Designer Christopher Bates walks the runway at the Christopher Bates Spring/Summer 2015 fashion show during World Mastercard Fashion Week. (Photo: Edward James/FilmMagic)
When I heard the news that IMG was pulling the plug on Toronto Fashion Week, I felt mixed emotions. TFW has indisputably been the leading platform in Canada for showcasing domestic talent, so it's definitely a setback for the Canadian fashion industry as a whole. Personally, TFW has been heavily influential in my brand development and I have so many fond memories of attending and exhibiting.
My first experience was as an attendee in the Spring of 2008. I had just started my line and made the trip from Vancouver to check out the scene and do some networking. I was totally impressed. It was well-attended, well-organized and there was a great energy in the tent.
The first time I presented my collection and took a bow on the runway was as part of the Gotstyle show early in 2009. It was thrilling. It was a world-class event and it brought some great press and a lot of attention to my brand. After that I started showing every season. I found FDCC, who ran the shows at the time, to be encouraging and supportive.
Although it was held in Toronto, it was truly the only national showcase for our industry.
In 2012 I was part of the Mercedes-Benz StartUp Program, an initiative launched in collaboration with TFW to support emerging designers. After winning the regional final in Ottawa along with Caitlin Power, each of the finalists earned a chance to present their collection at the final on the main runway at TFW. This was a fantastic program which to this day I credit as a turning point in my career. Many of the mentors in the program were genuinely helpful including show producer Hans Koechling, Barbara Atkin from Holt Renfrew, and JoAnne Caza from Mercedes-Benz. In particular I'd like to highlight Robin Kay who I got to know then and who over the years has continued to be a mentor and friend.
It was around this time that Robin left TFW and IMG took over. I continued to show, but from that point on the whole experience was much more corporate. Still, IMG was supportive and I didn't take a break from showing at TFW until Jeff Rustia convinced me to show at Toronto Men's Fashion Week (TOM*). Yet, that season I had already committed to showing at TFW so I actually ended up showing at TOM* in August and also with TFW in October.
After both shows I compared results with my team and we felt that overall TOM* was a better fit for my brand, particularly as it was a men's fashion week and I have a menswear line. Also, I went from a middling day or early evening slot at TFW to the grand finale at TOM*.
Unbeknownst to anyone but my PR team, Anya Nordström and Dani Matte, we were actually contemplating a return to TFW this fall. A scheduling conflict will be keeping me out of town during TOM* in August and I thought a reappearance at TFW would create a lot of buzz. Regardless, I'm somewhat relieved that isn't an option as it will free up time for my crazy schedule this fall which includes events and promotions with Harry Rosen, Browns and Air Canada. I'm also launching my line in several influential stores in Italy this fall, which is a major breakthrough.
Without it, emerging designers will be hard-pressed to garner national exposure and awareness.
I can honestly attribute a lot of my growth to TFW. Although it was held in Toronto, it was truly the only national showcase for our industry. Without it, emerging designers will be hard-pressed to garner national exposure and awareness. For menswear designers there is still TOM*, which has been a fantastic experience for me.
However, I do believe a comprehensive bi-annual national fashion week, hosted in Toronto, is relevant and necessary. Financial support from the government would provide a big boost to whoever reboots the franchise and for all of the stakeholders.
I believe someone will attempt to re-establish TFW sooner than later. The opportunity is too great. Toronto has been the perfect incubator for preparing my business for international expansion. In Toronto there is a sizable local market, a full spectrum of retailers, local and national press, prospective investors and corporate opportunities as well. Further, there are great organizations like: FGI Toronto (Fashion Group International), TFI (Toronto Fashion Incubator) and CAFA (Canadian Art & Fashion Awards) that are all based on the initiative of supporting and promoting Canadian talent.
Based on this unique mix, Toronto is the optimal city to be the host for a national fashion week that would have the power to unify the industry nationwide. I suggest that the next steward for TFW make this their goal. Further, I recommend switching to in-season shows and making the event not just about the runway, but also about the business of fashion. Public awareness and press coverage are important, but business development and sales are critical.
I'd like to conclude by sincerely thanking everyone at the FDCC, TFW and IMG for believing in and supporting me over the years. TFW provided the opportunity for me to raise my brand profile nationally and even garner international recognition which has in turn lead to my expansion in Italy and beyond.
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