Joleen Mit­ton

Founder, Van­cou­ver In­dige­nous Fash­ion Week

Vancouver Magazine - - DESIGN CITY - —As told to Laryssa Va­chon

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.

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