Indigenous

Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto designers collaborate on collection with retailer Simons

Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto is releasing a limited edition capsule wardrobe in collaboration with Quebec-based fashion retailer Simons featuring designs from eight Indigenous artists. 

Limited edition capsule wardrobe features work from 8 Indigenous designers

The design created by Injunuity Design Studio for IFWTO + Edito PAR SIMONS. (Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto)

Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto is releasing a limited edition capsule wardrobe in collaboration with Quebec-based fashion retailer Simons featuring designs from eight Indigenous artists. 

Each artist was given four basic yet versatile garments made of organic cotton with which to express their interpretations by incorporating elements of their own traditional and design backgrounds. 

The end result is a collection of pieces with representation of Indigenous craftsmanship and fashion from across the country rooted in tradition, with some designs being carried through generations.

"It's an exemplary project for how non-Indigenous collaborators should be working with Indigenous collaborators," said Sage Paul.

"I think it's one step forward to being a part of that overarching example of what that kind of collaboration looks like."

Paul is an urban Denesuliné tskwe (woman) based in Toronto, a member of English River First Nation in northern Saskatchewan and the founder and artistic director of Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto, which has been postponed this year due to COVID-19. 

The capsule wardrobe project was born after Paul sat on a panel last year about the future of Canadian fashion with the women's buyer of Simons.

Paul said the project was an opportunity for designers "to be able to have visibility on this mainstream platform in the way that they want to be represented."

The designers include Caroline Monnet, Evan Ducharme, Injunuity Design Studio, Jordan Bennett, Niio Perkins Designs, Tania Larsson, Tracy Toulouse and Warren Steven Scott.

Designs specific to local traditions

Injunuity Design Studio is a mother and daughter duo from Rainy River First Nation in Ontario.

The business started in 2000 as a supply shop and has gradually transformed into a design studio that takes orders from across North America for items for graduations and special occasions. 

Cheryl Copenance of Injunuity Design Studio says the spirit horse design is 'personal and cultural.' (Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto)

For the Simons collaboration, their designs incorporated elements of their Anishinaabe traditions specific to their territory. Floral designs and a spirit horse are on the garments that they interpreted. 

"On the shirt we did the spirit horse, which is something that is personal and cultural and identifying to this community that we live in," said Cheryl Copenace.

"We have a spirit horse that lives in our rapids and that's part of our beliefs and our traditions that are handed down through generations." 

The generational connection to the designs runs deep through their family according to the duo and is something that they want to continue to pass along. 

Injunuity Design Studio was involved in Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto's 2018 runway show Berry Moon. They say they were humbled to be included as one of the eight designers for the Simons collaboration. 

"It's really a wonderful thing to not only be able to share our work, but to help people understand that they're purchasing Indigenous art through a different medium and wanting to wear that and talk about it," said Cheryl Copenace.  

"To apply our artwork to a modern piece is a really new concept and a really efficient way to share that part of us." 

Better story, better product  

Evan Ducharme, another one of the designers involved, is Métis and based in Vancouver. His work focuses on exploring identity and cultural iconography with a commitment to environmentally conscious practices. Ducharme was featured in IFWTO's 2018 runway show for New Moon. 

A garment designer himself, Ducharme said he was impressed by the quality of the garments that the designers were given to work with. 

"It was a very easy-to-wear beige/taupe, a beautiful cotton linen fabric, and it was made into four really beautifully made pieces inside and out," said Ducharme. 

Ducharme's interpretations feature embroidery, some of which was done in his home community of St. Ambroise, Man., with community and family members. (Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto)

"Obviously the garments were already made, so there were some limitations in that, but limitations sometimes lead you in directions that you wouldn't have went otherwise." 

His interpretations feature embroidery, some that was done in his home community of St. Ambroise, Man., with community and family members, then fully finished and conceptualized in his Vancouver studio. 

"It's vital and opportunities like this give us proof that something authentically Indigenous made and something that was done in a true partnership can be profitable," said Ducharme. 

"You have a better story and you have a better product when you actually bring Indigenous people to the table and have us represent ourselves and our nations and the techniques that we've learned ancestrally." 

The limited edition line called IFWTO + Edito PAR SIMONS will be released on May 28 and available online at simons.ca.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rhiannon Johnson is an Anishinaabe journalist from Hiawatha First Nation based in Toronto. She has been with the Indigenous unit since 2017 focusing on Indigenous life and experiences throughout Ontario. You can reach her at rhiannon.johnson@cbc.ca and on Twitter @rhijhnsn.

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