The State of Canadian Fashion
"No one will care about you here until you go and make it somewhere else."
As I get older and consider the steps I need to take to solidify my role in the world of fashion, I reflect upon these words a lot. They were spoken by my agent, and many others, when I first started modelling, almost as a way to comfort me for not being a knock-out Toronto success in my initial Toronto Fashion Week runway season. The Canadian fashion industry is wonderful, and most definitely underappreciated and overlooked. But, is the industry itself causing this to happen?
One of my mentors just returned from Paris, where she spent the week immersed in the French fashion industry. She was in absolute awe of the way the big brands supported the small, and the way the theatre, the arts, music, and museums were all intertwined with the foray of fashion and beauty-based businesses. There was a distinct culture, one that we severely lack here in Canada.
The biggest problem in my mind is the lack of support, especially for the emerging talent just breaking into the scene. While I can't speak from the other cultural sectors, I am familiar with the difficulties of starting a fashion business here in Canada. There is a severe lack of funding and even more, a lack of interest, for fostering new talent. We don't care unless people elsewhere do.
those who forgot they're Canadian
Let's begin by looking at those who have found success elsewhere, and haven't turned back.
Wu was named one of the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalists in 2008. He quickly became a favourite of First Lady Michelle Obama, Julianna Moore, Reese Witherspoon and a myriad of other stars, winning various accolades along the way. On his "ABOUT" page, he casually mentions one of these awards being the 2016 CAFA Designer of the year. Nothing about his adolescence in Vancouver, after emigrating to Canada with his family at age nine. Surprisingly, it is difficult to find his pieces locally, even when he is a close friend and employer of celeb-model Bella Hadid.
I first heard of Fast when Jeanne Beker was Canadian fashion royalty during her hosting gig at Fashion Television. The knitwear designer, based in London, hit it big in the early 2010s, but his star power has faded a little in recent years. Despite this, his innovative designs still appear on countless red carpets and in foreign fashion magazines, his clothes aren't appearing in the pages of any Canadian publications as of late.
Dean and Dan Caten are the Canadian fashion designers, and gorgeous twin personalities behind the label DSQUARED. When I went to a casting at their atelier in Milan, I was chatting with a few other models in the waiting area. No one knew they were Canadian, and no one seemed to care.
There are so many others who have left to "make it," and haven't come back to grow or truly invest in the Canadian industry: Linda Evangelista, Daria Werbowy, Stephanie Mark, Jake Rosenberg, Imran Amed, Hannah Bronfman.
I get it - it is hard to build a business in a place where there isn't room for growth. However, I think all of these examples, alongside some proud Canadians like Coco Rocha, Joe Zee, and Chloe and Parris Gordon, have the global influence to really push homegrown talent onto center stage.
The Canadian industry still upholds a sense of elitism and exclusivity that many young emerging talents view as the greatest barrier to breaking in. The community is small, and if you want work, you need to have a detailed and impressive resume under your belt. Which, if you're not working in one of the major fashion cities or for a big (foreign) corporation, is incredibly hard to do.
keep your eye out for these Canadians
Working as a model in Toronto, I was exposed to some of the best young talents in Canada. Designers like Sid Neigum, Mikhael Kale, Greta Constantine, Matthew Gallagher, Malorie Urbanovitch, and Stephen Caras are bold, innovative and creating drop-dead gorgeous designs that could compete with some of the bigger LVMH/Kering-backed superbrands who are financing the fashion publications we're fighting to keep alive. Lucian Matis is one of my favourite Canadian designers, never failing to create exquisite gowns with intricate details, is poised to be the next big thing, but has yet to truly make a dent in the international market.
I love Toronto, and I love our little fashion family here. But it is time to expand that community. It is time to invest in the creatives of the future, to truly hone in on what it means to be Made in Canada, and encourage consumers to support that thoroughly. We need our department stores to be buying more Canadian designers and promoting them on the floor. We need more people attending fashion week to create a consumer demand for these designers. We need to have paid summer internships in fashion so those who can't afford to work for free are able to gain the same experience as those who are in a position of privilege.
Our country is so unique; it is filled with a diverse population, picturesque landscapes, and a complicated history we tend to push aside. We need to embrace what we have and cement it in art. Our cultural identity falls short to the power of the US, but as they sit under fire whatever their president is doing (and a long list of other political issues, like gun laws, female health care and racism), it is time for us to rise from their ashes and truly shine through.
Let's support Canadian Fashion and create a community in which we can foster growth, celebrate success and support each other in our creative endeavors.