Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto turns design into empowerment

Share Button

Beautifully blending culture, tradition and design, Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto succeeded in presenting something far beyond a conventional fashion show.

From May 31 to June 2, models strutted the work of Indigenous designers from around the world up and down the Harbourfront catwalks of the festival.

And while the shows were heavily focused on the progressive and provocative work of some of the world’s most renowned Indigenous designers, it also sewed into its programing powerful calls for social change and revolutionary representations of Indigenous identity.

IFWTO actually revelled in subverting and reimagining perceptions of Indigenous people and culture.

The goal was to present concepts of Indigenous identity that rebel against the long history of stereotyping, exploiting and commodifying the works, designs and crafts of Indigenous creators and communities.

“There’s a lot of mysticism around Indigenous people across the world, so having something where we control the narrative is very crucial,” said Ziibiwan Rivers, an Anishinaabe model and the opening performer at IFWTO.

The work of many designers followed suit. Many of the most incendiary pieces were designed to challenge mainstream representations of Indigenous tradition and symbolism. The pieces compellingly commanded inclusion into what the festival calls the colonial artistic construct – a tradition that historically excluded Indigenous art.

In addition to runway shows, the four-day event included workshops on traditional crafting, a marketplace of Indigenous-made work and a lecture series discussing topics of Indigenous identity and cultural appropriation.

The Trade & Consumer Marketplace hosted dozens of Indigenous artisans and their work. Available at the many booths were artworks, apparel, accessories and jewellery – all made with traditional techniques accompanied by a contemporary, pop-culture flair.

The marketplace also included a designer showroom, where selected works seen on the runway were available for purchase. It also featured an Original Makers Space, which provided female Elders a space for their work to be viewed, created and sold.

Those hoping to feature their own work were able to take part in several practical workshops designed to reinvigorate interest and knowledge in traditional Indigenous art forms and design techniques. Some notable workshops included a Black Walnut Dyeing tutorial, a Navajo Rug Weaving class, and an Intro to Applied Beading course.

Those fortunate enough to secure a spot at the hugely popular runway events got a front-row seat to some of the most ground-breaking presentations of Indigenous design that Canada has ever seen. Like every aspect of the festival, the runway shows incorporated concepts of Indigenous tradition, with each event being inspired by the traditional seasons of the moon.

The collections weaved together various social themes. From abstract symbolism to overt political allegory, they called on audiences to reflect on issues from environmentalism and land sovereignty, to gender equality and missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

“Events like Indigenous Fashion Week are a platform for designers and artists to showcase what contemporary Indigenous fashion is, and creates a current space for the Indigenous voice,” said Catherine Blackburn, an Indigenous designer featured at the festival. Blackburn made headlines for her provoking New Age Warriors collection, which featured vibrant futurist imaginings of traditional Indigenous regalia through the use of neon fabrics, LED visors, and graffiti inspired beadwork patterns.

Beyond the festival, IFWTO aspires to become a leader in exporting authentic Indigenous-made work, and is pushing to empower creators by bridging their work with “international audiences, festivals, buyers, retailers, curators and institutes.”

The IFWTO organization also provides powerful resources for Indigenous creators, focusing on professional skills development, as well as the creation of opportunities for networking and business advancement. It also ensures that 60% or more of its programming is dedicated to Indigenous women, whether they be designers, artists or experts in craft.

Sage Paul, Founder and Artistic Director of IFWTO, spoke of the significance of the event and its future editions. “We wanted to create a space for ourselves, because if we don’t, no one else will.”

The festival will return in the summer of 2020, and organizers hope to engage an even greater number of Indigenous artists.


Photos by Nadya Kwandibens – Red Works Photography



Share Button

Comments are closed.