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Festival co-founder Sage Paul shares the importance of celebrating Indigenous craft

The Indigenous Fashion Arts Festival (IFAF), curated by Wanda Nanibush (Anishinaabe), Melanie Egan, and Sage Paul (Denesuline), focuses on realizing the visions of the past and future with its central concept of reverence and conviction, which will be encompassed by runway shows, marketplace vendors and panels from May 30 to June 2.

Indigenous Fashion Arts, Sage Paul

Sage Paul, co-founder of Indigenous Fashion Arts and executive director of IFAF. Photography by Nadya Kwandibens, Red Works.

“It’s about sustaining our practices and traditions,” says Sage Paul, co-founder of Indigenous Fashion Arts, the practice behind the festival and Artistic and Executive Director of IFAF. “In terms of bringing our communities together, especially in the fashion and art disciplines, we are creating space for ourselves and our stories and experience to be told and thrive.”

Indigenous Fashion Arts, Indigo Arrows

Cream Floral Drum Stool by Indigo Arrows. Inspired by local Anishinaabe pottery. Wood tops and bottoms; Solid Manitoba ash, custom fabric;  commercial grade in a vegan leather finish.

Celebrating its fourth edition this year, the biennial fashion and arts festival amplifies the artistic integrity and value of Indigenous trade work and fashion.

“We can show our joy, sorrows and stories through our runway shows, which I feel are more like fashion performances as well as through the marketplace where we have 70 vendors showcasing Indigenous-made works,” says Paul.

Indigenous Fashion Arts, Assinewe

Custom Beaded Floral Earrings by Assinewe Jewelry.

This year, IFAF is taking over a new venue—the Eaton Centre.

The team behind IFAF goes through the selection process for vendors, artists, designers, models and speakers in a curatorial way, determining themes based on submissions. “My upbringing as an Indigenous woman, it’s always been from a very strong place of love and integrity. For me, the idea of reverence and conviction helps to demonstrate that lived experience and the way that we’ve come to these themes is through the way that we program our runway shows,” says Paul. “Many of the designers are actually creating wearable garments and they have these cultural codes and design elements that route it back into them as being Indigenous people, whether that’s through colour or whether that’s through a symbol or even through the use of a garment.”

K.Lookinghorse Spring/ Summer 2024

K.Lookinghorse’s Spring/ Summer 2024 collection “tells a story of a mother’s bond to her children, capturing that energy using geometric florals.”

The first, My Tender Bundle, presented by Simons, features work by Acahkos Designs, Arctic Luxe, BIBI CHEMNITZ, K. Lookinghorse, Mobilize Waskawewin, and R S Gustafson, speaks from the view of the children and family in Indigenous communities.

“It speaks to how we are one protecting our families, but also that allowing young people to be young people and reminding them that they don’t have to be afraid,” says Paul.

Indigenous Fashion Arts

ReeCreations crafts dresses and ribbon skirts that “encapsulate resilience, resistance, and matriarchal empowerment.”

The resilience and ingenuity of Indigenous designers are showcased in Fierce + Fearless, presented by CIBC. Featuring works and performances by IX BALAM, HAKHU AMAZON DESIGN, Haus of Dumont, Rebecca Baker-Grenier, ReeCreeations and Chelazon Leroux, Paul explains it will have more of a political edge, coming from a place of intrinsic artistic expression.

Jillian Waterman, Indigenous Fashion Arts

The In Living Universe 2024 collection by Jillian Waterman is “a testament to innovation within traditional materials, representing a profound connection to her culture while pioneering new horizons in fashion design.”

The third runway performance, From This Ground We Grow, showcases works from designers including Dene Couture by Tishna Marlowe, Janelle Wawia, Jillian Waterman, Justin Jacob Louis, Lesley Hampton, and Naomi Bourque, showcasing their deep connections to places.

Indigenous Fashion Arts

Jennifer Younger Designs presents “wearable art that elegantly explores contemporary Tlingit expression in formline and metalwork.”

The finale of IFAF 2024 will be a runway performance called Materialize, which spotlights designers using natural materials, including works by Indi City x Heather Bouchier, Jennifer Younger Designs, Merdi Sihombing, Pacha Indigenous Art Collection, Randi Nelson Designs, Taalrumiq, and Ujaraatsiaq’s Garments.

“A lot of them are going back to traditional practices, working with copper and smoked hide,” says Paul. “It’s incredible to see that connection which has carried us from the past to the present and that will carry us into the future.”

quill weaving, Indigenous Fashion Arts

At IFAF 2024, attendees can join Arsene Betsidea for the porcupine quills weaving workshop.

Speaking further to Indigenous diaspora, this year’s event will also include panel sessions and an intensive hands-on workshop, supported by Miziwe Biik Aboriginal Employment and Training, to promote traditional Indigenous skills and practices.

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Get a closer look at what you can expect to find in the 2024 New Builds Issue of Designlines Magazine

In the 2024 Spring/Summer Issue of Designlines, we focus on New Builds and “celebrate the profound impact of creating something new, not just as an architectural endeavour but as a testament to laying down roots and shaping the very essence of our city’s identity,” editor-in-chief Joseph Cicerone writes.

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