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First Nations designers shine in upcoming Vancouver Indigenous Fashion Week

New collections from 32 Indigenous fashion designers will take to the runway.

It is fitting that the theme for this year’s Vancouver Indigenous Fashion Week is “rekindling joy in the face of grief.” For it is not a tentative return for the event - back after a two year, COVID-influenced hiatus – but rather an explosion of pattern, colour and celebration.

Starting on Monday, the seven-day event will see fresh collections from 32 Indigenous fashion designers, unveiled by models of First Nation, Métis and Inuit descent.

“For the Indigenous community, the last two years have been marked by grief,” said Joleen Mitton, founder and co-producer of the event at Queen Elizabeth Theatre in downtown Vancouver.

“We lost many cherished elders and the gruesome legacy of residential schools saturated everything, so we decided to focus this year’s Vancouver International Fashion Week on joy and celebration.”

With not just a focus on fashion, but First Nations, Métis and Inuit artwork and music too, Mitton said the event serves as a bright and loud reminder that Indigenous communities have “been here since time immemorial” and that they are still here; creating, designing, celebrating their culture.

Pam Baker, Squamish Nation fashion designer and VIFW co-producer, said it is "nice to finally be at a level” where Indigenous fashion and creativity is gaining recognition, especially within an industry notorious for its lack of diversity. 

A dazzling waypost on the road to reconciliation, there are ample moments for reflection and education woven among the runway shows and glitzy events. Such opportunities will kick off from the very first evening, when guests are encouraged to wear red at the Red Dress Event, in honour of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and the 2SLGBTQ+ community.

“The timing for this is perfect right now because Canada and the United States are waking up to what they’ve imposed on the First Nations for the last 150 years,” said Baker.

“This is uplifting for those communities. It is uplifting for the youth.”

Throughout the week, the fruits of Baker’s labour will be omnipresent, on the runway and off it. Alongside her two collections – high fashion for the Spirit of the West show and ready-to-wear for Indigenous Future – Baker has also been pouring her efforts into guiding up-and-coming creatives as part of a new mentorship program.

Emerging designer Rebecca Baker-Grenier, of Kwakiuł and Sḵwx̱wú7mesh ancestry, has been working under the guidance of Baker for the past two years. The two are fresh from showcasing Baker-Grenier’s garments at New York Fashion Week, a collection comprising vivid regalia and bold, beadwork creations, and are eager to send them to stage in Vancouver – not just for the eyes of the fashion elite, but for friends, family, their community and anyone else who wishes to attend.

“The amazing thing about Vancouver Indigenous Fashion Week and Indigenous fashion as a whole is that it’s not just for Indigenous people,” said Baker-Grenier.

“Everybody is welcome to attend or wear the clothing, and it’s really encouraged that everybody participates.”

Vancouver Indigenous Fashion Week

When: Nov. 28 - Dec. 2

Where: Queen Elizabeth Theatre

What’s On: For the full list of showcasing designers and events, visit the VIFW festival website.

Mina Kerr-Lazenby is the North Shore News' Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.