Earlier this week, as World MasterCard Fashion Week in Toronto was preparing to kick off, affordable Canadian apparel brand Joe Fresh announced that they were teaming up with Ryerson University to create a brand-new fashion innovation centre. Committing $1 million dollars to the project, which will aid in development of fashion-inspired businesses though Ryerson's Fashion Zone, Joe deemed the space "Canada's first fashion innovation space." Of course, the collaboration will not actually be the first of its kind in Canada: Toronto's original Fashion Incubator opened its doors almost three decades ago.
The city's fashion community flooded Twitter to point out Joe Fresh's faux pas.
No one is questioning the desperately needed funds and mentorship opportunities that the Joe Fresh/Ryerson collab will bring. After all, Canada's fashion community can only benefit from an injection of cash to nurture young talent. However, failing to acknowledge the hard work of Canada's original innovative centre is unacceptable, especially from one of the country's most recognizable brand names.
What Joe Fresh's PR mishap does do is provide an opportunity to shine the spotlight on the original Toronto Fashion Incubator and the work that they do to continuously support and nurture Canadian fashion designers.
The Toronto Fashion Incubator (TFI) was conceived in 1986, when the fashion industry was the second-largest industrial employer in the City of Toronto. The initial idea was to promote business growth in the city, which would eventually translate into new jobs as well as new business development and opportunities. A year later the TFI launched.
In 2015, 36% of the lines showing throughout Toronto Fashion Week's fall 2015 presentations are TFI members and alumni, and the TFI reports that it and its members have created more than 18,000 Canadian jobs since 1987. The award-winning non-profit has helped launch some of the country's leading talent, including David Dixon, Greta Constantine, Laura Siegel, Joeffer Caoc, Farley Chatto, Sunny Fong, Arthur Mendonca, Smythe and Line Knitwear.
In short, the TFI is an integral part of Canada's fashion landscape.
The incubator's mandate is simple: "play an essential role in the growth and promotion of the Canadian fashion community." Members have access to one-on-one mentoring, educational seminars, shared workspaces, and business resources. Additionally, there's also the much-hyped New Labels Fashion Design Competition. This national contest for emerging designers (which offers exposure, perks and a $25,000 cash award from TFI supporter and philanthropist Suzanne Rogers) has kick-started the careers of newcomers Miriam Baker, Sarah Stevenson and Sid Neigum in recent years.
"I'm thrilled that our success has encouraged so many to follow our lead because we're all hoping to do the same thing: support and nurture our homegrown talent," TFI’s executive director Susan Langdon told Complex this week. "I'm glad that TFI's stellar track record of almost 30 years nurturing innovative talent has inspired Ryerson and Joe Fresh... TFI was the world's first fashion incubator that's also inspired New York, London, Paris and Milan," she continued with NOW Magazine's Sabrina Maddeaux.
Other cities that the TFI has inspired? Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Atlanta, Dublin, Melbourne, Auckland, Amsterdam, and now Toronto again.
As a former resident designer of the TFI, I can only look back at how important it was to me, and the development of my business today - David Dixon
Incubator alumni, celebrated Canadian fashion veteran and current TFI president David Dixon had this to say: "as a former resident designer of the TFI, I can only look back at how important it was to me and the development of my business today. My time at the TFI, during 1995-2000, enabled me to allocate funds towards product development, press kits, hiring of staff, marketing and promotion. TFI has all that as designer needs to get started."
Dixon debuted his elegant 20th anniversary collection at Toronto Fashion Week on Tuesday evening. "It will always be the first of its kind," he said of his style alma mater.
While Joe Fresh and Ryerson remain mum on the "first fashion innovation space" faux pas, Langdon remains optimistic. "I hope there's an opportunity for our non-profit to partner with Ryerson and Joe Fresh. Working together as a community is what TFI has been doing for almost 30 years. We are continuing to nurture and support the next generation of fashion entrepreneurs who will create more jobs, stimulate the economy, lead industry and activate change."
Let's hope that they continue to help grow Canada's fashion landscape for at least another 30 years.