There was a strong NWT presence at the Indigenous Fashion Arts Festival (IFAF) in Toronto earlier this month.
The biennial festival, hosted by multi-platform non-profit organization Indigenous Fashion Arts, celebrated Indigenous-made fashion, craft and textile arts with a market, runway show and workshops.
Four artists from the NWT had tables at the market: Mishelle Lavoie of Capital M Beading, Inuk360, Taalrumiq, and Dorathy Wright of Willow Crescent Quilting.
The NWT Arts Program had a table showcasing works from Levi MacDonald, Roxanne Kotchilea, Gerri Sharpe and Denise McDonald.
For Lavoie, a Shutoatine Dene Métis artist from Inuvik, this year’s festival was her biggest market showing to date.
“It was very positive. I honestly have nothing but good things to say about all the customers and the people that I met. It just felt nice to hear positive feedback on something that you’re putting your heart and soul into, and seeing that other people like what you do,” Lavoie said.
“I’m not necessarily doing this to make sales, I’m just doing something that I think would be fun – and then, if people like it, that’s just the cherry on top.”
Since returning from Toronto, Lavoie has gained almost a hundred new followers on Instagram, not to mention “huge” orders from shops across the country. While growing her audience and reach is exciting, Lavoie said she was just as thrilled to meet some of her favourite Indigenous artists.
“It was really cool to be surrounded by a lot of other beaders that I’ve admired and I follow on Instagram. Before I went to Toronto, I had about 380 followers on my Instagram, and some of these ladies had, like, tens of thousands. It was a big fangirl moment for me, for sure.”
While designer Taalrumiq launched her business three years ago, she hadn’t been able to visit any markets as a creator until this year’s IFAF due to pandemic restrictions. She described her first market experience as “really fantastic.”
“There’s some level of disbelief, like, ‘Oh, I can’t believe they liked my work enough that they want me there.’ But once I got over that, it was really great to be there not only representing myself, but the community and the Northwest Territories,” Taalrumiq said.
Even for experienced artists like Inuvialuit multidisciplinary designer Inuk360, representing the NWT never gets old.
“It is magical. I was born on Dene land and raised the white man’s way, which means I have been given the best of all worlds,” Inuk said.
“This gives me the grace to travel to and through any culture, closing cultural gaps and educating people along the way via my hand-made, slow-fashion creations.”
Beyond the market, Robyn Mcleod was one of two artists representing the NWT on the IFAF runway, in her first fashion show.
“I was like, ‘Can I really do this?’ Because [the show] was so big and it was so beyond anything I’ve ever tried before,” Mcleod said.
Mcleod has wanted to be a fashion designer since she was young. While she had to overcome a bout of impostor syndrome along the way, she said she wouldn’t trade the experience at IFAF for anything.
“I’m really, really happy that I was able to complete my goal of being in Indigenous Fashion Arts and having my clothes go down the runway. It was just a dream come true,” she said.
Taalrumiq said what NWT artists accomplished at this year’s festival should come as no surprise.
“Even people from the smallest communities can have the biggest talent,” she said.