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Fashion industry VIPs react to Toronto Fashion Week’s cancellation

Fashion industry VIPs react to Toronto Fashion Week's cancellation
Fashion blogger Justin Iaboni. Photo by Kayla Rocca

On Monday, global events management company IMG announced that Toronto Fashion Week—which it had operated twice yearly for the past four years—is no more. In a statement explaining its decision to scrap the event, senior VP Catherine Bennett cited a lack of “local support for the industry.” We asked a few fashion VIPs, including Toronto Fashion Week founder Robin Kay, what they think of that claim, and what’s next for the city’s fashion scene.

Barbara Atkin, former Vice President of Fashion Direction at Holt Renfrew

“I don’t agree with IMG’s claim that there wasn’t enough Toronto support. But Fashion Week lacked vision and vibrancy. I think Toronto Fashion Week went away because it stopped being relevant, and didn’t reinvent itself. Customers today want to be in control, so they need to be at the centre of the event. Seasonal runway presentations don’t really matter. I’d like to see whoever picks up the baton really look at putting the consumer front and centre.”

Hayley Elsaesser, Toronto designer

“I showed at Sydney Fashion Week and saw a huge difference in the level of support. In Sydney, even people who aren’t in the industry follow what’s happening in fashion. It’s on the daily news, and magazines are really supportive of Aussie brands. In Canada it’s the reverse. There’s more interest in big brands from other countries. There’s definitely a lot of talent here, but Toronto Fashion Week was a bit antiquated. Honestly, I wasn’t surprised at all that it was cancelled—I thought this might be coming soon. I almost didn’t show last season because it’s a lot of effort without much result. When big brands like Pink Tartan and Joe Fresh stopped showing, it was an indication of the way things were going.”

Jeanne Beker, TV host

“I don’t think IMG cared about Canadian fashion and culture in the way that Canadians do. I knew the minute MasterCard pulled out that Toronto Fashion Week’s days were numbered, so I’m not surprised. But I also knew its days were numbered based on how the fashion and media business has changed. It would really behoove Toronto to pull together and join forces with other cities like Vancouver and Montreal. We all want to celebrate Canadian fashion, but with everyone doing their own little events it never really comes together.”

George Pimentel, photographer

“I don’t believe that there wasn’t enough Toronto support. We have such a fashion crowd here—there was always a packed house. I’m sad. I really didn’t see it coming. I think it’s bad for Toronto, being such a big, mainstream city, to let Fashion Week go. I started shooting for Fashion Week almost 20 years ago, when it was an outlet to give the designers some freedom and exposure. It slowly became more corporate, but it’s still important for Toronto to have something like it.”

Robin Kay, founder of Toronto Fashion Week and president of the Fashion Design Council of Canada

“I was prepared for this but I’m extremely disappointed because I’m so invested in the business of fashion in this country, and because I made the decision to sell Fashion Week to IMG. There was tremendous Fashion Week support and pride in the event in the city—clearly it was a desirable commodity for IMG to purchase back in 2012. I think the organizers failed to create an event that was financially viable. I don’t understand why there was no relevant way to incentivize sponsors. I appreciate IMG’s diplomatic statement, but I know business: you have budgets and you make it work—so what was the real reason for cancelling the event? I’m stumped. IMG’s statement was not satisfying for the community.”

Justine Iaboni, fashion blogger

“I know first-hand that there wasn’t enough support from people with money. On a personal level, I’m really sad about it, because it’s been a fixture in my calendar since I started blogging in 2010. But on an industry level, I knew it was coming. And on a global level, I think the notion of having a fashion week is antiquated.”

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Shawn Hewson, designer at Bustle

“Make no mistake: there’s no shortage of support from within the Canadian fashion industry—this community is stronger than ever. When Robin Kay was at the helm, Fashion Week felt more like it was developed from within Canada’s fashion community. Unfortunately, the event was not being operated in a sustainable manner. Bustle has been showing at Fashion Week for more than 20 seasons, and IMG never thought to consult us on how they might steer the ship into the future.”

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