Toronto Hosts inaugural Indigenous Fashion Week

TORONTO — Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto (IFWTO) launched its four-day festival on May 29, and brought a Trade and Consumer Marketplace to the Harbour-front Centre from Friday, June 1 to Sunday, June 3.

While the festival featured a multi-platform event that hosted some of the most distinctive and progressive Indigenous-made fashion, textiles, workshops and crafts, is also showcased the celebration of global Indigenous expression in fashion and the arts included in its grounding in Indigenous knowledge, ways of life and storytelling.

The IFWTO is also led by none other than innovative Indigenous women that wished to bring audiences an Indigenous-represented and accessible opportunity to connect with and celebrate Indigenous artists and their cultural expression.

Just one of the 23 artists includes Niio Perkins, Bear Clan of the Mohawk Nation of Akwesasne, who is an award-winning fashion designer and business owner whose work is displayed all throughout North America. She utilizes natural material, antique goods and heirloom fabrics into her work and employs the raised bead work technique of the Haudenosaunee.

She was also the favourite artist of Chista Jonathan of Six Nations, who travelled to model at IFTWO.

Jonathan took some modelling classes with Michelle Farmer’s Studio and another agency in Toronto when she was younger, and her first time modelling took place at the Skydome Powwow when she was just thirteen. Having been Miss Six Nations and a competitor at the 2013 Miss Indian World Competition, she was no stranger to the stage and this experience served as her first major modelling show — and it was one she called “incredible.”

“Modelling Indigenous designs made this experience so incredible,” she said. “I felt such pride for our people and was in awe of how these designers incorporated our traditional art into their clothes. Each designer had created their clothes around a certain theme, and speaking to the designers I modelled for, I felt very privileged to be a part of their message.”

And rather than just meeting other models and designers, Jonathan found that she made family during her time there.

“The most profound experience was meeting the mother and daughter duo behind Injunuity, Cheryl and Carissa,” she said. “I was asked to model the outfit that closed their show and it was a beautifully designed Anishnaabe traditional apron and ribbon skirt. While I was being fitting for the outfit, Cheryl told me that she brought her great-grandmother’s moccasins and tobacco picking bag for me to wear. It was such a privilege to be able to wear these meaningful items and I walk away from this experience being welcomed into my new Auntie Cheryl’s wonderful family.”

To participate as a model, she explained that she applied with a few other young women from Six Nations a few months prior and received a call-back in May. Due to time-zone confusion, she then had to perform a whirlwind interview at a campsite in New Zealand over Skype. She said that this made for beautiful scenery and a “unique” audition.

Being accepted as a model also opened her to seeing the work of Thomas.

“I didn’t get a chance to model her designs, but she incorporates our traditional baskets and designs her patterns based off of our famous raised beadwork designs. It showed me that the possibilities are endless when it comes to designing modern clothes that showcase and incorporate our traditional patterns,” she said.

Overall, Jonathan said that she was very glad that she applied for a model position.

“Being a model was an interesting experience, especially for someone who doesn’t identify as a model. I never thought that I’d be a model, especially since the industry standard size for models is not my body. However, Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto made it a point to seek out models that had natural bodies because the majority of the Indigenous designers create clothes for all sizes. The days were jammed packed with rehearsals and fittings, I enjoyed getting my hair and makeup done professionally, especially since I was able to bond with Michael Elliott, a makeup artist from our community! Overall, it was such a great experience and I am so glad I worked up the courage to apply to this remarkable opportunity.”

The live-runway was inspired by the cycles of the moon and featured designs that coordinated with them that were presented with a different moon each night from New Moon, Berry Moon, Frost Moon and Harvest Moon.

The festival itself was a beautiful display of culture and innovation.

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