Like everything else in 2020, the fashion world has been hit hard by this global pandemic, but it’s also become an opportunity to pause and reflect on an industry that might be overdue for some major changes. This story is part of a CBC Arts: Exhibitionists episode focused on a better way forward for fashion, streaming now on CBC Gem.

Sage Paul is a designer and activist who is the artistic director and founder of Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto. This past weekend, on the latest episode of CBC Arts: Exhibitionists, she sat down with our host Amanda Parris at the Red Pepper Spectacle in Toronto to talk about sustainable fashion. Paul discussed how she’s been working to transition Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto to a virtual celebration of art and culture.

When COVID-19 hit, it transformed the entire world — including the fashion industry. The shift has put a spotlight on how certain big retailers have to reconstruct the way that they work. Mainstream fashion has been long called out for its seasonal systems and the effect it has on the environment. But for Indigenous communities, thinking sustainably and locally is already a cultural practice. 

Amanda Parris and Sage Paul. (CBC Arts)

“There’s definitely a huge local and community support for each other in terms of creating work and creating enough work that you get what you need, especially work-wise and financially,” Paul tells Parris. 

“It’s not based on a mass production model, which is definitely one area … you can change.”

Now in the midst of a global pandemic, this year’s Indigenous Fashion Week is transitioning to holding the festival online. The four-day event will include cinematic fashion films, a pop-up online marketplace, a virtual art exhibition and a panel series. But what makes it different from mainstream fashion shows is that it focuses on community and family. 

“It’s not a typical runway show where we are inviting buyers to purchase wholesale garments. And that creates an energy in the room. It feels like it’s just like a family gathering, like your family’s backyard, and you’re just celebrating this one person who’s come out to the show to show you something,” says Paul. 

In a time where the fashion industry is at a crossroads, Paul hopes that fashion in the future can be an inclusive community that is unified in its attempt to cultivate, celebrate and promote personal expression. 

Be sure to check out this year’s Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto on as well as from November 26 to 29. 

Watch the full interview above, and tune into this week’s episode of CBC Arts: Exhibitionists — which centres on street art — Friday at 11:30 ET on CBC. Stream this past week’s fashion episode now on CBC Gem.

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