TORONTO – Fat.
It’s a word that doesn’t immediately come to mind when one thinks of the fashion industry. At times it’s a divisive word used to explore issues of diversity or weight representation. Other times, it is used to hurt a person’s self-esteem, bringing someone down a notch or two.
Yet Vanja Vasic, executive director of FAT Arts and Fashion Week – a festival featuring Canadian and international designers and artists – has managed to turn a dirty word in the fashion industry into something celebratory.
“That’s the point of the festival, because to us FAT is the opposite of the mainstream and the norm,” said Vasic, speaking outside of the Drake Lab on Toronto’s Queen Street West, one of the many festival venues across the city.
“It’s a celebration of different female figures. It’s a celebration of diversity – diversity of perspectives, diversity of artists and designers. And I think it’s now become a good word.”
Its name has become synonymous with Toronto’s street style and indie darlings. Now in its seventh year, the small fashion week has successfully courted industry heavy hitters – Pat McDonagh, the iconic Canadian designer known for her red-carpet ready looks, is scheduled to present this season at FAT.
FAT has also gained major player status – alongside The Fashion Design Council of Canada and the Toronto Fashion Incubator – in nurturing and fostering the growth of Canada’s young talent.
In a country with gifted individuals that are often lost to the greener pastures of the United States or other fashion capitals (avant-garde Montrealer Rad Hourani shows in New York Fashion Week, and knitwear designer Mark Fast has been part of the London calendar for years), arts funding in Canada is quickly declining.
The Harper government’s latest federal budget, released last month, showed cuts in excess of millions to cultural organizations such as the National Arts Centre and the National Film Board.
Critics say these cuts and underfunding mean less money and support for the fashion and creative industries, which ultimately undermines the value of Canadian culture, hindering the growth of a definable Canadian identity.
In a digital age when foreign ideas and merchandise are more accessible than ever before, events like FAT help nurture, define, market and celebrate Canada’s own designers and fashion industry, giving rising stars the chance to shine without the pressure of commercial success.
“That is what is interesting about the festival because it’s not necessarily about the commercial, it’s about the experimentation and the art and the freedom to play with fashion,” said Vasic.
Designers showing at FAT aren’t constrained by commerce or dollar value. The event celebrates each designer’s aesthetic regardless of its marketability and sale-factor.
From its inception in 2005 at a bar on King Street West, to taking over a 15,000-square-feet industrial warehouse in Toronto’s west-end and adding an additional two days to its four-day line-up, FAT has grown to include not just a runway presentation but also film, art and performance.
“It’s really exciting to put fashion through many different platforms, explore it through many different ways,” said Vasic.