CAFA / Canadian Fashion / Fashion & Business / Toronto

CAFA & Canada’s Fashion Frontier

At the close of the Canadian Arts & Fashion Awards  (“CAFA”), there was one message that seemed clear: Canada is not to be overlooked as a fashion frontier.

Four years ago, the CAFA awards began and since then, they have been the ultimate event on the fashion calendar for Canadian designers. This past weekend, CAFA awarded and recognized some of Canada’s best fashion talents, and celebrated the Canadian fashion industry as a whole.

In recent years, Canadian designers have reached international recognition with a number of celebrities around the world coveting the designs. Perhaps this is attributed to the fact that Canadian designers have always had to keep their eyes on a global audience due to the slower development of the Canadian fashion industry.

Competitive pressures have affected Canadian designers, which has created a difficult environment for success. Susan Langdon, executive director of the Toronto Fashion Incubator, discussed this in an interview with CBC. In referring to Canadian brands, she said, “they’re not a big name brand like Chanel or Louis Vuitton or Gucci or Michael Kors…and yet they’re not dirt cheap too. They’re not Zara.” (1) However, Langdon is confident that success is attainable. With the use of technology and the infinite reach of social media, it is now more possible than ever to reach a wider audience and communicate with consumers. However, the world needs to overcome the misconception that Canada is a land of never-ending winter. With technology, brands can communicate to international consumers that Canadian brands are on par with others. This also provides a platform to show what the brand is about and market the Canadian industry. With every event, like CAFA, Canada inches itself closer to reaching the international recognition and acknowledgement it deserves.

As reported by the NY Times, “while conventional wisdom has long held that for Canadian designers to make it on the global stage, they have to establish their names elsewhere, the attendance list at CAFA suggests they may be beginning to realize the attractions of home”(2). Canada and its fashion industry have recently experienced a spike in interest with the entrance of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. His support for refugees, feminism, and human rights have resonated with international audiences due to the divisive and volatile state of politics internationally. In addition, his charisma and style, coupled with Sophie Gregoire Trudeau’s celebration of Canadian designers, has elevated them and Canada’s fashion scene to international recognition. The Trudeau family recognizes the importance of Canadian fashion and design, and is eager to celebrate and share that message to the world through their international platform. It is about elevating recognition of the talent that is available locally, but also about contributing to the Canadian economy. As Canada’s fashion industry grows and gains further reach, perhaps Canadian designers will have the support and audience to remain local and be a part of the flourishing industry. In addition, it is important for the industry to be taken seriously at a policy and government level. Chantal Malboeuf, a product manager who worked for some LVMH brands before returning to start her own development and production atelier in Montreal, believes there is a “lack of logistical support that has a lot to do with the perceptions as the industry is not taken seriously”(2). Malbouef goes on to suggest that if “the government took the industry more seriously, investors would be more willing to fund fledgling designers and that all the roles that are required for efficient and ethical production would be more developed”(2).

Canadians, whether or not they chose to conduct their businesses in Canada, are well-integrated in the fashion community. As Jenna Lyons steps away from J.Crew, Canadian-raised Somsack Sikhounmuong will be taking the reigns. He previously occupied the role of chief designer at Madewell and Sikhounmuong was present at CAFA as a judge(3). Imran Amed, CEO and editor-in-chief of Business of Fashion, was born in Canada and runs one of the most read and valuable business and fashion resources in the industry(4). Coco Rocha, also Canadian, is a widely recognized international model. The list of Canadians in the international fashion forum is long, and many have made great contributions to the industry that we know today.

For a list of all CAFA 2017 winners and nominees, please check out: