Canada no longer has a fashion week. Or at least this is what media said almost two weeks ago now when the news broke out that our biggest and longest-running fashion week, Toronto Fashion Week was cancelled. I followed the shocked reactions of Ottawa’s fashion bloggers as they posted about the sudden news, but I couldn’t join them in their upset.
I went to Toronto Fashion Week as a university student back in…goodness, was it 2007? My best friend Ilona and I agonized over what to wear, desperate to give off some whiff of class and status. We watched runway shows, wandered around at intermission, ogled the oh-so-very stylish attendees and convinced ourselves that we fit right in. It was a great time and I have fond memories of the trip, but I don’t remember many of the designers that participated and I certainly didn’t buy from any of them afterwards.
For a designer, a fashion show is a significant investment in time, energy and money, an investment that generally doesn’t pay off. I can’t speak for all shows, but I know that the Canadian designers I’ve spoken to over the years say that what they really need is to meet buyers and customers, not spend oodles of money and time on a show that’s primarily attended by local socialites and seen as just another schmooze fest. The reality for Toronto Fashion Week is that it wasn’t aligned with the international fashion calendar, making it difficult to attract the same amount of fashion press as the other shows around the globe.
I appreciate the spectacle that is the fashion show. It’s fun, it’s good for networking and if a show attracts enough media attention, it can catapult a designer. But for many start-up fashion labels in this country, being centre stage at Toronto Fashion Week doesn’t bring the exposure they need to make sales. At the end of the day, a label wants to sell product and this is best done at exhibitions and of course regular buyer sessions. Sure, fashion editors and buyers attend fashion shows too, but this isn’t the only way they can see a collection. It certainly is the most expensive way though.
I can’t sympathize with my fellow fashion bloggers who are mourning this cancellation. I’m sad that we’ve lost this cultural event that attracted a lot of visitors to Toronto and that gave us a fashion event to look forward to, but I see this as an opportunity to try something new or at least for fashion weeks to take a new approach. I’m sure there are several groups already planning to launch a replacement show. I’ve already heard wind of Startup Fashion Week spreading its wings from Toronto to Ottawa and Montreal; and a local model just launched Canadian Fashion Week. Yes, these two examples are small, and yes, they could very well be just another carbon copy of the old fashion show template, but all this is to say that all is not lost for Canadian fashion.
Now’s the time for an alternative fashion event to fill this void and we already have a couple of contenders. INLAND is a Toronto-based exhibit that showcases more than 60 Canadian fashion and accessories designers from across the country twice a year. Founded by Sarah Power, the show just keeps getting bigger and bigger and is praised as being an important event that brings designers and consumers together under one roof. It costs less for designers to setup at this two-day event and they don’t have to worry about coordinating a runway show.
And of course, I can’t forget Eco Fashion Week. Director Myriam Laroche cared for and raised this event into a week-long eco-fashion extravaganza that has made Vancouver the eco-fashion mecca of Canada and has highlighted to media and industry the environmental and social issues of fashion. It has just recently expanded to Seattle too, proof that the interest in sustainable fashion is spreading, and quickly.
Toronto Fashion Week may be cancelled, but I look forward to seeing what takes its place. This is not a step back for Canadian fashion, but a step in a new direction.