The first annual Vancouver Indigenous Fashion Week (VIFW) is here, and it’s def cause for excitement. Featuring more than 30 designers, artists and creatives, the four-day event runs from July 26 to 29 at the city’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre.
Creator Joleen Mitton hopes the inaugural Fashion Week will increase Indigenous representation in media and act as inspiration for younger generations of Indigenous people. Mitton herself modelled for more than 10 years—working for the likes of Kenzo and Vivienne Westwood—but eventually left the biz to reconnect with her Plains Cree, French and Scottish identity. In 2008, she began working with Vancouver’s Pacific Association of First Nations Women (PAFNW), counselling foster children and trying to inspire younger generations to embrace their heritage.
While working with PAFNW, Mitton came to realize that the Indigenous youth she worked with only had white role models: “They were dying their hair blonde and the people they looked up to included Miley Cyrus. They were not into their own culture,” she recently told our sister publication Maclean’s. Cue the birth of VIFW. Mitton says that 98 percent of the models will be First Nations, Métis and Inuit—including some former and current members of the foster care system.
While the focus of VIFW is championing Indigenous designers and the “truths of land, territory and rightful place,” the event will also acknowledge cultural appropriation in the mainstream fashion industry. For a sampling of what’s in store—including work by Sho Sho Esquiro (we *love* her very boss, fur and gold-trimmed ballgowns) and Evan Ducharme (whose Motif Skirt is comprised of 1,500 strips of tulle meant to represent a traditional Métis weaving pattern)—click through for 10 VIFW designers you need to have on your radar.
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Designer: Autum Jules
The influence of the natural world is omnipresent in Autum Jules’s designs, especially when it comes to colour: vivid greens and putty browns demonstrate a deep connection to the earth; while delicate beading on her floor-length dresses makes them glisten like running water.
What We’ll See at VIFW: “Part of the Land, part of the Water:” These are words from Elder Virginia Smarch of the Teslin Tlingit Council, which, says Jules, are “woven into my collection deeply, and words that I live by.” She wants her work to portray “the strong connection we still have to Mother Nature, through using Indigenous beadwork, clan emblems and hides.” Jules credits her mother Khagane (Connie Jules) and auntie Elder Pearl Keenan for teaching her Tlingit culture and language at a very young age. “Without those teachings,” she says, “I wouldn’t know where I would be today.”
—With files from Hiba Traboulsi
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