Edmonton: At the helm of Edmonton Fashion Week

To say that Sandra Sing Fernandes is passionate about fashion, art and design is an understatement.  The founder and director of Edmonton Fashion Week has been involved in nearly every facet of the art and fashion worlds—she’s worked as a model, dancer, milliner, jewellery and clothing designer and fashion show producer. I caught up with Fernandes to talk about her hopes for Edmonton’s growing fashion scene.

After working abroad, Fernandes returned to Edmonton 5 years ago to discover that the fashion industry in her hometown was virtually non-existent. “New designers coming out of school had no place to start,” she recalls. “There were no factories, no design force.”  Not one to sit back and wallow in disappointment, Fernandes took on the daunting task of convincing Edmontonians of the fashion talent in their city, taking the concept of fashion week and modifying it to suit the home market. “EFW functions as an incubator for young designers,” she explains. “We’re giving them a place to show, evolve and make connections, with the ultimate goal of getting them into stores and getting them to the point where they are considered national designers, not local designers.  Once a designer is supported locally, their arms can reach other places, but they need a foundation first.”

Although EFW has made leaps and bounds over the past five years—this fall marks the ninth season–Fernandes admits, “It’s still tough.” One of the biggest hurdles is increasing public support of local names.  “You’ll always find fashionable people in Edmonton, but I think what we’re lacking is that unique person that goes and buys a young local designer’s outfit.”  Flipping the famous If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere, Fernandes, who studied at FIT and worked in the fashion industry in Manhattan, says, “I always tell my New Yorker friends, if you can make it in Edmonton, you can make it anywhere.  It’s a tough town: You don’t have the population, competition is extremely high and our weather is really extreme.  How do you get people to come to some obscure shop when it’s 40 below?”

The hard work is starting to pay off for EFW. Several Edmonton designers were recently invited to participate in the Transcanada Runway show in Montreal and some are selling their wares in shops across Canada.  Edmonton is also attracting attention from designers from other locales who see the city as a good market and Fernandes wants to see EFW’s recognition grow to attract more buyers from Western Canada. She’s definitely onto something here–every day we’re encouraged to buy homegrown produce, why not do the same when it comes to fashion?   “I see fashion, art and design all as equals, all as interesting and all as things that need to be supported locally.”

Edmonton Fashion Week runs September 17 to 24 (edmontonfashionweek.com). Check out the EFW sample sale every Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. at Planet Ze Design Center (10550- 80 Ave., 780-428-3499).

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