In a few weeks time, Jordan Stewart and other Canadian fashion designers were supposed to show their fall/winter collections at Toronto Fashion Week (TFW). Many had been preparing months. “I literally start one collection at the end of the other collection. There’s no stop," says Stewart, the founder of RVNG Couture. “It’s a labour of love. These are heart and soul projects.” Two days before the invites to RVNG’s show were sent out, Stewart got a call that Toronto Fashion Week was cancelled.
The news, which was delivered to participating designers last week and announced today on Twitter, has shocked industry insiders and left brands scrambling. One designer says he only knew something was up when TFW stopped returning his emails.
TFW executive director Carolyn Quinn said via email that the decision to “pause the production” of the fall/winter 2020 slate of shows was “very difficult.” It was made, she added, “in order to rethink the platform; focusing on how we can best engage the industry, support designers, and resonate with consumers across the country.”
When asked whether TFW had trouble securing corporate sponsorship, Quinn did not directly respond. “We are looking at the platform in its entirety, which includes how we can provide sponsors with the best opportunities to collaborate with our brand and with designers," said Quinn. "We have always had great support from the corporate community and have received positive feedback on this pause from sponsors and designers alike.”
Quinn did not confirm whether TFW would return in September for the spring/summer 2021 collections.
This isn’t the first time the future of Toronto Fashion Week has been unclear. It’s had several iterations since it started in the late '90s. Event management company IMG bought it in 2012, then shut it down in 2016 due to lack of funding. That same year, it was bought by its current ownership, rebranded, and scaled down from a seven-day marathon to a three-day sprint showcasing Canadian designers in Yorkville Village.
In an era when the relevance of fashion weeks around the world has been questioned, it’s no wonder TFW, a significantly smaller operation than, say, New York or Paris, would also be affected by a waning interest in the medium.
“Globally, fashion weeks are reworking the model in general,” says Vicky Milner, president of the Canadian Arts and Fashion Awards. “I think it’s an important step to evolve and re-evaluate to see what’s working and what’s not.” She notes TFW’s shift to including pop-up brunches, talks with industry insiders, and other events outside of runway shows is an indication of its commitment to keeping up with the times.
Nikki Wirthensohn Yassemi and Stefan Wirthensohn of Narces opened their first storefront in Yorkville earlier this month and had planned to use TFW as a jumping-off celebration for the new shop and the coming season. “It’s way easier to attract [customers] under the umbrella of fashion week. They’re interested in other Canadian designers and other Canadian fashion," says Stefan. "Will they give just their time if we say we are doing our own thing? That’s not a guarantee.”
That in-person connection is key, says fashion publicist Gail McInnes, whose client, Naeela Designs, had been preparing to showcase her purses in TFW's pop-up designer marketplace. “We do need an outlet where the designers come together and the community comes together. It’s not just about going to the shows, but it’s also [what happens] in between the shows,” she says. “There’s a lot of business deals that happen. There are connections, introductions.”
No matter what comes after TFW’s cancellation, fashion insiders say the industry needs to focus on uplifting Canadian designers. Stewart, who will host a breakfast preview of RVNG's fall collection next week, attributes her recent business wins to participating in TFW. “Last year I showed at the [Royal Ontario Museum] because Carolyn Quinn said, ‘I believe in you. I believe in your collection’ and [TFW] got behind me,” she says. “Now this year, I just dressed the Golden Globes, I’m dressing the SAGs. My fashion dreams are coming true.”
All the designers we spoke to hope TFW returns in September for their spring/summer 2021 collections.