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How Canadian fashion events navigate COVID-19 laws

Monday, October 26, 2020 @ 3:08 PM | By Vanessa Kiraly

Vanessa Kiraly %>
Vanessa Kiraly
During the start of COVID-19, the Canadian fashion industry’s activities were brought to a complete standstill. Toronto designers and event producers have stepped up to this challenge by shifting to the production of affordable face masks when mask shortages were prominent, and by utilizing virtual platforms to showcase collections and to engage with audiences and consumers.

According to the Reopening Ontario Act – Stage 3 Orders, indoor public events are limited to a maximum of 50 attendees, while outdoor events must keep their capacity to a maximum of 100 people. However, new restrictions imposed on Oct. 10 have resulted in Toronto moving into modified stage 2 restrictions for at least 28 days.

Vanja Vasic from Fashion Art Toronto and Jodi Goodfellow from Startup Fashion Week are fashion event CEOs who’ve been working hard to keep Canadian fashion alive while complying with COVID-19 regulations. They explain the challenges in producing their events, safety precautions being implemented and their take on whether COVID-19 has revolutionized the future of fashion and event culture.

Fashion Art Toronto has been a trailblazer for virtual fashion in Canada, being the first Canadian fashion event to produce a virtual runway series. It was streamed live and ran from June 22 to July 6, featuring five Canadian designers. Their fall virtual showcase was in the works from Oct. 15 to 26. Vasic states that the legal implications of COVID-19 have been challenging to deal with but not impossible. “Initially we had to shut down our April event; the amount of people that could lawfully gather was a huge issue. During our first virtual series in stage 2 of the pandemic, we were limited to a maximum of 10 people on set outside. To have an indoor event now wouldn’t have the same outreach and value for designers as our prior events, thus we looked into creating a virtual fashion week outdoors.”

Ideally, the typical Toronto fashion event has a minimum of 400 people on-site including attendees and show participants. “What makes our event unique is that we’re utilizing outdoor Toronto landscapes to replace indoor venues. We will be curating 20 collections this fall to match with the architecture and scenery of our city,” explained Vasic.

In terms of safety precautions, all designers are required to create masks for each runway look and staff will provide sanitization procedures and conduct temperature checks on participants prior to the start of each day. Hair and makeup are done virtually with the team instructing models via virtual conference calls. The models receive the sterilized garments via contactless delivery in advance. “Limiting the number of garments I could showcase, the number of professionals on set, and enforcing the restrictions were the most challenging part,” said Padina Bondar, a designer featured in the virtual summer showcase.

On the other hand, Startup Fashion Week’s executive producer Goodfellow has reimagined its 2020 edition, offering a blend of digital events and a pandemic-compliant in-person engagement, which will happen after its five-day run, which was from Oct. 19 to 23. The highlight of the event invited patrons to a digitally immersive in-person experience combining fashion, art, and technology, taking place at the Immersive Van Gogh exhibit, which has special permission to accommodate higher numbers of attendees due to rigorous health and safety protocols.

“The pandemic has forced people to be creative about business and the event industry is no different. It’s important for me as an event producer to provide media coverage, drive new sales and offer industry connections for designers. It is also imperative to keep the economy moving and to offer safe opportunities to creatives who have greatly struggled financially and with mental health issues throughout the pandemic,” said Goodfellow.

“By collaborating with the Immersive Van Gogh exhibit, we are not only offering a more futuristic way of experiencing a fashion show but it also meant working with a venue that has been working closely with Toronto Public Health to ensure all protocol had been considered to make it safe and COVID-19 compliant. The exhibit space projects socially distanced circles onto the floor which guests are required to sit in (a minimum of six feet apart) and the garments will be worn by models walking through custom paths created among guests to ensure social distancing isn’t compromised.

“However, due to the new restrictions implemented on Oct. 10 it didn’t make sense to move forward with the in-person event scheduled for Oct. 21 because of the strict limitations on areas outside of the main event space, such as backstage, which would be limited to 10 people. We are moving forward with everything else planned for the event as we wait for a new confirmed date in November for the in-person experience.”

The virtual aspects of fashion events, however, present several advantages and disadvantages. Although a virtual event projects to a larger potential audience, broadcasting a show on one’s own social media platform does not increase an event’s audience in the same way that an in-person event can.

“It is a solution for the meantime, but not the future. Right now, virtual events are a placeholder until the industry figures out what we should truly be doing moving forward,” explained Goodfellow. Bondar said that another major disadvantage is that “components of a show, such as lighting, music and performance don’t always translate well in a virtual setting, limiting, or at least changing a designer’s vision for a show.” Nonetheless, virtual fashion weeks give fashion event producers a chance to explore new territories and an opportunity to reassess the purpose of events in order to try something new, say Vasic and Bondar. Vasic mentioned that “it allows us to work on strengthening the virtual and technological element of the event, so that in the future we could incorporate virtual fashion events potentially year-round in addition to our physical show in April.”

In terms of whether virtual fashion weeks will become a staple in the future of fashion, all three fashion experts interviewed agreed that they serve a useful temporary purpose, but will more likely complement or enhance in-person events, not replace them. “Physical events are going to be back; people need culture and the experience of togetherness. As social beings and creative people, we desire to attend events that bring the industry together and to express ourselves through fashion,” explained Vasic.

Experiencing something physically provides us with more of an experience than just watching it from home. The regular fashion week will be renewed, and it is up to event producers to approach event design creatively in order for attendees to enjoy them in a safe manner.

Since designing her first collection at the age of 16, Lisa Vanessa Kiraly has worked as a designer, fashion event co-ordinator, creative director, photograph retoucher and photographer. She graduated from U of T with an honours bachelor of science and is attending Ryerson Law. She is the recipient of the Gardiner Roberts LLP scholarship for female law students with a business focus and hopes to continue contributing to the fashion industry as a lawyer, among other future practice areas of interest. Learn more at her LinkedIn profile.

Photo credit / face2faith

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