Although born and raised in the region, Sam Toman has lived in countless cities — Berlin, western Ukraine, Estonia and Toronto, to name a few.
When he came back to KW in 2012 after being away since 1997, he said the area was completely different. The region had grown but he found that many of the things that he grew up with were gone or had changed.
“It just seemed like everyone was kind of like, siloed. You were siloed in tech or you’re siloed in Cambridge, which has its own silo, or you were siloed in uptown Waterloo,” Toman said. He noticed that our universities had their own siloes, too.
“It seemed crazy to me, and part of this project was just trying to connect some of the visual [and] structural elements of the cities that connect us.”
The changes that Toman saw in the community inspired him to found TryCities, a line of KW community-focused merch.
Although, listing Toman as a “founder” may be a bit too formal. “I kinda decided not to have [a job title],” he said.
“I don’t really love traditional business hierarchies, I think they’re mostly rooted in the patriarchy and capitalism and colonialism. That’s kind of where our modern business model comes from. So I just figured when I started my own business, I wanted to try to do it differently and do it in a more cooperative way, and just really try to keep the equity with all of us at the forefront.”
The TryCities team work alongside one another to design and create the merch. Twice a year, they plan on collaboratively deciding on how to best spend their earnings.
“The idea is more just to collaborate and support each other and not have that kind of toxic idea of ownership,” Toman said.
Marketed as an “equal partner” collaboration, Toman said anyone who has the heart for it is welcome to contribute their designs or skills to TryCities.
“If someone wants to join all they need to do is add value,” he said.
The designs currently in stock at TryCities focus on local landmarks, such as the “Grand Old Bridge” design, available as a t-shirt and tote, which depicts the three, arched concrete bridges over the Grand River.
The initial designs they came up with were simple, with the goal of making them relatable to everyone and not have ‘in’ jokes that exclude people.
“Here’s our community, here are things that we all have reference points to, and my hope is the more of those things we start to see on posters, totes, t-shirts, [the more] we can kind of just get some pride or an understanding that we’re a community together,” he said.
Toman acknowledged that art can be used to connect the community, and is just one way to show pride in your city. While all of the current TryCities designs reflect past and present landmarks, TryCities aims to theorize the future of KW through their upcoming designs.
“I think moving forward doing designs with the future of the region is something that I’m really interested in,” Toman said.
“I want to walk around and be surprised and I want to be excited by art, and this is just a [tiny] contribution of mine to that,” Toman said. “The city, it feeds our imaginations. We can turn the city into the city we want with a bit of imagination.”
Sam Toman is a regular contributing writer for the Community Edition.
Alyssa is the Editor-in-Chief of The Cord. She is finishing up her final semester in Laurier’s Faculty of Arts, as an English major and Global Studies minor. Alyssa likes pants more than shirts and thinks everyone looks good with a nose piercing.