Meet the Calgary Teens Behind a Cool Western Wear Business

How a grassroots Western wear business became a way for teens with Down syndrome to be their own bosses and do good for their communities.

Photo by Jared Sych.

In January 2022, like many of us, Wyatt Smuszko had missed out on a lot of socialization because of COVID-19 lockdowns. But, as a teenager with Down syndrome, Smuszko’s lack of interaction with others had more far-reaching effects. “He hadn’t been to speech therapy, and he just wasn’t getting any opportunities to interact,” recalls Deanne Frère, Smuszko’s mom.

That’s when Frère and her son came up with Wild Wild Wyatt and Smuszko became “the boss” of his own business selling the most Calgarian of wares — broken-in western wear. By running a business, Smuszko, who was 16 when he launched Wild Wild Wyatt, could work on his social skills, but also learn important life skills. “He really got it,” Frère says. “He would ask people if they wanted help, shake hands with them and do all of the things needed to prepare for a work day so he was ready to look someone in the eye.”

It might have taken a little longer to ring in a sale, Frère notes, but, on the whole, the clientele embraced the experience, knowing they were doing something greater than just buying a shirt.

“I liked meeting so many people and working with my mom,” says Smuszko. “I was the best at working with the jewellery and also the best at being charming.”

Wild Wild Wyatt hosted pop-up shops around town leading up to Stampede, selling items that Smuszko had thrifted or that were generously donated. “Western wear was on my front porch every time I came home,” says Frère. “Our community showed up in droves to support him and this business. It took on its own life.”

After two successful Stampede seasons, Smuszko had raised $5,000 for PREP, a local organization that supports individuals with Down syndrome and their families. In August 2023, after graduating high school and with plans to start university, he was proud to pass the torch to Samantha Webber, who was 15 at that time and has since turned 16, the same age as Smuszko when he started the business.

“I want to give Sam a chance to have the business and then she can give it to another kid who wants to learn it all,” Smuszko says. “Sam will do a great job because she’s smart and she likes fashion.”

Webber, who also has Down syndrome, had attended a Wild Wild Wyatt pop-up, where she made her first debit card purchase of a pair of cowboy boots. As a fan of western wear, she was excited to take over the business, which she renamed Stampede Sam’s Country Sparkle. “I wanted the word sparkle in the name because sparkle is my thing,” Webber says. She stepped right into organizing and hosting pop-up sales, and has ambitions to do a fashion show. Similarly, she plans to make a donation to PREP, as well as to Ups and Downs, the Calgary Down Syndrome Association, from her sales.

“Wild Wild Wyatt came from Stampede spirit for a successful inclusion experience,” says Frère. “It was a very specific Calgary gift. Now with Stampede Sam, we hope that it’s a legacy that will carry on.”

Follow Stampede Sam’s Country Sparkle Facebook page for info about upcoming sales.

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This article appears in the July 2024 issue of Avenue Calgary.

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