While she grew up in an Indigenous housing complex in Toronto, fashion was part of Sage Paul’s everyday. She learned how to sew her own clothes, make beaded earrings, appliqué powwow regalia and was taught the meanings behind specific imagery, symbols and colours.
“For native people across the country, textiles and crafts are a large part of our cultural and artistic expression,” says Paul, an urban Denesuliné tskwe and a member of the English River First Nation. “Growing up, it felt more like a way of life than it did a career.”
But after studying fashion at Toronto’s George Brown College and working at the ImagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival, Paul began to see the connection between the cultural garments she made as a child and the mainstream fashion industry. In 2018, after a decade spent focusing on her own designs, Paul founded Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto (IFWTO), a biennial festival spotlighting Canadian and international Indigenous designers, artists and crafters. The four–day event was an instant success: She was bombarded with designer submissions and media requests, and tickets sold out. “It was proof there wasn’t enough representation in mainstream fashion weeks,” says Paul.