvas.

A piece designed by Querencia Studio on display at the Canvas.

Goodwill donations divert clothing, accessories and household items from landfills and recycles them instead. This partnership was in large part due to the leadership of the company, especially Ilana Eichinger and Joe Jarroush, whose vision to bring Goodwill into the next generation with a strong message and a wide appeal to Generation Z has made our collaboration with them an impactful and effective partnership.

The Global Fashion Exchange Swap Shop gives people the consistent chance to reuse clothing, and allow for new opportunities of discovering beautiful garments in the process. Goodwill has generously helped bring this to life by including some of their Curated collection to be among the first garments in the Swap Shop. This collaboration, and GFX founder Patrick Duffy’s energy, tireless efforts and wide ranging experience in this industry has made the Swap Shop, undoubtedly, one of the most exciting new elements of The Canvas.

All together, these collaborations form an eco-system that we believe will represent the future of fashion retail, plain and simple.

What's your dream for the space?

Our dream is to develop a system that allows us to open The Canvas in locations around the world and give emerging designers, creatives and leaders addressing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals a place to develop and implement solutions. The Canvas will become a global think tank with human and creative resources, quite literally a canvas where a better picture of a brighter future is painted.

In the short term, the Hunter College location on the Upper East Side of Manhattan will focus on catering to the student community. We recently worked with the Hunter Photography Collective to bring their Alternative Photography exhibition alive and look forward to developing new, engaging experiences that result in multidisciplinary projects.

The Canvas Williamsburg will focus on continuing to give emerging designers who are addressing at least one of the Sustainable Development Goals direct access to this vibrant community on Bedford Avenue.

Any other big plans?

Artist  Goldie De La Roca  setting up her piece at The Canvas.

Artist Goldie De La Roca setting up her piece at The Canvas.

Ultimately, we want to reimagine shopping and the commerce driven experience that has usually come with it. We want the purchase of goods to be supplemented with information pertinent to the decision to buy an item. In other words, if the consumer is not fully informed when they walk into our store, whether they leave with a product or not, they will know something they didn’t know when they entered.

The programming here will also continue to evolve. February and March are packed with the Culture Calendar, a collaborative event series with Global Fashion Exchange bringing in leaders from all industries to discuss the UN Sustainable Development Goals and how we can all strive to address them in various contexts.

Photographed by Alana Mayer