Updated: Jan 28, 2022
For Nicole Viste and many others, farming has always been more than an occupation. It’s a lifestyle—a culture shared by a diverse and talented group of people, Viste being one such individual. Marrying a love for her rural lifestyle with her art, she started The Bunkhouse in 2018 and continues to bring apparel, scarves, jewellery, and candles with a rustic twist to the community today. Her long-standing roots in the Hanna area are a source of much of her inspiration.
“I’m the fourth generation on [my] dad’s side and the fifth generation on my mom’s that has lived within ten miles of where we are today,” states Viste.
In fact, some of her apparel at The Bunkhouse features familiar faces, showcasing her family’s history on the land and their ranching lifestyle.
“The Lucy and William tees are actually my aunt and uncle,” says Viste, gesturing to a couple of photographic t-shirts she keeps in stock. “[The Lucy tee reads] ‘Cowgal 1946,’ because that’s when the picture was taken of my aunt Lucy. The other one [shows] uncle Bill, and it was [taken] with a neighbour back in the ’40s too.”
The apparel isn’t the only aspect of the business that pays homage to Viste’s rural roots. The name of her online shop, The Bunkhouse, came from an actual bunkhouse that used to be on her family’s ranch.
“[Being] one of several out buildings, it always intrigued me the most as a child: full of treasures,” says Viste. “I always wished the walls could talk with the stories that had been told inside.”
Viste uses many of her creations to tell the story of agriculture. Her Prairie and Plains jewellery line captures the beauty of the Alberta prairies in a piece that can be worn for any occasion.
“The native grasses are kind of my love,” admits Viste. “[The Prairie and Plains line is] a way for me to promote the prairies [and agriculture] using my creative side . . . [The idea came to me] back when I was working as a range agrologist, and I was driving across the pasture. [I thought,] I can make grasses into jewellery. I know I can; I just have to figure out how.”
Alongside her love for agriculture, Viste’s love for creative arts also started young. Looking for entertainment in the country, tree forts and crafts were at the top of the list, but as she grew and changed over the years, her many creations soon drove her towards retail opportunities in her teens.
“I’ve had it since I was a kid. I’ve always been a crafter and a builder,” says Viste. “[After high school graduation] I did trade shows with my drawings, my photography, and my woodworking.”
Gaining valuable experience and marketing skills so early has helped her today with The Bunkhouse’s trade show and online-run business. With the oversaturated apparel market, Viste is able to lean into what makes her products unique, using her pattern development, drawing, and photography skills to capture the authentic rural lifestyle in common household products.
“I print my own patterns, so I know nobody else can sell [them],” says Viste. “I have something for everyone for sure. The newer scarves I am focusing more on my drawings and my photography, incorporating them directly into the scarves . . . With the t-shirts, it was one of those things. There were so many people doing it, but I wanted to get a very genuine agricultural take. A little more rural, not the made in China t-shirts that say ‘farm life’ with a chicken on them.”
This desire for authenticity has driven Viste to keep production close to home. Moving away from getting the t-shirts printed off site, the apparel side of the business is now added to the many other products in The Bunkhouse that are made by hand out of her home.
Now Viste is proud to say, “Everything is made here in Alberta!”
The community aspect of the business is no small matter, as Viste has made a name for herself at local events, rallying the agriculture industry behind her.
“I was at a bull sale this spring and there had to be a dozen people wearing my scarves and that’s a pretty cool feeling,” says Viste. “I’m there for the same reason everyone else is there, but just to see that support within the industry is very neat.”
When looking to the future, Viste hopes to see her business expand and reach more people. Just as her many creations prove, her imagination has no boundaries. She admits with a smile: “I’m a crazy dreamer.”
This has been a Home Grown segment, brought to you by connectFirst Credit Union, showcasing Alberta producers, artisans, and farming communities.
Watch Nicole Viste’s full video interview here.