Fashion Fights for Recognition in Ontario

Anna Crooke Photography
VANDAL at FAT 2015 (Photo by Anna Crooke Photography)


It may come as a shock to those that are not in the industry that fashion is not supported by the Canadian government. Despite the numerous talented designers, organizations and companies operating in this country, the industry has been unable to receive funding or support from the Ontario and Canadian government on the basis that it does not qualify as either culture or arts.

So what does fall under Canada’s art and culture category? Film and television, recorded music and live performances, books and magazines, visual arts, theatre, and dance, and crafts. They also label value systems, traditions, and beliefs under the qualifiers for determining whether an industry fits their standards. With all this being said, it is baffling why fashion does not fall on this list. It certainly contributes to the arts and cultural footprint in our country and is a powerful player in the country’s economy.

Countries like Italy and France have Ministers of Fashion whose sole purpose is to boost the fashion industry, providing much-needed funding and support. Toronto is the 2nd largest fashion week in North America. IMG (who sponsors Milan, New York, and London Fashion Week) jumped on board to support this celebration of our country’s designers. Despite our growing global presence as a fashion capitol, designers and companies do not have access to grants in the way other artists do and the lack of a nurturing environment has seen many of our talented up-and-comers dashing off to greener pastures where they can flourish. Currently the only grants available to designers are private and sponsored by corporations. Toronto Fashion Incubator has long been a champion for Canadian talent and runs their annual New Labels Competition, Mercedez Benz partnered with World Mastercard Fashion Week for a start-up fashion competition to benefit talented designers, and TOM*’s Emerging Menswear Designer Award is the only menswear financial support we know of.


  Back in 2010, several prominent community members from the fashion industry appealed to then Culture Minister Michael Chan who stated he was open to considering the change once he found out more about it. This wasn’t the first nor the last time that someone had taken steps to having fashion recognized, and once again the result was disappointing. As 2015 draws to a close, fashion is still left out in the cold. Ontario is currently re-designing the Ontario Culture Strategy which is meant to set a vision for arts and culture, define priorities, and guide support for the sector in years to come. They have invited citizens to engage and are gathering public input before making their policies. This is the perfect opportunity to make our voices heard loud and clear.  

A piece from Toronto designer Som Kong’s collection on display at The Drake Underground

  Ashlee Froese, a fashion lawyer who is a Bay Street Partner, Co-Chair of FGI, and a mentor with TFI and CAFA, has taken this opportunity to push for the fashion industry to be recognized as an arts and culture industry. Froese has filed submissions to the Government of Ontario advocating that fashion should be eligible for government funding. It is a submission that is widely endorsed in the fashion community by such heavy-weights as Fashion Group International, Toronto Fashion Incubator, and the Canadian Fashion and Arts Awards. The submission not only proves why fashion should be recognized under the arts and culture criteria, but also goes on to show that it is a solid economic industry to invest in and will only grow with more benefits and support from the government.  


In the report, the City of Toronto advises that the fashion/apparel industry employs approximately 50 000 individuals in Toronto, half of which are in manufacturing. The value of wholesale shipments from Toronto’s 550 apparel manufacturers is approximately $1.4 billion annually. And the city’s 4600 fashion retail stores generate $2.6 billion in annual sales.

All of the data and information make a compelling case that should be hard for the government to ignore. Adding our voices to support it will make turning a blind eye even more difficult. Let’s make sure that this year is the year that the fashion industry is recognized by the government!

Get involved in the conversation with the Ontario Culture Strategy HERE

View Ashlee Froese legal submission HERE

And sign the petition HERE