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Toronto Fashion Incubator: A resource for fledgling designers

Toronto Fashion Incubator: A resource for fledgling designers

Posted by PanamericanWorld on March 01, 2017

The TFI was originally launched by the City of Toronto as a centre to help new fashion designers create and maintain successful businesses. At the time, the fashion industry was one of the largest employers in Toronto, responsible for 20,000 jobs. As production began to move offshore, TFI’s mandate to keep creatives creating by providing business knowledge became even more important to the local economy and spawned international copycats in cities such as New York, Chicago and Sydney. Today, TFI maintains its original format, only on a larger scale. Its headquarters, a heritage building on the Exhibition grounds, is home to 10 low-cost studios, communal production and social spaces and Langdon’s office, where designers huddle for mentorship meetings about everything from balancing budgets to import and export strategies.

When it was announced last summer that Toronto Fashion Week, backed by international events company IMG, was dead in the water, the news was met with both disappointment and relief. Though it was the end, the news signalled the potential for a new beginning – or four. In 2017, Re\Set Fashion (featured on Pages 6-7), FashionCan, Toronto Women’s Fashion Week and Toronto Fashion Week (under the ownership of Freed Developments) will all compete for the attention of a relatively small audience. Ask industry insiders if that makes any sense, and the most candid answer you’ll receive is a hesitant shrug, though not from Susan Langdon, the executive director of the Toronto Fashion Incubator (TFI). “It’s great to see the community and industry wanting to do something,” says Langdon. “I think if there’s enthusiasm, why curb it?” 

A consummate optimist is just what the city’s fashion community needs, and Langdon has been one since the beginning of her tenure at TFI in 1994. It has become a tradition for the incubator to shine a light on the next generation of hopeful Canadian talent with its annual New Labels competition, a designer showdown and runway presentation that, this year, will kick off Toronto Women’s Fashion Week during the TFI’s 30th anniversary gala on March 9. Over the past three decades, the TFI has played an important role in boosting emerging names – notable alumni include the labels Smythe, Greta Constantine, David Dixon and Line Knitwear, the UK-based designer Todd Lynn, and Pina Ferlisi, a former designer for Marc Jacobs and McQ turned creative director for Henri Bendel. But with government funding for the fashion industry scarce, can the TFI take Canadian fashion to the next level? 

When the TFI was born in 1987, Langdon had a burgeoning design career of her own. “I worked my way up to securing a financial backer – two, actually,” she says. “When the recession hit in ‘93 – the really bad one – I was developing an evening-wear line. People stop buying evening wear in a recession.” After her backers pulled out and she couldn’t afford to buy the company, Langdon was offered three opportunities: a full-time tenured position at Ryerson University’s School of Fashion, a grant to launch a new label or the chance to helm the Toronto Fashion Incubator.


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