Thunder Bay

Northern Ontario artist headed to Indigenous Fashion Week

An artist from northwestern Ontario has been selected to show her work at the inaugural Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto this spring.

Janelle Wawia will be part of May 31 New Moon exhibit

Northwestern Ontario artist Janelle Wawia will see her work on the catwalk for the first time this spring. She's been selected to be part of the inaugural Indigenous Fashion Week in Toronto. (Janelle Wawia)

Janelle Wawia feels like she's right where she needs to be. 

The northwestern Ontario artist is preparing to take the next step in her artistic career — showing her original fashion designs on the catwalk at the inaugural Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto this spring. 

"I'm elated," said Wawia. 

"I was at work, and I got the email inviting me, and I just basically wanted to scream ... so I was, you know ... I was just really quite happy."

'Every piece that I do I really just put my heart into it,' said Janelle Wawia, of her work, which includes items of clothing and jewelry. (Janelle Wawia)

Wawia, who lives in Thunder Bay and is from the nearby Opwaaganasiniing (also known at Red Rock Indian Band), often uses materials from "her own back yard," including quills, leather and fur harvested from her family's three traplines, to make items of clothing and jewellery. 

Porcupine quills being dyed for use in original fashion pieces. (Janelle Wawia)

Her path to making clothing was a mix of teaching herself and learning from others. She was first taught how to make moccasins while living in the Yukon, she said. About five years ago, she honed her skills at a course with other female trappers in Toronto. 

While she's been painting and making custom items like moccasins, mitts and hats for years, the fashion show will mark her first foray into designing entire outfits, and her first time seeing her work on the runway. 

Janelle Wawia calls her work a mix of traditional and contemporary. (Janelle Wawia)

"I was finally able to express myself a little bit more outside of doing the custom orders, and so it was time for me to kind of go get it I guess ... and say 'this is me, this is what I can do.'" 

"I feel like this is where I needed to end up." 

She designed seven outfits for the show.

Indigenous Fashion Week takes place May 31 - June 3 at the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto.

Wawia's designs will be shown as part of the New Moon showcase, which takes place May 31 and features emerging artists. 


  • The original version of this story referred to the event as the first Indigenous Fashion Week. In fact it is the first Indigenous Fashion Week in Toronto.
    Apr 17, 2018 8:40 AM ET