Diversity is undoubtedly one of the biggest issues in the fashion industry. But when speaking about diversity in fashion, it goes far beyond discussions of race on the runway.
For years, fashion insiders have been calling on designers, modelling agencies, scouts, and the media to showcase models and designers who encompass differences in abilities, age, gender, and sexual orientation.
However, one place we’ve always seen diverse representation on the runway and from designers is at Canada’s own alternative fashion week, Fashion Art Toronto (FAT).
Billed as Toronto’s largest showcase of contemporary and experimental fashion and arts, the five-day event (which takes place Wednesday, April 24 to Sunday, April 28) at the Daniels Spectrum, will inspire.
Vanja Vasic, executive director of Fashion Art Toronto, started the event 14 years ago as a young fashion designer herself. She always wanted the event to be a space that was different from your traditional Fashion Weeks in New York or Paris. “I wanted it to take a more diverse, experimental, artistic, and thoughtful approach to fashion,” Vasic shares.
Since its launch, the event has become somewhat of a beacon of hope and a lighting rod for designers growing into their own and finding their voice.
“The purpose of the event was to be more supportive of new emerging designers by providing a space that is open to experimentation and freedom of expression and offering a more feasible platform for them to show, while maintaining a high production value,” explains Vasic.
The mandate of FAT has always been to support diversity in fashion, with Vasic pointing out that 14 years ago when she started the event, mainstream fashion events weren’t reflective of the unique character of Toronto. She saw an opportunity to change that and provide a safe space where fashion could be explored creatively.
There is a need for alternative fashion spaces, like FAT. Right now, we’re seeing the media hold the fashion industry accountable by highlighting brands and designers who are ignoring entire demographic segments.
We’re seeing people involved in the fashion industry call on making runways and designs more diverse and inclusive.
This accountability is important, as it points out the industry’s blindspots and provides a way to potentially fix them.
The runways at FAT have always been open to every person and Vasic and her team have always wanted to continue to “break the stigma associated with fashion and body size and image — by presenting various body types, age groups, ethnicities, and sexual identities of models.”
This inclusive attitude has made many designer and models, and attendees who may not feel like they fit in elsewhere, otherwise feel welcomed and accommodated.
Of the 35 designers being showcased at FAT, many represent marginalized groups and people including Indigenous designer Henry Navarro of Navarro Designs, designer Cassandra Elizabethwhose collection is seasonless, ageless, and genderless, and love closely who have incorporated the beauty of Middle Eastern culture and history into streetwear.
Also during the Seneca Fashion Student Graduation Show, Gabi Hur will present a collection meant to break the rules of gender conformity to create unconventional fashion inspired by times in history where the style of a garment did not matter based on one’s gender.
Also showing will be Seneca Fashion Student, Maham K whose collection titled, Miserymorphosis,hopes to erase the stigmatization of mental illness in an Avant Garde womenswear collection.
Models of all shapes, sizes, genders, and ethnicities will take to the stage with Jayjay Kings and Mars Alexander, two notable additions.
Vasic shares that FAT has always been a venue for people who may not be fit traditional mold, to feel at home and to find their place.
“Looking back on our runways throughout the years, I see such a beautiful spectrum of difference – men in heels, drag queens, androgynous models, big bodies, thin bodies, tattooed models, colorful hair, non-traditional beauties and models with diverse cultural backgrounds reflecting our city,” noting that without these unique faces taking ownership of the runway, people wouldn’t have the true FAT experience. “It’s one of the most captivating experiences of the event.”
While FAT Fashion Week continues to push boundaries, it also has blazed a trail of inclusivity and diversity in Canadian fashion that others can learn from.
No matter which shows you attend, you’ll walk away feeling inspired and energized.
Featured Image: Brian de Rivera Simon