the case for the fashion non-capital
So it’s obvious – despite pretensions, Toronto is not even close to being an international fashion capital. It’s not a tragedy, either.
In the new world order fashion can be created anywhere, and delivered anywhere. The idea of the fashion capital – a geographical convergence of fashion consumers and producers – is becoming less relevant all the time. These days it’s not uncommon to see successful labels operating from fashion-non-capitals and even from smaller communities.
In the comments, Irene cites Jeremy Laing as a designer taking on the international scene from a studio in Toronto. She wrote, “Toronto is more like a big, fecund incubator, a testing ground where ideas can grow and form.”
Non-capitals have their advantages for new designers. One is lower overhead – in these less internationally prominent cities, it’s still possible for young designers to access affordable, decently sized studio space. The lower cost of business also means that non-capitals have retained a level of local production capacity that more expensive, dense cities can no longer maintain.
Also a quality of life thing; for instance, if I lived in New York I simply wouldn’t have my own studio and cutting table at this early stage in the game. Sacrificing the hectic social networking pace of New York leaves me with no regrets – I’m not the kind of person who can sustain enthusiasm for that stuff for longer than several days anyway. It leaves me a lot more time to focus on my work, my life, and the things I do enjoy.
Even if the local market is not powerful enough to sustain new designers, it doesn’t matter. Smart designers can leverage their local advantages to compete in the international market. Toronto is also blessed to have the world’s premier fashion incubator, a great organization which says a lot about the kind of supportive infrastructure available here. While there are a lot fewer established players in Toronto these days, there is a thriving population of new labels worth watching.
Of course there’s a lot of communication yet to be built. My quest has on one hand revealed to me an aging, struggling local apparel industry trying to adapt to globalization. There is tremendous production capacity in Toronto but the established industry lacks the ability to promote itself and tends to rely on an ever shrinking circle of existing contacts to maintain business. Paradoxically, there is also this grassroots level of young, enthusiastic designers who have an innate talent for self-promotion but lack the ability to create the product to justify the hype. The shared characteristics between these disparate groups are a lack of knowledge and trust of eachother and also a shared sense of desperation and frustration.
There must be some way to reconcile these two islands. If talent and production capacity can meet halfway there might be a chance to promote some real innovation in Toronto. It could be an opportunity to prove that producing locally with a strong network between the factories and creatives can drive business for both ends of the industry. Milan did it. It might mean inventing new ways to do business. This would be truly remarkable – something incredible enough to make waves on the world stage. It’s very possible – it just requires enough desperation to make the next imaginative leap.
The first step is bridging the communication gap – something I’m trying to do in my own little way.