Vancouver Indigenous Fashion Week Paints the Town Red

November 29, 2019
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First Nations Communities confront injustice through fashion at Vancouver Indigenous Fashion Week.

Vancouver Indigenous Fashion Week (VIFW) returned for its second edition last week to showcase the power, beauty and evolution of the Indigenous community and its Two Spirit members (third gender or other gender-variants). VIFW founder and producer, Joleen Mitton, created this event to unite indigenous creators, artists and designers as well as their communities in their movement towards solidarity. The runway gave them the space to express their ancestral heritage, traditions, and hardships along with the strength to walk with their heads held high and their fists pumped. 

VIFW kicked itself off with the Red Dress Event, an evening to bear witness to the ongoing tribal suffering in this world. Models painted red hands on their faces to not only express their pain but to also honour, respect and elevate Indigenous women, girls and the Two Spirit community. 

Peter Jensen Photography

“Indigenous culture considers traditional regalia as the highest art form. VIFW bridges the past, present and future of Indigenous fashion by showcasing the expression and evolution of modern Indigenous designers that use clothing as a statement; a way to explore legacies of colonization and industrialization,” said Mitton.

Every designer had a statement. Coast Salish designer and dancer, Tyler Alan Jacobs, says his versatile streetwear collection portrayed “beauty as one” and that “we are one planet”. Not to mention, Jacobs’ resume is one to revere. His work includes Cirque du Soleil Totem, choreography and designs for Nelly Furtado, and the 2010 Olympic ceremonies. Leather and Bead Artist, Doreen Manuel, also admired in the film, education and community development field, sees her work as a means of connecting with the Spirit, honouring her ancestors, and evolving the past. Seeing other Indigenous designers display their work, she said, gives her the courage to do the same. You can see her latest intricate designs on Converse shoes, a more comfortable way to strut the catwalk. 

Spectators from all walks of life joined together to appreciate and cultivate Indigenous fabrics, textures, colours and designs. The show‘s mandate to facilitate reconciliation and deepen non-Indigenous communities’ understanding of indigenous communities was demonstrated by incredible audience engagement and zero judgement vibes. The myriad of spins, turns, dances, and raised arms and fists were acknowledged, cheered upon, and uplifted the crowd just enough make the world a better place, even just for a moment.

Peter Jensen Photography

“VIFW provides a framework for safe business practices, cultural appreciation, mentorship, diversity and inclusion in an industry that has copied, and at times, stolen Indigenous designs. We are here to uphold authentic Indigenous artistry and reclaim what is ours,” said Mitton.

“This is not your typical fashion week,” said Mitton.

Every designer had a story. Check a few of them out for yourself at

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