A Conversation With: Toronto Fashion Incubator’s Fearless, Fabulous Susan Langdon
Definition: A supportive space for aspiring professionals to hatch and grow within their desired industry through expert mentorship and skill development.
Example: The Toronto Fashion Incubator (TFI), an award-winning and highly-acclaimed non-profit organization that is led by Executive Director and fashion maven Susan Langdon. TFI is the world’s first official fashion incubator, established in 1987 by the City of Toronto.
Meet Susan Langdon. If you don’t already know her name, you should.
As Executive Director and Resident Mentor of Toronto Fashion Incubator, Susan has been the brains and brawn behind TFI for the last 22 years. A graduate from Ryerson University’s Fashion Design program, Susan has had a successful career in fashion design, receiving numerous prestigious awards including the Concours Design Award and the Woolmark Award of Distinction.
Who are you excited about in Canadian fashion right now? What are Canadian designers doing different?
There are so many talented Canadian designers that deserve recognition but here are a few who should be on your radar:
Sid Neigum is a multi-award winning designer from Alberta who enjoys mixing math and fashion to create exceptional art-to-wear pieces. He’s known for his modular, laser-cut origami pieces but he’s equally adept at fluid, asymmetric styles cut in jersey or viscose.
Peggy Sue Collection is a new sustainable line designed by Peggy Sue Devan-Smiltnieks. Her business model is “farm-to-fashion” and it’s a truly original approach to local sustainability. She works with sheep farmers who shear the sheep, spinners who spin the yarn and Ontario craftspeople who take naturally-shed antlers and fashion them into buttons and fasteners.
Finally, there’s Miriam Baker, another award-winning designer, who is creating beautiful, feminine looks for women with larger busts. It’s a challenge to create styles that are youthful and sophisticated, that complement a woman’s sihouette.
We know that mentorship is a key component of TFI’s model. How has mentorship shaped your own career?
Before I even knew I wanted to become a fashion designer and work in the industry, I met Vera Taylor. Vera was my grade 10 home econonmics teacher at R.H. King Collegiate in Scarborough and she was my role model and mentor. She recognized my advanced sewing skills, and I guess she thought I had some style, so she set me aside and showed me how to design and pattern draft. She knew I was interested in becoming a doctor because I liked helping people but she encouraged me to pursue fashion because she said that if you follow your passion, you’d always love your job and would naturally become successful at it. She suggested I enroll at Ryerson – which I did – and I’ve never looked back.
Toronto Fashion Week is gone – for now. What piece of advice would you give to who’s next in line?
It’s just been announced that Jeff Rustia, founder of Toronto Men’s Fashion Week (TOMFW) will be organizing a Toronto Women’s Fashion Week in February 2017, hosting back-to-back men’s and women’s fashion weeks. It’s exciting news and I can’t wait to see what unfolds! Jeff has a way of making the impossible possible; very few can resist his charm! In just five seasons, he’s made TOMFW one of the must-attend fashion events in Toronto so he’s well poised to take over the reign. My only advice to Jeff is to budget for costs that he may not be able to get for free anymore such as models and event planning/logistics. Toronto Fashion Week is going to be an expensive venture and he can’t rely on volunteers forever. The good ones are worth keeping as they will help him to achieve a successful event.
Besides fashion: what other obsessions do you have?
I am obsessed with baby animals of all types but my weakness are furry kittens! If I wasn’t working in fashion, I’d love to work with animals
Sustainability in fashion is becoming more and more important. How is TFI working with designers to lower their impact on the environment in order to be more socially responsible?
In our accessory biz program, Fashion Your Future, we encouraged our group of budding entrepreneurs to consider using upcycled, recycled and re-purposed materials in their designs as well as display fixtures. There was a lot of interest in a presentation I gave on going green and how to market to the various types of eco-consumers.
In addition, this year, the winner of our annual TFI New Labels fashion design competition was a sustainable designer who works from farm-to-fashion to bring high-style to the runway and to the market. Check out the Peggy Sue Collection by Peggy Sue Devan-Smiltnieks.
What’s next for TFI?
In 2017, TFI will celebrate its 30th anniversary! Plans are very hush hush at the moment but you can expect something big and spectacular to celebrate the world’s first fashion incubator’s third decade of helping fashion entrepreneurs to succeed.
Paris or London?
London. It comes across as being a very “proper” city; stiff upper lip and all. But there’s an underlying passion and sexiness about it these days that’s very appealing.
Minimal or More is More?
Minimal. I’ve never been into eclecticism, over-accessorizing and over-decorating. That esthetic is too frantic for my lifestyle.
John Waters or John Galliano?
John Waters. Love his quote: “Without obsession, life is nothing.” JG is super talented, but I’m still not over his racist rant.
Lipstick or mascara?
Mascara. My eyes are my best feature so I like to play them up.
Feathers or fur?
Naturally-shed feathers, please.
Follow Susan on Twitter and Instagram.
Disclosure: Matte PR President, Heidi Ruggier, is a mentor with Toronto Fashion Incubator.