After three years of modelling in Moncton, I had been afforded the opportunity to write for the Pinkblitz Zine, Viewpoint, and work on two Rogers Community TV shows. These experiences led me to believe that my love of fashion and writing deserved to be the focus of my second degree and that I should pursue higher education at Ryerson University studying Fashion Communication. Up until this point, I had been in three fashion shows in Moncton, seen some of the work of designers on social media from Atlantic Fashion Week and had seen how little diversity there was in the Atlantic fashion scene. Though I’m sure I did not see everything, and that there were people of colour working to make a name, at the time I was one of few token Black models, I believe the only one who was mixed and I don’t recall there being any Black designers – only one Indigenous designer. My hope was moving to the “Big City” would expand my opportunities and that I would see more inclusion, diversity and excitement once in Toronto.
Upon moving to Toronto, I was wowed by the diversity in the city but unfortunately turned off by the vibe at Ryerson. I was 22, trying to do another undergrad and between my mental health issues and stubbornness I was unhappy. Furthermore the degree comprised of a common year with the Fashion Design students and my lack of fine arts capabilities did make me feel inferior and I was put off. Despite my difficult start, once I was tasked with hands-on co-op experiences I was much happier. I was happy to find fashion designer Dee Wilkie of Dee Silkie had moved from Fredericton to Toronto. I would be lying if I didn’t say that she exposed me to a lot of the Toronto fashion scene. I used my student status to get free access to a few events, and once I started my internship with her and was able to accompany her to a few meetings and events I felt I had gotten a glimpse of what the Toronto scene was like.
At the time I was amazed and distracted by the glamour of it all. Being a Moncton girl, it felt as close to the real deal of a fashion week that I could get my hands on. I went to Toronto Fashion Week with free student tickets. Though I was impressed and in awe at the amount of diversity on the stage in respect to models, the designers themselves that day were white. As I continued to attend other events, watch the Fashion Group International Toronto’s social media page, attend panels and conferences I started to notice a distinct pattern: a lot of the players in the fashion industry were white. Now this was not an exclusively white club, there were a few people of colour, but more often than not the designers were white.
At the time I didn’t realize that the distinct white-ness of the fashion industry correlated with how it was funded, but it did. Unfortunately, the fashion scene is not aided with funding grants through the government. Despite being art, in my opinion, the government does not help up and coming designers in the same way. This is an issue that Dee has spoken out about as a designer trying hard to sell enough stock to make profit and have a good turnover. The amount of money you need to invest to simply start your brand can feel impossible to some. When you take into consideration how statistically visible minorities are not as affluent as white people, you can come to understand how these groups of people may not be represented in the fashion scene of Toronto.
What I slowly came to learn and observe was that the same people, ran in the same circles, and supported each other and seemingly anyone had money could buy their way into the industry, buy their way to events, make the correct connections and basically have their shiny god ticket to success. In the two years I lived there I was able to use my student status to get access to these events and use, what I perceive to be my Maritimer charm, to get invited to other events and start writing and working for two events based magazines while there. The majority of the people I surrounded myself with in this industry seemed to be white or had the money to get to where they were. We often talk about how politics are a white boys club, well the fashion industry seems to be a white women’s club with a dash of white men and white queer’s behind the scenes.
The whiteness of the Toronto Fashion scene unfortunately represents how white the Canadian fashion scene is because Toronto is the epicentre of it. Though Montreal has a fashion scene and there is Atlantic Fashion week and, I believe, a Vancouver Fashion Week as well, Toronto seems to be the place people refer back to and the fashion showcased never represented Canadian’s in my opinion. Canada is a “mosaic”, “melting pot”, diverse country with high immigration numbers and yet , a few years ago, when I asked my social media followers what they thought of when I said Canadian Fashion I was met with Canada Goose, parkas and flannel from everyone who had not lived in Toronto or experienced the scene. After interviewing Kyle Gervacy this week, though I already knew how amazing his designs were, I was floored by how important it was that other Canadian’s know we have immigrants like him making huge waves. Their work and voices just might not be as amplified because they are not as supported by the white Toronto fashion community, nor have access to government funding.
If we’ve established that the Toronto fashion scene, and by default the Canadian fashion scene, is too white then where do we go from here? More, next week…