Early in February I was very lucky to fly to Toronto and attend the CAFA awards. I was also honoured to be part of the nominating committee of this incredible event. I’m dedicating a week of blog posts to this, as I think that Canadian Arts and Fashion Awards are an an important, exciting event in Canadian fashion and something we really need to nurture. It is Canadian Fashion Week here at Searching for Style (read part 1 here), and for part 2, I’m sharing an interview with Vicky Miler, the managing director of the CAFA awards. Her insights into the Canadian industry are spot on, and I am so happy that there is someone like her spearheading a movement to unite and give exposure to the fantastic fashion talent in Canada.
Searching for Style: What inspired you to start CAFA?
Vicky Milner: I joined CAFA as Managing Director in early 2013. The Founding Director, Brittney Kuczynski, who I met from my previous job in events and fundraising at SickKids Foundation, had published a magazine that was all for charity. All of the talent, from the stylists, photographers, designers etc… donated their time to make it happen. It was after this experience that we started to really learn about the environment and began to ask questions. Why don’t we view fashion as an art here? Why don’t we applaud our own as much as other places? There is no shortage of talent here and we need to nurture, acknowledge and celebrate our fashion community better. We need to come together and deliver a broader message of support. As we believe fashion and culture are intertwined, it was an important initiative to pursue.
SFS: What challenges do Canadian designers face today? Is globalization of the industry good or bad for them?
VM: Lack of recognition from mainstream Canadians – we don’t know who our designers are until they really make it big somewhere else. We are also sometimes surprised to find out certain designers are even Canadian and will only look into their story once they have acknowledgment from the States, Europe etc…
(SFS note: Vicky, I couldn’t agree more! And I think this happens in other creative industries in Canada, not just fashion. It is so irritating!)
The industry here is very insular. Montreal does their own thing, we do ours, Vancouver does theirs, etc… We don’t have something that helps unites and supports everyone.
Lack of capital and institutional backing. – Financial backing is very hard to come by in this industry especially.
Fashion is an intricate business that relies on consistent innovation which is not only expensive, but asks a lot of an entrepreneur. Many designers juggle various roles today. They cannot be just the designer. They have to be their own social media expert, a marketer, an accountant etc… It’s definitely a lot to manage when you’re trying to build your brand. They don’t always have the knowledge to do everything. Many designers are very creative but they don’t necessarily have a strong business acumen or have the access to sound business advice.
Globalization is good in the sense that it makes fashion more accessible; shopping online is a huge trend that definitely proposes opportunities for an increasing number of designers. However, as the market develops, designers will also be faced in more fierce competition not only within Canada but all over the world. Ultimately, I believe competition is good – and in the case of fashion, it’s very exciting as design is always evolving.
SFS: What improvements do you think need to made in the Canadian fashion industry?
VM: Something is best endorsed when we applaud. The first step is to shine a spotlight on the industry here nationally and internationally and achieve some mainstream recognition. The talent we have here is truly exceptional and can compete on a world stage. We need to celebrate and recognize it if we want others to pay attention. The celebration aspect in acknowledging our achievements and designs is crucial to moving the industry forward and inspiring confidence in our consumers.
The Canadian fashion industry is quite spread a part. We need something to connect the country, to engage in conversation, explore synergistic opportunities and discover strategies to overcome challenges.
SFS: Where do you want to take CAFA, do you see your role expanding?
VM: It is our goal to really grow CAFA to be an internationally acclaimed, premiere Awards show that can really showcase and celebrate our talent. It is all about creating awareness but our long-term goal is economic development. Over the next few years, we will build a stronger platform and presence in the national community that can hopefully be helpful in terms of mentorship for designers and strategic networking initiatives. We want CAFA to be an important organization all year around. We want to create opportunities for designers they may not have had otherwise. Although the country is very spread out, many designers have the same basic needs and it would be wonderful for CAFA to be that unified resource and source of support .
For a full list of the CAFA awards winners, click here. CAFA awards night photos by George Pimentel.