Designating a specific Canadian national identity is a famously slippery task. Thinking about the vastness of the country, from the foothills of the Rockies, through the plains to the Maritimes, it’s easy to understand why. The makeup of Canada’s populace is as widely varied as our geography.
Some say Canadian identity is rooted in multiculturalism itself, and in fact, it is. The Canadian Multiculturalism Act passed in 1988, “recognizes and promotes the understanding that multiculturalism is a fundamental characteristic of the Canadian heritage and identity.” So how does this plurality translate into the fashion our country produces?
Rose McMahon, the Montreal based designer/creative director of Rightful Owner points out the trouble in locating a specific aesthetic or identity for the countries fashion industry. “I would say Canada’s identity is a bit vague. That’s not necessarily a bad thing for a country of our size and history… however, we don’t have a unified folk dress like Italy to draw from or massive pop culture movements like England and the states.” In other words, for emerging Canadian designers, their aesthetic and sartorial influences are as varied as their identities, and this plurality becomes fodder for work that challenges the status quo of fashion.
Sage Paul, a designer and founding member and artistic director of Toronto’s Indigenous Fashion Week, echoes the belief that the elusiveness of a singular identity for Canadian fashion is a good thing. “It’s multi-faceted, so it could be unproductive to try to pin down one “Canadian fashion” identity.” Perhaps, that’s exactly what makes Canada a particularly interesting breeding ground for creatives. Sage certainly believes so. “Fashion as a platform or tool allows artists and designers to challenge mainstream notions of “normal,” she says. “The Canadian fashion scene is experiencing many individuals or groups (typically at the fringes of the industry) now carving out their own space.” The result? A creative community with ample potential for global influence.
Paul’s endeavour, Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto, is a perfect example of this. Its reimagined vision of Fashion Week incorporates speakers, craftsmanship workshops, runway presentations, and family spaces in addition to traditional runway shows. Coalescing indigenous forms of community gathering with the tenets of the fashion industry, IFWTO envisions how fashion can transition into a post-colonial awareness.
Reimagining how we experience fashion seems to be at the heart of the burgeoning ethos of change amongst young Canadian creatives. By ditching runway shows backed by big corporate investors, and focusing on community and emerging designers with radical aesthetics and social aims, Canadian fashion is slowly changing and pushing the boundaries of the industry. One such designer is a Toronto based creative with a vision. S.P BADU, the eponymous line by Spencer Badu is a cult unisex brand aiming to create a “post-gender world” through wardrobe staples that incorporate the masculine and the feminine. Described as a “direct product of impatience toward gender”, the brand focusses on building garments rather than seasonal trends or narratives and approaches collections through a seasonless and genderless lens.
Similarly, L’Uomo Strano, a Toronto based brand headed by Mic. Carter is invested in creating responsive beauty for the femme-identified, gender nonconformist’s wardrobe. Carter’s design ethos fuses social justice, futurity, abjection, and community with the sartorial, and is particularly invested in understanding how clothing can be used to embolden those on the slippages of cis-gender heteronormativity and femme-phobia. The result is a striking aesthetic that reads like the cutting edge of clothing and is a perfect example of how non-conformity produces a vision for the future of fashion.
Over at WRKDEPT, a Montreal based brand, headed by Andy Long Hoang and Tinashe Musara, the creative director’s mixed backgrounds, hailing from Vietnam and Zimbabwe respectively, help inform their unique design perspective. “We work in a really repetitive industry that’s really lacking in fresh ideas” Musara muses in a video shot for CBC, “having two different perspectives of people who didn’t grow up in this culture and then watching how this culture interprets itself… I find we share a lot of similar values in that way and experience, and then getting to work together, you explore and take each other to further creative spaces.” The duo’s unpredictable take on streetwear embraces all manner of cultural and historical influences, separating not only notions of cultural binary, but of gender as well.
Elsewhere, brands like Hayley Elsaesser are championing body positivity and representation on the runway and beyond through designs that are inclusive. Her open letter, this past fall, penned in frustration toward the lack of support for the Canadian fashion industry, illuminated a problem within the industry. She wrote “I always say that the Canadian industry likes to follow suit on what other industries are doing. Let’s say New York Fashion Week did something huge or they changed the formula of what they do. A couple seasons later, Toronto would follow suit… If you’re doing the same formula that everybody else is doing but a little bit later, you’re not going to be making waves.”
Therein, lies the problem and the solution of the Canadian fashion industry, and one which the likes of Elsaesser, Badu, and so many more are actively trying to oppose. Instead of modeling a creative identity based off of what other countries are doing, we must tap into the energy of our young creatives, and lean into what makes us unique: namely, our ability to be radically different, in every facet. Whether it’s eschewing gender norms, championing body positivity, promoting multiculturalism, showing “seasonless” collections and creating innovative runway show formats, emerging Canadian creatives in the fashion industry are utilizing the multiplicity of our identities to envision a different, more inclusive future for fashion. The industry need only follow suit.
Cody is a content creator at Glossi Mag.
He is a photography aficionado, masters candidate, fashion enthusiast, avid Ariana Grande fan and lover of all things aesthetically pleasing.