An initiative that originated in Australia and New Zealand and strives to gives indigenous people the tools that they need to become makeup artists, models and designers is coming to Canada.
The Indigenous Runway Project has joined forces with Saskatoon's indigenous fashion collective Her4Directions to provide a week of training for indigenous people aspiring to establish themselves in the fashion industry, followed by a runway show in Saskatoon in September.
"We want our event to be huge. We have people coming from overseas and we want to give them that really great experience that I received when I was down there and give them a cultural exchange," said Helen Oro — a makeup artist and designer who puts fun, contemporary twists on traditional beadwork — in an interview with CBC's Saskatoon Morning.
Oro hopes that the new initiative in Canada will raise awareness in the fashion industry about indigenous culture, which mainstream fashion designers have been known to blatantly appropriate: "There is so much going on in the mainstream where they rip off designs from sacred designs from tribes and put them on the runway," Oro explained.
"Some of these designs have been in the families and tribe for years and they aren't supposed to be used [like that]... It's part of their history, their culture, their family — and it tells a story. So, for designers to just grab that and put it on the runway without any knowledge or asking for approval is really disrespectful."
Take Miss Universe Canada's recent totem pole costume for instance. Many were shocked to see Paola Nunez Valdez shimmying around in an eagle-inspired headdress and slinky totem pole costume, which several in Canada's indigenous community thought mimicked sacred designs from the Pacific Northwest. Miss Universe Canada did respond saying the fiasco was a "tremendous MISUNDERSTANDING" — but these types of cultural misunderstandings prove why initiatives like the upcoming Indigenous Runway event are so important right now.
Oro hopes the event will provide the mainstream fashion community with an opportunity to familiarize themselves with indigenous designers, while raising much-needed awareness about Canada's indigenous culture. We can't wait to tune in September and see what these fresh new designers have to offer.
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