Sage Paul, an urban Denesuliné tskwe based in Toronto, an award-winning artist and designer, and the Executive & Artistic Director at Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto shares her thoughts on why accountability and proper representation in the fashion industry are so important.
How did your passion for fashion and activism begin?
Fashion and activism have always been parts of my life. My parents always kept me aware of the injustices towards my community, but even if they hadn’t, it would be pretty hard to miss. Still, I don’t call myself an activist. There are many individuals and groups at the frontlines like Idle No More and other grassroots groups that lead and stand in solidarity with Indigenous peoples who do impactful and important activist work. I know that being Indigenous automatically politicizes me though. I have a responsibility to myself, my family and the community to make decisions for our collective wellbeing.
When it comes to fashion, I was raised around it. My mom sewed my clothes when I was little and, at our housing complex, the moms would put together workshops to make crafts and regalia with us kids. My love for fashion was definitely further inspired by FashionTV and Jeanne Beker. Watching the shows and performances of designers overseas and hearing Jeanne speak with the designers about their work was exciting! It’s work I still love today.
Everyone plays a part in transforming the practices of the fashion industry.
What actions need to be taken in order for proper inclusion & representation of Indigenous people in the Canadian fashion industry?
There are many things that need to happen in order for proper inclusion and representation of Indigenous people in the Canadian fashion industry. Most immediately, I would say that anything that is about us needs to be led by us at all levels, including design, marketing, education, manufacturing and executive leadership. It’s also important that companies understand what it means to create more inclusion in their workspaces. It isn’t enough to do a marketing campaign about us, Indigenous people (and other diverse people for that matter) need to be invited into leadership roles in mainstream companies. Not only would that support better inclusion and representation of us, but it will also allow for the industry to creatively flourish with innovation.
What role do fashion brands as well as government and policymakers play in transforming the practices of the fashion industry?
Everyone plays a part in transforming the practices of the fashion industry. There needs to be accountability at all levels that acknowledges this through action. While industry practices will not change overnight, I think a good place to start is by assessing corporate values to evolve to benefit collective wellbeing and guide how decisions are made. I believe those values should focus on fostering local designers, working with local creators and manufacturers and paying them properly, and stewardship of the earth. If those three pillars were enforced for decision-making and business practice in the fashion industry in Canada, I think things would be very different for the better.