Walking through the packed halls of Edmonton’s Comic and Entertainment Expo, it’s easy to assume a strong sense of community from the eclectic attendees. In a city known for its practicality and blue-collar mindset, the masses of Edmonton comic lovers, cosplay creatives, and nerd-culture vendors appear distinct and united in their shared passion for pop culture. So, for a local gaming apparel brand that has grown up alongside Edmonton’s comic con culture, there should be no better place than home to build their business. Right?
“Being home feels alien sometimes to be honest,” says Mike Gaboury, of the gaming-based clothing brand Filthy Casual.
“Of all the places and conventions we visit, Edmonton is the one place we never get recognized. Anywhere else, we’ll have people stop us in the streets, but in our home town no one knows who we are,” finishes company co-owner, and Gaboury’s long-time friend, Jason Soprovich.
From the days of playing World of Warcraft in the basement of Gaboury’s mom’s house, to year-round travels to North America’s largest comic book and entertainment expos, both have shared a passion for “con culture.” Before Filthy Casual however, was Cherry Sauce, Gaboury and Soprovich’s first foray into selling gaming and comics related t-shirts — a collection of Pokémon tees was their claim to minor fame. It was the Filthy Casual rebranding, however, that propelled the start-up business to new levels of success, catering to a niche of lifestyle apparel for gamers. With stops in Boston, San Diego, New York, and Texas becoming the norm and a growing fan base worldwide, where does Edmonton fit into their story?
Gaboury points to their early Edmonton friend group as key to their survival, spreading word of mouth around town, and bringing the brand “out of the basement and into comic cons.” Once they began to find success through their online presence, the enthusiasm of their friends didn’t translate into the larger Edmonton gaming and convention population.
“We’ve done the Edmonton and Calgary conventions more than any other, and still the people walking around will say ‘oh we’ve never heard of you guys before, where are you from?’” says Soprovich with a chuckle. “We’ll still get people running up to our booth asking for the old Pokémon shirts, the crappy part about it is since we stopped printing them, no one’s became interested in hearing what Filthy Casual is about, it’s like ‘oh, you’re not doing your comic shit anymore, well, bye.’”
Due in part to this attitude, Filthy Casual moved its operations to Florida, and have invested the majority of their resources visiting conventions around the States. For them it was a question of “following the interest” in their company, which has continued to lead them perpetually away from where the brand began.
“Support has come from everywhere outside of Alberta,” says Soprovich. “People in Vancouver and Toronto have been trying to get us for the past four years, throughout the States, Australia, and Europe, everywhere seems to be supportive except for here.”
As for why Filthy Casual and the culture it’s part of fails to connect with Edmontonians, Gaboury has a few thoughts.
“When I look at the majority of people who come to this convention, they’re content with buying a ‘Bazinga!’ shirt to prove they’re a geek,” Gaboury says. “People find what they like and generally don’t push for new or different things to experience. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not the Filthy Casual identity.”
Gaboury’s other answer lies in a word so easily said but rarely implemented: community — or in this case, the lack thereof.
“The problem is that the individual groups which do exist in Edmonton are not becoming a community,” Gaboury says. “Everyone will congregate for a second to get something, but will immediately go back to wherever and whatever they were doing.”
Without a stronger sense of community to support the niche ideas emerging in our city, we will continue to drive away businesses rather than grow them. As it stands now, for a company like Filthy Casual, the truth of the matter is perfectly captured by Soprovich.
“The faster the business grows, the more we want to move it somewhere that’s nurturing. The reality, however, is that we’re stuck here right now because we’re not growing fast enough, but the reason we’re not growing fast enough is because we’re here.”