Canadian fashion prize

Design Forward: Why this new Canadian fashion prize is a game-changer


When Kelly Drennan launched Fashion Takes Action in 2007, it was the first and only non-profit fashion organization focused on sustainability in Canada. And it still is. Ten years later, Fashion Takes Action is behind the first and only fashion prize geared towards sustainable brands in this country. And with the over consumption of clothing all over the globe, it’s about time.

With the prize valued at over $50,000, the winner of the upcoming Design Forward award (the 10 finalists, listed below, will show off their wares at a fashion show on May 27th, with the winner to be decided later this year) will get a much needed boost in the tougher than tough fashion game in Canada.

Many have been wondering why a prize of this ilk has taken so long to come to fruition. First, sustainable fashion hasn’t fully been defined—there are quite a few facets to consider when working with the environment in mind, including material, dyes, and working conditioning as well as packaging and shipping methods. And only now, after the 2008 recession seemed to stall many eco-friendly efforts by small and big brands alike, has design and sustainability been able to co-exist.

Anjli Patel, fashion lawyer and trademark agent, and a judge for Design Forward, believes this recent push to create sustainably is in part due to the recent spotlight on the downside of the industry. “I think it’s due to a convergence of millennials valuing transparency and accountability, along with an increased focus on the industry due to tragedies like the Rana Plaza collapse in 2013, and documentaries that emerged in its wake such as Traceable (2014), The True Cost (2015), and RiverBlue (2017),” she told via email. Fashion editor for The Globe and Mail and Design Forward judge, Odessa Paloma Parker, agrees. “People now have much more access to information about how their footprint affects the world, and its directly relating to a greater interest in being mindful about fashion consumption.” Paloma Parker adds, “And brands are also better able to cultivate their wares more thoughtfully, and are more willing to make it a priority. Sustainable clothing doesn’t have the same un-chic associations it once did.”

Industry veteran Barb Atkin, who spent the majority of her career as the vice president of fashion direction at Holt Renfrew, posits that it also has to do with consumers wanting to know more about brands. “We used to look at fashion, back in the 20th century, as being aspirational,” she said. “Today I think fashion needs to be inspirational. When I look at a brand, I look at the brand’s story. What is this brand doing to make our planet a better place, both ethically and socially. If they don’t have a strong story and they’re not aware, they are off my list.”

Much like the other judges, Atkin got involved with DF to help bring about positive change in the industry. “I have seen fashion change so drastically. And I have seen how important it is through fashion to educate consumers. I got involved because of Kelly,” she says of lending her expertise to the program. “She has rallied around a very important issue in the world today. She was early on this journey and I think now is a critical point to get as many voices out there to help this cause move forward.”

Adria Vasil, who started the Ecoholic column series back in 2004 and is also on the DF panel, believes that the weight of this prize can help shape the future of the Canadian fashion industry for young brands. “It is important for them to know that this is the future and they will be supported by a prize of this size. It is unprecedented and hopefully that will motivate people to work sustainably.”

The uptick in stylish and sustainable design, including labels like Laura Siegel, Comrags, Atelier B and Nicole Bridger here in Canada, as well as Gabriela Hearst, Reformation and even the H&M Conscious Collection have proven the need and want for brands to think and act accordingly.

“In order to survive in the future, we all know that we need to change for the planet,” Atkin said. “We know it’s up to us, as average consumers, to make a difference.”

Shining a light and lending a hand start up sustainable brands will also go a big way to seeing this through. And as Atkin explained, once the pendulum swings all the way to a sustainable fashion industry, thankfully there is no swinging back. One day in the near future that will be the new status quo.


Design Forward 2017 finalists:


Watch this space for more on this year’s Design Forward award.

Feature image, a pair of sustainable Triarchy denim shorts

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