Indigenous futurisms, graphic prints, sustainable couture: The top trends of Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto

From t-shirts to gowns, the 23 designers featured in the inaugural IFWTO didn’t hold back.

From t-shirts to gowns, the 23 designers featured in the inaugural IFWTO didn’t hold back.

(Credit: Nadya Kwandibens/Red Works Photography )

Indigenous Fashion Week ended each of its emotional four nights with a runway show that was inspired not by the fashion seasons, but by the traditional seasons of the moon. It was clear right away that this was going to be a different type of fashion experience. The inaugural event, which is the brainchild of designer Sage Paul featured an impressive lineup of 23 Indigenous artists and designers. It was more than just beautiful clothes, although there were plenty of those, but rather a celebration of fashion and its relation to the land and cultural practice.

IFWTO aims to challenge "mainstream perceptions of Indigenous people and our culture, which are often stereotyped, commodified or exploited" explained Paul. "The name 'Fashion Week' is purposeful: to represent and be accessible to our community of makers who have been excluded from the colonial artistic construct. We strive for artistic integrity despite euro-western artistic definitions".

New Moon

The festival kicked off on Thursday with the New Moon runway show representing spring and birth. The evening created a space for emerging artists to showcase new work with standout collections from Lesley Hampton, Evan Ducharme, Yolanda Skelton, Janelle Wawia, Warren Steven Scott and Meghan O'Brian. Geometric prints, sustainability and gender fluidity were common themes throughout the evening.

(Credit: Nadya Kwandibens/Red Works Photography)

Graphic prints, bold colour and lace jumpsuits were on display from 23-year-old designer, Lesley Hampton, whose dresses have appeared on several red carpets. A bomber jacket with the words "we are in control" stitched onto the back set the tone for the evening.

(Credit: Nadya Kwandibens/Red Works Photography)

With a mix of corsets, edgy t-shirts and Grecian dresses, Métis designer Evan Ducharme's collection was oozing cool femininity. A highlight of the night, his use of layered ruffles, fringe and chevron prints were both technically impressive and super elegant.

(Credit: Nadya Kwandibens/Red Works Photography)

Yolanda Skelton of Sugiit Lukx Designs is a textile artist from Gitxsan First Nation. The incorporation of North Coast designs and her 3 dimensional appliqué technique were highlighted in the bright shawls that drew inspiration from ceremonial dance blankets.

Berry Moon

Friday night's show, Berry Moon, celebrated summer and of course, the pow wow season. The runway featured traditionally inspired work and regalia of the future. By far the most avant-garde showcase of the four, Berry Moon incorporated inspiration from men's ribbon shirts, women's jingle dresses and finished with a strong showing from Catherine Blackburn who really took the theme of imagined futures to the next level. Helen Oro, who is best known for her colourful beadwork and jewelry, also presented a futuristic collection that was inspired by the movement to recognize the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG). Other designers included Mi'kmaq Design (Ingrid Brooks), Niio Perkins Designs, Shadows Apparel (Tracey Heese) and Injunuity (Cheryl & Carissa Copenance).

(Credit: Nadya Kwandibens/Red Works Photography)
(Credit: Nadya Kwandibens/Red Works Photography)

Plastic blankets, beaded expedition backpacks and "Chief" emblazoned visors made for a visibly stunning collection from Catherine Blackburn who truly took the concept of imaginings of future regalia to its creative peak. The Indigenous futurist movement which has its roots in Afrofuturism imagines a future without the interference of colonization.

(Credit: Nadya Kwandibens/Red Works Photography)

Helen Oro describes her collection as "a response to the issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls", and she certainly provided a unique interpretation of the red dress which is the symbol of the MMIWG awareness initiative. Interestingly, Oro, who is best known for her colourful beadwork, didn't have a single piece of her signature jewelry on her models, which added to the impact of her message.

Harvest Moon

The third night of fashion represented the time of year to gather and prepare for the winter months, honouring the matriarchs with designs that recognize the vitality of stories and teaching passed through generations. Craftsmanship was on full display in the form of beading, tan hide fringe and floral appliqué. Delina White not only recognized women as water protectors, but also designed the most flamboyant ensemble of IFWTO with the beautifully crafted men's outfit.

(Credit: Nadya Kwandibens/Red Works Photography)

Delina White is an Ojibwe beadwork artist who uses symbolism and design patterns of the Great Lakes Nations.

Frost Moon

Seal, fur and vibrant prints were the foundation for the Inuk and Dene street style of night four. The evening opened with throat singing and performance by designer Jeneen Frei Njootli and featured the works of designers from across the circumpolar world. The most cohesive evening of fashion at IFWTO started with former skateboard designers Trickster Company from the Northwest Coast and travelled east all the way to Greenland which featured the elegant evening wear from Nuuk Couture. The runway got political with the environmental message of "Protect The Caribou" from Tania Larsson and "No Apology Necessary" across the back of the show-stopping fur coat from Sho Sho Esquiro which closed the night. This last message is particularly poignant given the current climate surrounding the seal skin industry. This group of designers who proudly featured seal, bone and fur throughout the collections made it clear that they weren't going to ask for permission or forgiveness when using materials harvested from the land.

(Credit: Nadya Kwandibens/Red Works Photography)

Hinaani Design, a streetwear collective from Nunavut, played with colour and Hanaugait lines (the graphic lines found in Inuit tattoos). The extremely wearable clothes ranged from overalls and menswear to t-shirts, hats, leggings and scarves.

(Credit: Nadya Kwandibens/Red Works Photography)

Designer Victoria Kakuktinniq wearing one of her own pieces. From Rankin Inlet and based in Iqaluit, Victoria, the designer is known internationally for her form fitting parkas and contemporary take on seal skin.

(Credit: Nadya Kwandibens/Red Works Photography)

Girl power was on full display during Sho Sho Esquiro's collection that included beaded shoulder pads and form fitting leather dresses with feather accents. The Yukon native closed the evening with an oversized fur jacket and leather vest that read "No Apology Necessary".


Nyla Innuksuk is a virtual reality producer and filmmaker based out of Toronto. She was born in Igloolik Nunavut and is currently working on a sci-fi alien movie set in the arctic. Innuksuk sits on the board of directors for the Glenn Gould Foundation and the Ontario Media and Development Corporation. Follow her on Instagram: @instanyla and Twitter: @nylabot.