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Early in February I was very lucky to fly to Toronto and attend the CAFA awards. I was also honoured to be part of the nominating committee of this incredible event. I’m dedicating a week of blog posts to this, as I think that Canadian Arts and Fashion Awards are an an important, exciting event in Canadian fashion and something we really need to nurture. Let’s call it Canadian Fashion Week here at Searching for Style, and let’s start with a list about why we really, really need a body like CAFA sorting out the Canadian fashion industry. Here are 5 Reasons Why the Canadian Fashion Industry Isn’t Thriving. (P.S. Notice lack of talent isn’t on this list…because we have a ton of it.)

1. There’s no official governing body. All countries with successful fashion industries have a central governing body, that is non-profit, who manages the industry and its events with the goal of ensuring the brands are properly promoted. For example, there’s the CFDA and the BFC. Canada doesn’t have this, and as a result, there’s no one truly supporting the brands. I am hoping that CAFA will become this missing link.

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Vancouver Fashion Week is a company that runs shows to make money – with hardly any buyers or press in attendance.

2. Most fashion weeks are about making profit. When I moved to Vancouver from London, I was confused about the number of people who pay to go to a fashion show. Why would someone do that? Fashion shows are overrated, and I suggest you consult this article to understand why. Anyway, the fact that a lot of these fashion weeks were about making money from ticket sales meant two really annoying things. Firstly, it means that people expect a SHOW. When you pay $25 for a glass of cheap bubbly and a fashion show, you don’t want it to be over in fifteen minutes. So, they do ridiculous things like hire dancers in between “sets” (yes, sometimes there are sets) and stretch out the show to last an hour. Guess what? For those of us who actually HAVE to be at the show, it is work. And I like my work to be done as quickly as possible.

Secondly, there’s the issue of timing. People who buy tickets to a fashion show are usually not free to attend them at 11am on a Tuesday. The “for profit” shows are usually on in the evening, sometimes at 8pm, and sometimes even at 8pm on a Saturday. There are a lot of places I would like to be at 8pm on a Saturday: in the pub with my friends, eating dinner in a nice restaurant, or lying on the sofa watching Family Guy. Note that “being at a fashion show that I am covering for work” is not on that list. Hence why I hardly ever attended a fashion week in Vancouver, because the last thing I want to do on a Saturday night is watch a ninety minute fashion show.

CAFA, canadian fashion, made in canada, buy local
A photo from a Malene Grotrian fashion show in Vancouver, which charges customers for entry. It makes for a fun night out, but not great for attracting industry. Photo by Rick Chung.

I’d also like to point out that this obsession with fashion shows isn’t doing much good for our industry, either. International buyers and media rarely attend Canadian fashion weeks because it is far and they are already sick of going to fashion month in the US and Europe. There’s simply no point for brands to spend masses of money on a fashion show if the right people aren’t going to be in attendance. If we had a governing body, and some financial support (see point 4) then maybe we could have showrooms and events showcasing Canadian fashion brands in the places where there is an audience. I’m suggesting a showroom in New York or Paris so that the world can see some of the best Canadian fashion, without having to schlep to Vancouver. The BFC does this for British designers in Paris, and I’ve seen Brazilian brands showcased like this in Paris, too. This would be an effective way to promote our brands to an influential audience.

CAFA, canadian fashion, made in canada, buy local
Nicole Bridger does a show at Vancouver Eco Fashion Week which involves “real women” models who dance. Sigh. Photo by Christina Luo.

3. Canadian brands don’t work together enough to get the word out. Again, this relates back to point 1, which is the lack of a body organizing them all. But I’ve also noticed that there doesn’t seem to be a “we’re all in this together” attitude in Canada. I noticed this when I arrived in Vancouver, and realized that people were a lot less open to networking than London (that really came as a surprise) and people are a lot more protective of their businesses. Remember that old saying, “there’s safety in numbers”? That doesn’t seem to apply here.

CAFA, canadian fashion, made in canada, buy local
One of the big names at Toronto Fashion Week is Joe Fresh, which really sucks as it is a supermarket fashion brand underserving of catwalk attention.

4. There aren’t enough grants or government funding for fashion brands. It costs a lot of money to start a fashion company and keep it going, and it would be nice for the government to lend a helping hand. The apparel industry is worth 2,560 trillion USD globally, so there’s the potential to make some money for Canada. (I must note that the Quebecois government DOES support the fashion industry, just not the other provinces. Go Quebec!) And if the government doesn’t want to spend the cash (they’d probably rather use it hiring more people to promote and sell oil, right?) then why not create some initiatives that will force people to buy Canadian? Canadian radio stations are forced, by law, to play 20% Canadian music, hence why our music industry does quite well. What if stores were forced to buy 10% products made or designed in Canada? I’m pretty sure putting something like that in place would not only do wonders for our fashion fashion brands, but would be a major boost to the Canadian economy in general.

CAFA, canadian fashion, made in canada, buy local

5. We don’t value our Canadian brands enough. Yes, we love buying our lettuce local, but I don’t feel we put in the same effort when it comes to buying Canadian fashion. The movement is growing, but I feel like people still place too much value on foreign brands, this has to change. And while we are on the subject, I thought I’d introduce you to the 100 Mile Outfit, which is a really cool site that aims to connect designers to consumers and rebuild a local retail culture. (And p.s. – they are based in Vancouver.)

Tune in on Wednesday for an interview with Vicky Milner, the founder of CAFA