Style

Wearable art, metallic fringe, tie-dye sweatsuits: The looks from the 2020 edition of Indigenous Fashion Week

The second biennial IFWTO was water-themed, went virtual, and pivoted to presenting via fashion films.

The second biennial IFWTO was water-themed, went virtual, and pivoted to presenting via fashion films

(Source: Nadya Kwandibens/ Red Works Photography)

The second biennial Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto (IFWTO) focused on water, from depictions that celebrated women as water carriers to models holding aloft "Water is Life" protest signs. The virtual fashion week showcased 16 Indigenous designers from across Canada, the U.S. and New Zealand in four fashion films premiering over four days via the event's YouTube channel and Facebook page, as well as panels and an online market from Nov 26-29.

Garments and creations were displayed on dancers and models representing a diversity of sizes, ages, skin colours and genders. They sat, crawled, rolled and danced across a darkened runway flanked by small pools, winding paths of stones and canoe paddles — movements choreographed by Brian Solomon from Electric Moose, of Anishinaabe and Irish descent.

Just as its inaugural in-person event two years ago, Indigenous representation was present at every step. The director of music composition was Cree cellist Cris Derksen, the fashion films were directed by Métis filmmaker Shane Belcourt and the runway program opened with messages from Plains Cree elder Pauline Shirt, Dene artistic director Sage Paul and director of development Kerry Swanson, who is of Cree, Ojibwe, Irish and French descent. 

Day One: Tu Gh'eh Nah (Water is Life)

The Water Is Life fashion film opened the event, and featured makers whose work is tied together in protest and sovereignty. A visor by accessory and apparel brand Miss Chief Rocka had rainbow-beaded edging, and on its band Cree syllabics that said "sôhkêsimow" or "s/he dances hard." It was paired with square beaded earrings with rainbow fringe; one spelling out "Free Your Mind" and the other: "& Your Ass Will Follow." 

Streetwear label Mobilize Waskawewin sent actor Billy Merasty down the runway in a brown tie-dye sweatsuit with his hair in two long braids. The standouts in this presentation were Ayimach's collection featuring primary-coloured horsehair, making the sleeve of one dress and jutting out the back of another; Section 35's bleach-dyed black overalls; and multimedia artist Skawennati's activist avatars brought to life on the runway wearing calico pattern and ribbons (a combo often seen on traditional Haudenosaunee shirts) mixed with camouflage, and carrying protest placards proclaiming "No More Stolen Sisters" and "Black Lives Matter." 

(Source: Nadya Kwandibens/Red Works Photography)

Day 2: Tu Cho (Lake)

Tu Cho (Lake) was the international showcase, featuring Akwesasne Mohawk designer Margaret Jacobs from New Hampshire and Maori brand Maru Creations from New Zealand. Jacobs featured her powder-coated brass jewelry on models with styled in wet-look hair and finger waves. Moving between boat paddles stood upright along the runway, a shawl from Maru Creations lit up with solar-powered LED lights, a reference to the Maori creation story's "world of light." 

(Source: Nadya Kwandibens/Red Works Photography)

Maru Creations' designer Te Ataraiti Waretini creates Maori woven taonga (treasures). Seen here is the red woven taonga across a little black dress, its fringe swinging. Models' bare arms shimmered and eyes were done in glimmering metallics, while lips were glossy and nude.

(Source: Nadya Kwandibens/Red Works Photography)

Day 3: Tu Gh'eh Tl'e'th (Streams)

This runway featured conceptual fashion and opened with the work of Nlaka'pamux designer Warren Steven Scott, whose accessories took off after the first IFWTO. His collection was rich in texture and colour. Inspired by cedar and the art of gathering, the designer mimicked smocking, folding and stitching fabric before applying it to a patterned, deep green house dress, a dark brown sweater and a sleeveless shirt.

Lil'wat designer Curtis Oland brought long neutral garments with a lot of movement, and accessory label Indi City showed brightly coloured acrylic statement earrings in shapes like flowers and berries. Métis artist Evan Ducharme took a hand-embroidered mesh technique to a red bodysuit, while his Census Print (which is made out of a 1916 document listing his great grandfather) is applied to a gorgeous calf-length skirt in black and off-white canvas. A stand-out in Ducharme's evening wear was a long-sleeved off-the-shoulder floor-length black dress, adorned with metallic fringe. 

(Source: Nadya Kwandibens/ Red Works Photography)

Tu Gh'eh Tl'e'th (Streams) was capped off with the avant-garde, as the wearable art of bespoke jewelry maker Hand of Solomon told the story of futuristic Clan Mothers, using feathers and bones in a clear, moulded piece that mimicked wings. Other materials included gold plated shells and pastel horsehair skirts. 

(Source: Nadya Kwandibens/ Red Works Photography)

Day 4: Tu Gh'el T'ilhn (Water Carriers) 

The closing night fashion film was an all-female affair, as part of IFWTO's mandate to feature "over 50 per cent Indigenous womxn designers." The Eagle Spindle Whorl collection by the duo behind Ay Lelum The Good House of Design, sisters Aunalee Boyd-Good and Sophia Seward-Good, included dresses and long jackets featuring graphic prints of eagle, serpent and killer whale characters created by their father, traditional Coast Salish artist William Good, and their brother, Joel Good. 

Métis label Anne Mulaire presented sustainable clothing in a range of everyday pieces, workwear and formal wear, including a covetable patchwork sweater with puffed shoulders as well as a white and black lace floor-length dress. 

Wool blazers and A-line pleated chiffon dresses mingled with forest green beaded gowns in The "S" Word collection by the Anishinaabe, Mohawk and Scottish designer Lesley Hampton. 

(Source: Nadya Kwandibens/ Red Works Photography)

Closing out the show was Anishinaabe textile artist Celeste Pedri-Spade, whose Material Kwe collection featured head-to-toe showstoppers, like a ribbon skirt structured with cage crinoline, and topped off with a crown made of black satin ribbons.

(Source: Nadya Kwandibens/ Red Works Photography)

In another, a birch bark corset sits atop a green feathered skirt. Her incredible work also included beaver fur chaps with pink tulle and a red jingle warrior look, which used over 1,100 unrolled and rolled red Anishinaabe Bimishimo jingles. 

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly included Mariana Medellin Canales as a co-choreographer. In fact, she was the rehearsal director.


Kelly Boutsalis is a full-time freelance journalist, based in Toronto. She is Mohawk and grew up on the Six Nations reserve. In 2019, she was named The Narwhal's first Indigenous Fellowship recipient. In her work, she aims to highlight accomplishments made by Indigenous people to carve out a positive space for them in media.

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