Founder, Vancouver Indigenous Fashion Week
Vancouver’s first Indigenous Fashion Week (VIFW) may have extended its runway only last July, but this display of the city’s Aboriginal roots left a strong imprint on the local fashion scene thanks to the work of VIFW founder Joleen Mitton a former model of Plains Cree descent. After working in Asia for years, she thought she was done with the fashion world—until she realized she could use this part of her to inspire Indigenous youth.
How did you start up VIFW?
The idea came up about seven years ago, and it came into fruition last year for Canada’s 150-plus excursion. It was kind of timely for Canada’s 150th birthday—to have the fashion week during that time [when there were protests all over the country that highlighted Indigenous history, culture and rights].
Do you ever want to coordinate with Vancouver Fashion Week?
We can definitely talk about collaboration, but I think Indigenous fashion and the regular fashion world don’t really go together in terms of sustainability because the fashion world is a dirty place…a very dirty place. The fashion industry is the second-largest polluter on the planet, between clothing waste and the water that’s used for mass fabric production.
How do you think that your work specifically has impacted the way Vancouverites experience the city?
It makes us [Indigenous people] visible. I guess it’s too soon to tell— like, we just had our fashion week. It seems like people want it again, which is a great feeling. Indigenous ways of being can help a lot of people, and not just First Nations people. They can help everyone.
How would you describe the style and design scene in Vancouver?
Vancouver doesn’t really have an identity. It’s still a young city, so it’s kind of figuring out where it’s supposed to be. It’s still in its teenager stage for sure.
How has your view of design changed since starting VIFW?
Seeing the city and watching it turn more Indigenous with art—when I was a kid, I didn’t see that stuff. So having the Survivor [Totem] Pole that was raised a couple years ago in Pigeon Park and seeing more Indigenous stuff pop up, it just makes me feel more comfortable in a city that’s Indigenous because I’m Indigenous.