Highlights From This Year’s Indigenous Fashion Arts Festival

The runway was brimming with bold styling, exaggerated silhouettes, and lively regalia.

Sage Paul finds strength in fashion’s ability to express and preserve Indigenous identity in ways that words often cannot. “It really goes back to how loud of a voice that fashion has,” says Paul, who serves as executive and artistic director of the Indigenous Fashion Arts Festival (IFA), which took place May 30 to June 2 at CF Toronto Eaton Centre. “What really just makes me proud is that we have the space to speak freely and be who we are as Indigenous people,” she says.



Highlighting over 100 Indigenous designers and artists from around the world, including Lesley Hampton, Bibi Chemnitz, and Rebecca Baker-Grenier, this year’s festival featured runway shows, a marketplace, and panels centred around the theme of reverence and conviction.

The four runway shows showcased cultural designs that represented the diaspora of Indigeneity. Here, we spotlight some notable designs from each day.



Motherhood Honoured With Mommy and Me Looks

Kayla Lookinghorse, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, unveiled her spring/summer 2024 collection, Timeless, at IFA’s first runway show, titled “My Tender Bundle,” centred around themes of radical caregiving. Her collection started with a Mommy and Me look, symbolizing children mirroring their caregivers, and explored the stages of womanhood through a range of feminine and androgynous looks from floor-sweeping gowns to boxy trousers.

“I have some very versatile pieces that speak to business, athleisure, [and] elegant spaces,” Lookinghorse says. One standout piece, the final dress with 28 straps representing the 28 tipi poles, symbolizes “valuing family, valuing who you are, and where you come from.” She pays homage to her celestial roots, stating, “We come from the stars” and beading this proverb onto a jacket to remind the audience of the shared cosmic origins connecting tribes and people globally.




Models Wear Armor as a Tribute to Ancestral Warriors

The theme of IFA’s second runway show, “Fierce + Fearless,” embodied the fight against oppressive colonial ideas. Rebecca Baker-Grenier, inspired by her Tlingit heritage, brought her Warrior collection to life with striking interpretations of armour in contemporary fashion.

“When I thought about that idea of what you wear as a representation of yourself, but also as almost an armour, I thought about warriors,” she says.

Grenier reimagines elements of traditional armour, using wooden slats, leather, and coins to create aprons. Her Warrior collection features laser-cut leather dresses reminiscent of copper shields, a grand copper neckpiece in collaboration with artist Agnes Seaweed, and a carved copper bodice for the finale. “I call the bodice Coming Home,” Grenier explains, symbolizing the importance of returning to one’s community.



Size-Inclusive Evening Wear Celebrates Body Positivity

Lesley Hampton, the Anishinaabe designer championing body positivity, presented her 2024 Alkaline collection, featuring a stunning showcase of eveningwear. Infused with her core values of sustainability and inclusivity, Hampton’s designs aim to empower wearers to feel comfortable and confident in their skin, especially in polarizing environments. This collection, characterized by a darker colour palette, also seeks to bring “a neutralizing aspect to our life through clothing,” Hampton says.

A standout piece is a wool bomber jacket, inspired by a custom design worn by John Tavares of the Toronto Maple Leafs, symbolizing “a mix of Indigenous representation and high-quality menswear,” marking a new chapter for the brand. Aligned with IFA’s runway show theme “From This Ground We Grow,” the collection is deeply rooted in Hampton’s cultural origins, symbolizing both her past and future, and signalling growth and progression.




Wearable Tech Lights Up the Runway

The final runway show, themed “Materialize,” centred on the concept of actuality and the preservation of age-old practices. Angel Aubichon, Cree Métis designer and co-founder of Indi City, spotlighted beading to create wearable tech in the form of traditional powwow regalia in collaboration with Indigenous designer Heather Bouchier.

Featuring vibrant colours, her lineup included a jingle dress, a woman’s traditional dress, and a grass dance outfit that incorporated LED tech. “[Heather also] created two amazing gowns that [incorporated] 3D-printed dentalium shells and horse hair,” Aubichon explains.

Sage Paul feels strongly that “Indigenous fashion has the potential to put Canada on the global map for fashion.” She hopes that “when you think about Canada, [you] think about fashion because of our fashion.”

To see more Indigenous fashion from the festival, check out the runway show live streams here.

Photography by Nadya Kwandibens, Red Works Photography.