Indigenous North American models are coming to Milan Fashion Week.
Kicking off a three-year partnership with the White Milano trade show, Toronto-based nonprofit Indigenous Fashion Arts will bring seven designers to Italy from February 24 to 27 with the goal of increasing their global visibility.
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 activewear, tulle and pleated evening wear; Evan Ducharme, a Metis artist with ancestral ties to the Cree, Ojibwe and Saulteaux peoples, who designs tailoring and shares a “grown-up utilitarianism,” and Section 35 streetwear designer Justin Louis of the Samson Cree Nation, who times most recently collaborated with Foot Locker Canada on a collection modeled by Amber Midthunder.
Other guest designers are Dorothy Grant, a 30-year veteran of the fashion industry 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 her Inuvialuit land and culture.
The commercial partnership with White Milano was brokered by the Canadian Embassy in Italy and the designer group curated by Indigenous Fashion Arts, which held its first fashion festival in Toronto in 2018 and is planning the next for 2025.
“Our goals are to celebrate and advocate for, introduce and support Indigenous designers in the industry,” the organization’s founding executive and artistic director Sage Paul said of her vision. “We treat our runway shows as art shows. And it is our mandate to pay artist fees. So we produce shows, we raise funds to pay for production and other staff, but we also pay designers to present their work, which is very unusual. Most fashion shows you will have to pay to attend.”
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 that 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 has definitely increased. Also, in our communities at large, we are gaining sovereignty over the work we are doing and how we do it.…It can be really scary when there are so many differences in politics, culture and religion, but fashion is a point where we can to explore it together in a way that is generative.”