This July, Canada will be celebrating its 150th birthday. Canada is recognized as one the best places in the world to live and is home to over 35 million citizens and welcomes an average of 250,000 immigrants per year. One of Canada’s largest and popular cities, Toronto, has a population of 2.79 million, and according to Toronto’ Website, 54% of Toronto’s population is made up of immigrants, but is also home to 230 different nationalities, earning Toronto a crown of diversity. As Toronto is proclaimed to be one of the most multicultural cities in the world and ranked as the “safest large metropolitan area in North America” by Places Rated Almanac, Toronto can similarly be acknowledged for being a diverse fashion forward city. From Toronto Fashion Week, TTC advertisements and Torontonian activists, the Canadian fashion market is unique, inspiring, and looking forward.
Less than a decade ago, Toronto’s fashion week had seen a shift in themes of diversity before its cancellation in 2016. Straying away from trends in Paris or Milan, Toronto Fashion Week exhibited multi-races and a variety of cultures portrayed on the runways to match the multicultural streets. A Jamaican-born Canadian model, Stacey McKenzie reached out to Global News in March 2012 to talk about model diversity and how it is growing. She states there was very little diversity amongst the models when she first began walking in the mid-1990’s, since then she has walked in Toronto Fashion Week multiple times and in multiple shows. She shares her experiences of attending her local fashion week; “Nowadays, everywhere you turn, there’s more than one black girl…there’s more than one Asian girl. I’m even seeing East Indian girls which is super cool because before, I would never see an East Indian girl on the runway.” She also expresses her gratitude for Toronto representing a “new norm” for models. As Toronto Fashion Week appeared to be displaying an abundance of diversity, Robin Givhan of the Washington Post believes that New York Fashion Week has some catching up to do. On Thursday March 24th, she writes, “Each show should offer a unique representation of every conceivable consumer. To some degree, we are looking to see near mirror-images on the runway. But fashion has a responsibility to reflect the culture, not the individual.” She hopes to see a more welcoming American fashion industry, similar to Toronto’s displaying diversity and “embodying a cultural standard”. Several media outlets state that Toronto Fashion Week’s cancellation was due to a lack of supporters but additional claims state slut shaming and rape allegations played a larger part. If or when Toronto’s Fashion Week is resurrected, we hope to see the diverse runways showcasing the local talent and models once again at David Pecaut Square tent.
Although Toronto Fashion Week has disbanded, the Toronto fashion market is consistently booming and building a name for it through driven and activist citizens. The body positive movement is growing and increasingly gaining attention. In May 2016, the Toronto Star interviewed local Karyn Johnson, a largely followed Instagrammer, plus size blogger and advocate of the body positivity movement. The movement fires back at magazines and tabloids fat shamming women and promoting self-love. Johnson gained inspiration to join the movement after transforming her website, Killer Kurves, into an advice blog catering to plus-size women. The website and advice column blossomed and encouraged empowerment for women aged from 16 years old to middle aged women struggling with body image. Another Torontonian that joined the movement is Jill Andrews, co-founder of the body confidence Canada Awards and has recently voiced her opinion to the Toronto Star about the most recent TTC ad campaign. The National Ballet teamed up with TTC to promote a new partnership – dubbed We Move You- shows ballerinas dancing and posing in front of subway stations and other TTC vehicles, has drawn criticism for the images immortalizing “unrealistic and highly regimented bodies as some sort of an ideal ‘beauty.” Andrews stated, “The body types of most ballet dancers do not adequately represent those of most Canadians and, I dare say, Most TTC users.” Overall, Andrews worries the images displayed on subway, busses and streetcars spreads the wrong message of what a healthy and confident body should look like.
Besides social media moguls and activists, Canadian publications have represented their country proudly by participating in a diversity report. The FashionSpot website recounted a diversity report on advertisement in Fall 2015 reporting that Elle Canada published a piece titled “Can Using Different Types of Models Benefit Brands?” by Ben Barry, who is CEO of the self titled modeling agency in Toronto as well as an assistant professor of equality, diversity and inclusion at Ryerson University, conducted studies on how multiple factors, such as size, race, and age of models impact a consumers decision to purchase an item in the category of fashion. His study displayed multicultural marketing had positive results on consumers if the brand showed commitment to diversity and the advertisement was stylized in the same attitude as it would have been if it featured a “young, size zero white model.” Barry’s study demonstrated two important messages; advertisements will continue to sell not matter the age, race or size of the model, and the Canadian consumer audience is much more open to diversity than most American publications.
In Toronto, diversity can found around every corner. On St. Clair West Avenue, local girl, Chealse Howell can found in her office at Haute Agency. Haute Agency is an elegant and high-class full service agency with a strong team of promoters, professions and an elite roster of fashion models and brand ambassadors, all catering to luxury events. Chealse is not just a co-founder of the agency but has been modeling for multiple years, launched an acting career and was crowned Miss. Universe in 2015. Haute Agency’s roster is a mix of multicultural and racial male and females, dividing Haute from many other agencies that cast predominately white, size zero, blonde models. Chealse states that, “At Haute Agency we are know to be one of the most excepting and diverse agencies in Toronto, I think this is a huge attribute because this has opened many doors allowing us to cater to multiple industries including fashion, music, TV/film and promotions. We are also known for being a boutique agency that takes on a small amount of talent but ensure all of our talent are consistently auditioning and booking not just sitting on our roster.” With influences from Canadian icon, Coca Rocha, and believing Toronto is becoming more known for its fashion and retail scene, Chealse and her team display a great amount of diversity by providing new jobs and opportunities for men and women of multiple races and nationalities to become successful in the Toronto modeling and fashion world.
As Canada displays a profusion of diversity, many improvements are still under construction. The no-more Toronto Fashion Week has abolished opportunities for models and Canadian designers to showcase their talented abilities and agencies to showcase their diverse models. Also, the lack of body positive advertisement in the local TTC is upsetting for a majority of passengers. Although circumstances could- and have - been worse, Toronto proudly welcomes various types of diversity amongst its fashion market and niche. As one of the most multi-cultural countries in the world, our Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, sums up our efforts and accomplishments best by stating “Compassion, acceptance, and trust; diversity and inclusion—these are the things that have made Canada strong and free. Not just in principle, but in practice. […] Let’s show the world the very best of what that means.” And as for Toronto, the city will continue to grow and look forward to express diversity.