Ten years ago, the fashion scene in Edmonton was limited. That’s not to say that Edmonton didn’t produce any prominent fashion designers – it was only that industry people like Stanley Carroll, an Edmonton based designer that had been in the industry since 1983, didn’t have much company. But the introduction of Western Canadian Fashion Week changed the scene by shaking things up and providing a stage for emerging designers.
Fashion week has been a catalyst for growth since its inception. Sandra Fernandez, Executive Director and creator of Western Canadian Fashion Week, says, “We’ve seen stores opening up, more stylists, more photographers and every time the industry starts to grow it affects everybody that’s in the industry. That’s been wonderful because it is evolving, not just in the designer area, but with all the other industries that are interconnected.”
Fernandez knows this is an important aspect of Western Canadian Fashion Week because, as a smaller city, Edmonton needs to provide more opportunities. “Often someone will shock and surprise you”, adds Fernandez. “If you’ve never given them the opportunity to surprise you, then they just get lost in the wayside.”
Western Canadian Fashion Week creates these opportunities through events like the Emerging Designers Competition, where up-and-coming designers are judged on the quality, creativity and marketability of their garments. A process that Janelle Brown, last seasons Competition winner, knows first hand.
Having chosen a career where job postings can require at least five years of industry experience, winning the Emerging Designers Competition was a step into the industry for Brown. “Winning a design competition as an up-and-coming designer certainly gives potential customers, employers and the designer themselves, some reaffirmation as to the quality of the work being produced,” says Brown.
This exposure will be important for the new designer as she will be showing her collection, JJ Darling, in the upcoming fall season. But this is only the start of Brown’s journey, as Fernandez so prominently states, “Fashion Week is a vehicle; you have to drive it. It’s like anything in the Arts; you have to be tough and fight if you want it.”
Edmonton does not have countless design schools like New York or more well established fashion capitals. Instead, Edmonton has a fashion scene that can nurture and cultivate designers like Sid Neigum, the 2009 winner of the Emerging Designers Competition. Neigum is now an acclaimed designer who went on to show at Toronto Fashion Week.
When discussing Western Canadian Fashion Week, Fernandez says, “I think we’re much kinder and we’re getting noticed all over the world. So that’s exciting. A lot of designers are trying to fly in to do our shows.“
Edmonton’s fashion industry has been growing slowly and steadily in the last decade and it’s starting to show. “[What] would be really exciting to see in Edmonton is a fashion incubator”, says Brown. “A fully equipped studio space for designers that need a place to work, while also satisfying the need for community and support that new designers really crave.” If Edmonton wishes to see expansion in the fashion industry, it needs to continue taking a personal interest in new talent.