Fashion Designers at Home: Celebrating Canadian Talent

Hannah Yakobi is an award-winning journalist and communications specialist. Throughout her career, she has written for the National Post, OK! Magazine, the Ottawa Citizen, Canwest newspaper network and dozens of publications around the world. Currently, she is the Editor-in-Chief of FAJO Magazine, a Canadian publication with staff in Canada, U.S. and U.K.

Let me tell you two stories.

Last fall, I decided to research the work of a Canadian designer who was based between New York and Toronto. He had showcased his designs several times at the Toronto Fashion Week and was a familiar face. His work was impossible to forget – grey and black themes, solid tailoring, real craftsmanship. So we got in touch, set up an interview and shoot with FAJO Magazine’s team in New York, and about a week later I reviewed the story and photos with great interest. Apparently, he sought inspiration in “stem cells, embryos, mathematic formulas and samurai.” How cool is that?

Almost exactly a year before that, I was at a fashion event in Toronto where close to two dozen Canadian designers were presenting their work. One of them caught my attention, because her line consisted of dresses that were very Mad Men-esque, filled with colour and glamour. We chatted, she gave me her catalogue and, since as a journalist I like to keep track of all potential interviewees and sources, I have it to this day.

Now, let’s jump back to the present. One of the designers I have mentioned has discontinued their brand. Another has seen major success and has won a coveted award in spring. I will not mention the name of the designer who has closed her company (let’s call her Tracy) – as I’m very sad to see that her business is gone. But I will tell you about the designer who is still around, who has won the TFI New Labels Award in May and who is becoming a leading name in the industry – his name is Sid Neigum.

Sid is an example of a true Canadian success story. He worked tirelessly, strategically, with a goal to make it big. And it worked.

But the point that I’m trying to make is not about who is successful and who isn’t – instead, what is much more important is that we need to focus on the future, which lies in supporting designers like Sid and Tracy. The truth is: the current support is minimal and cannot even come close to what is available in other major cities around the world. That is why many companies are closing down, and Tracy’s brand is not the first to disappear. How many times have I gone to an event recently and had a designer tell me that they are struggling because there aren’t enough grants, corporate sponsorship and media support? I’ve lost count, to be honest. It happens almost every time.


Certain organizations have made it their goal to support the industry and they have been doing miracles on a regular basis. Toronto Fashion Incubator, |FAT| Arts & Fashion Week, World MasterCard Fashion Week, Ukamaku – these are the organizations, events and online portals that provide our designers with a much-deserved exposure. But these powerful engines of innovation cannot do it alone and they need the support of the public. Sadly, many Canadians will eagerly spend thousands of dollars to travel to Paris or London to shop at small boutiques there than spend $400 on a one-of-kind dress by a homegrown talent.

The dichotomy of it all is particularly startling: there are always complaints that there isn’t enough talent, and yet nobody is actually looking at the existing diversity of creative individuals in our country. Not only do Canadian designers exhibit incredible innovation in their work, they also literally work day and night; many of them have daytime jobs that are spent at a desk of a finance, law or government company, doing things that don’t allow them to manifest their creative self the way they would ideally like to, in order to finance their own business that they hope will take off one day. Sometimes, there is a great success story. Other times, there isn’t.

People in other countries know about the incredible growth of the fashion industry that we have at home, while many Canadians continue to be completely dismissive of it. And this is exactly the reason why we often “lose” so many of our talents to other countries – they relocate for better opportunities.

So let’s celebrate Canadian designers and give them the support that they deserve. Let’s help designers like Sid promote their brands even more and stop designers like Tracy from closing down their companies. Let’s attend their shows more frequently. Let’s buy their clothes at boutiques (Homegrown Boutique in Yorkville is celebrating its one-year anniversary this week, hint hint) or online, give them some corporate support and maybe even just send them an e-mail with a few words of encouragement. Let’s be proud to be Canadian and keep these talents thriving.

Photo of Sid Neigum by Alex Mouganis for FAJO Magazine. Photo of the Toronto Fashion Week by Kareen Mallon for FAJO Magazine.