Vancouver Indigenous Fashion Week (VIFW) was launched in 2017 by founder Joleen Mitton with the intention to spotlight and support Native fashion talent. Mitton—who is a Plains Cree model cofounder of Supernaturals Modelling, an Indigenous modeling agency—wanted to create a place for these designers to showcase their work that was centered around their culture’s stories and values. “VIFW is important for our Indigenous circular economy—for designers and artisans to connect with each other and their supporters,” Mitton tells Vogue. “It’s also important for Indigenous youth to see good role models, so that they can feel empowered to be creative; [To see] that our culture, our traditions, and our people are beautiful and deserve to be celebrated.”
After a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, VIFW is making its grand return to the Canadian city this week, running until December 1. “The last couple of years have been difficult for Indigenous communities, so I felt it was important to host VIFW in person and connect with people in real life,” says Mitton. With the pandemic disproportionally affecting this demographic, Mitton says the need to celebrate and uplift Native designers was crucial this season. “We also wanted to pay homage to those who are no longer with us,” says Mitton.
Last night, VIFW kicked off with its signature Red Dress gala, where veteran Indigenous designers such as Dorothy Grant and Yolonda Skelton showcased garments that pay tribute to missing and murdered Indigenous women (MMIW), girls, LGBTQ+ and Two-Spirit people. (The color red has come to symbolize the MMIW movement.) This week, there will also be over 40 Indigenous vendors taking part of a shoppable market place, and fashion shows devoted to West Coast design and Indigenous futurism. Streetwear labels such as Mobilize will display how Indigenous traditions can be translated into modern clothing. “It’s important to show our Indigenous elders that we are thriving,” says Mitton.
In honor of the event this week, meet 11 Indigenous designers below who are worth knowing at VIFW.