Why Toronto Needs Indigenous Fashion Week

*all photos from IFWTO

Okay, you might be asking yourself why Toronto needs another fashion week, but Indigenous Fashion Week (IFTWTO) isn’t your run of the mill catwalk presentation. While the typical design soiree focuses on the who’s-who and keeping face, Indigenous Fashion Week wants to tell a different story.

23 artists and designers from Nunavut to Greenland will be showcasing the vibrant history of Indigenous-made fashion, textiles, and crafts; creations that are one part traditional and one part progressive.  It’s fashion with a story and soul, that’s been passed down through generations. IFTWTO is about making a connection to our country’s roots, as opposed to being an inaccessible, commercial event, as so many fashion weeks tend to be.

Intrigued yet? I caught up with founder and Dene artist, Sage Paul, to get the lowdown on what makes IFTWTO, just so special.

First off, Paul tells me that despite having runway shows, IFTWTO is more of a festival than a fashion presentation. “I saw a huge need for indigenous artists, and having worked in design it was important to me to have a space where the work is valued in a cultural center.”

The fashion industry is no stranger to cultural appropriation — Old Navy selling clothing with Navajo prints is essentially like stealing a culture’s identity. On the contrary, Paul states that the festival is void of any sort of tokenism. “We’re creating a stage for artists to create networks, but also a space where audiences can connect as well.”

“The goal is to have Indigenous artists and people valued.“ Rather than buying from a faceless brand, consumers have an opportunity to purchase directly from the artisans and really understand the histories. For example, one designer, Janelle Wooweeha, traps her own animals to create her furs and pieces — how cool is that?!

Along with runway presentations, a marketplace, and an artscape, the festival is also offering intensive workshops in the areas of weaving, beading, and dying for those who are feeling extra adventurous and hands on.

IFTWTO is set to take place May 31 to June 3 at the Harbourfront Centre and Paul encourages everyone to come out and celebrate the story of Indigenous people and Indigenous women. For more information on the festival, to purchase tickets, or check out a list of designers, head here.


Here’s a look at what some of the festivals artisans and designers are saying: 


Denise Brillon – Artifaax

“There has always been something magical about clothing, jewelry and people. It’s your regalia.  It tells your story. By hosting a platform, IFWTO is giving everyone the opportunity to connect to the Haute Couture of North America in a meaningful way. My show ‘Regalia for Blanche’ is a metaphor for the vision that you can find beauty and success by picking up the remnants of your past and recreating them into something beautiful.”


Yolanda Skelton – Sugiit Lukx Designs

“I believe that fashion can be used as a constructive platform to raise awareness of social issues, as well as a wonderful medium to promote reconciliation, tolerance, and respect for Indigenous Peoples of Canada. It promotes cultural pride in the participants, their families, and communities. Because of our collective ideology, the success for one is a success for all.”

Catherine Blackburn

“It is critical for authentic Indigenous fashion to be presented. When non-Indigenous designers attempt to present a culture through fashion that is not their own; truths, histories and stories connected to them are lost or inaccurately circulated. This lack of understanding and respect results in misrepresentation and cultural appropriation. Indigenous Fashion Week is a platform for designers to showcase what contemporary Indigenous fashion is. It creates a current space for Indigenous voice and fashion to be heard and seen while challenging stereotypes.”

Lesley Hampton

“Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto is an important milestone in the Toronto and Canadian fashion scene as it bridges the gap between fashion as a commodity or product and the inspiration, tradition, and culture of the conceptual ideas being presented. I hope that the attendees of IFWTO leave my show with a greater understanding of oneself.”

Evan Ducharme
“I’d like for them to understand that my clothes are an interpretation of my singular experience as a queer Metis artist, and everything that that entails; to know that I attempt to create work that encapsulates the strength, struggle, joy, and beauty of my ancestors and all the things they’ve gifted me. So often Indigenous people are painted as damaged, dying, or destitute. While that is a part of many of our realities as a result of our history with the Canadian state, we are also filled with boundless vitality and the most excellent minds in contemporary society.”

“We as Indigenous people hold things like tribal headdresses very sacred. Someone that wears one has to earn each one of those feathers. That is our identity. No one bats an eye when you see a sexy native inspired halloween costume with a headdress or one worn with panties and a bra, strut down a Victoria’s Secret or Chanel runway. My upcoming collection will have a powerful message. We are a people that speak and express through our chosen art forms, many of us using techniques handed down generation to generation. It will definitely be the premiere fashion event of the year. I’m looking forward to it Toronto!”