North American Indigenous designs are coming to Milan Fashion Week.
Kicking off a three-year partnership with the trade show White Milano, the nonprofit Indigenous Fashion Arts organization from Toronto will bring seven designers to Italy from Feb. 24 to 27 with the goal of increasing their global visibility.
The designers include Lesley Hampton, a Temagami First Nation designer who is also a curve model with B&M Model Management, and is known for her size-inclusive activewear, tulle and pleated eveningwear; Evan Ducharme, a Metis artist with ancestral ties to the Cree, Ojibwe and Saulteaux peoples, who designs tailoring and separates with a “heightened utilitarianism,” and Section 35 streetwear designer Justin Louis of the Samson Cree Nation, who recently collaborated with Foot Locker Canada on a collection modeled by Amber Midthunder.
The other guest designers are Dorothy Grant, a 30-year fashion industry veteran who incorporates Haida art into her work; Iroquois beadwork designer Niio Perkins; “Dene futurism”-inspired designer Robyn McCloud, and Erica Donovan, who makes jewelry inspired by the land and her Inuvialuit culture.
The trade partnership with White Milano was brokered by the Canadian Embassy in Italy and the group of designers curated by Indigenous Fashion Arts, which held its first fashion festival in Toronto in 2018 and is setting its next for 2024.
“Our goals are to celebrate and advocate for, present and support Indigenous designers in the industry,” said the organization’s founding executive and artistic director Sage Paul, of her vision. “We treat our runway shows as artistic performances. And it’s our mandate to pay artists’ fees. So we produce the shows, we fundraise to pay for the production and other staffing but we also pay designers for presenting their work, which is pretty uncommon. Most fashion shows you would have to pay to participate.”
In Milan, in addition to the trade show booth, the group will hold a panel discussion about what Indigenous fashion is and how to work with Indigenous designers.
“We want to build these market spaces for Indigenous designers. Our hope is we can have a delegation every two years,” said Paul, who has also taken groups to London Fashion Week.
On the broader topic of Indigenous fashion, which was celebrated last year at the 100th anniversary of the Indian Market in Santa Fe, New Mexico, she added, “The appetite and demand from audiences and consumers is definitely increased. Also, in our communities in general, we’re gaining sovereignty over the work that we’re doing and how we do it.…It can be really daunting when there are so many differences in politics, culture and religion, but fashion is one point where we can examine that together in a way that’s generative.”