The QUILTBAG is an LGBTQ+ retail shop carrying queer & trans wares in Edmonton and online.
interview by Paige Wagner
Amidst all the chaos of the past year, The QUILTBAG, a local Edmonton business, not only managed to keep its doors open, but also made a big and exciting move. With the passion of its owners and support from their community, The QUILTBAG’s new location in the Grow Centre at 10516 on Whyte Avenue opened this October. The new storefront has brought with it more foot traffic and is more accessible for a lot of people, which has all been helping The QUILTBAG continue to grow.
“We tend to think of The QUILTBAG as a queer & trans gift shop or general store,” explain the store’s owners, Rebecca and Parker Lieb.
Two years ago, Rebecca and Parker noticed that being able to find queer and trans wares locally was nearly impossible. Even now, in the day and age of online shopping, not being able to shop for queer and trans wares in person can cause difficulties for queer individuals.
“A big challenge for many trans folks especially, is ordering gender affirming garments online without being able to try things on first.”
Items like binders, gaffs, and packers can help transgender and nonbinary people “pass” as their true gender and minimize feelings of discomfort with their bodies. Gender affirming garments such as these can play a huge role in improving the mental health and wellbeing of people experiencing gender dysphoria.
However, as Rebecca and Parker explain, gender affirming gear used to be very hard to come by in Edmonton.
“The only place to buy binders and one of the only places for pride merch in town was previously the Travelling Tickle Trunk, which is an awesome store but is 18+.”
In an attempt to solve this, Rebecca and Parker took it upon themselves to open Edmonton’s first, and currently only, LGBTQ2S+ retail shop.
“From there, we did tons of research, talked to so many people that we know and met with artists to see if there was excitement about it, and there was!”
With support from family, friends, and community members, The QUILTBAG was able to open its doors in December 2018.
I was first introduced to Parker and Rebecca before the chaos of 2020, at a “Bi Takeover” event held at the shop in February of this year, where artworks from bisexual and pansexual artists were showcased. The way they interacted with, not only me but all of the customers in the store at the time caught my attention. It was as if everyone who entered was a close friend of theirs. It seemed they knew nearly everyone by name and were thrilled to be helping them find something that would make them smile.
The atmosphere of The QUILTBAG is one of complete welcoming, which is something I find really refreshing given that so many stores seem to focus on having an automated and efficient shopping experience rather than a meaningful one.
However, while offering a safe space for individuals to affirm and experiment with their identity and sexuality, what first drew me to The QUILTBAG was that they’ve grown to be and offer the LGBT+ community a lot more than that. The QUILTBAG is a shop made by community members for community members, and it’s very clear to see that when you walk into the store.
The QUILTBAG is a hub of Edmonton LGBTQ2S+ creators and community. The name of the store itself is a fun symbolization of the diversity of the queer community. “QUILTBAG” is a variation of the LGBT+ acronym (Queer, questioning, unlabeled, intersex, lesbian, trans, two-spirit, bisexual, asexual, gay, genderqueer, +). The image of quilting also factors into the store’s name. On their Instagram account, Rebecca and Parker have shared that they want to call upon the long history of the folk art as “textiles for resistance” as well as reference the NAMES Project AIDS memorial quilt.
Rebecca and Parker work with over 60 LGBTQ2S+ artists on a mostly consignment basis. The store carries an assortment of pride related (and non-pride related) artworks like prints, zines, flags, hand crafts, and greeting cards, all made locally. Since having to reduce shopping hours because of the pandemic, they’ve also started offering custom curated care packages on their website, which in my opinion, have a lot potential to be very meaningful and thoughtful gifts for queer friends and family members.
“We are especially proud of our enamel pronoun pins that are an original design created for The QUILTBAG and produced by a local company,” Rebecca says, “We have 7 different pronoun sets available which is the biggest range that we know of for enamel pronoun pins (she/her, he/him, they/them, she/they, he/they, all pronouns, no pronouns).”
“One of the things we sell the most is gender affirming gear like binders and gaffs.” Parker says however, “This is awesome since making these products accessible locally was one of the main drivers behind opening the shop.”
Keeping The QUILTBAG running doesn’t come without it’s struggles though, and like many other local business, the coronavirus pandemic certainly hasn’t helped. For Rebecca and Parker, being able to offer a physical place for individuals to shop and try on gender affirming gear is still a priority. While making sure the shop would stay a safe place forced them to reduce their hours and move a lot of their work to online, fitting and shopping appointments can still be booked on The QUILTBAG’s website.
Rebecca and Parker intend for The QUILTBAG to offer a place for people to host events, express themselves and be part of the larger family of queer Edmontonians. The pandemic has also put a hold on The QUILTBAG’s ability to host events. In the past, they’ve held mixers and skills workshops and had live music events, however, for the time being, Parker and Rebecca say there will be “no events until there’s a vaccine! And then maybe we can have another dance party.”
“Because we’re a new business,” Rebecca explains, “we don’t have money to pay ourselves. Both of us have other jobs that we work on a regular basis in addition to running the shop full time.”
“The landlord at our old location wasn’t willing to investigate the rent relief options available to him and as such, largely unwilling to negotiate with us to create new lease norms that accounted for the totally unpredictable nature of doing business in the pandemic! At our new location, our landlords have been much more generous in navigating this situation.”
“We also really like being in a co-working space like the Grow Centre,” Parker adds, “There is a lot of positive energy from people working on different projects at various times.”
Though the pandemic hasn’t been easy, Rebecca and Parker are very grateful that The QUILTBAG has continued to grow, which they say feels like a huge accomplishment. “It’s taken a ton of creativity and support from so many people in such a wide variety of ways, which is super heartening.”
At the heart of everything though, it’s clear that Rebecca and Parker are in it with a genuine passion and care for LGBT+ culture in Edmonton.
“Both of us really love it when younger trans kids come in with supportive and loving older queer family members,” Parker says, “It feels really special to live out the value of trying to be the kinds of adults we needed when we were younger, and trans kids are perfect in every way.”
“We’re just so grateful that people keep giving us the opportunity to be of use and value to them.”
10516 82 Ave NW, Edmonton
curbside pickup available