Toronto and Vancouver provide budding designers with greater opportunities for growth


In Calgary, budding fashion designers are being forced to relocate to cities with stronger fashion markets full of opportunities for growth.

Major Canadian fashion cities such as Toronto and Montreal are boasting successful post-secondary programs that are drawing them in.

In the Global Language Monitor’s 11th annual survey, Toronto was ranked #28 on the Top 56 Global Fashion Capitals 2015, followed by Montreal and Vancouver at #47 and #52, respectively.

Calgary did not make the list. As a result, Calgary is losing budding young designers to the aforementioned cities.

Among them is fourth-year fashion design student Natasha Mawji, who relocated from Calgary to pursue fashion at Ryerson University.

“Toronto is… a central hub for Canadian fashion, so it only made sense,” she says.

Mawji admits the workload is intense, but the university’s faculty of communication and design “has an amazing reputation and therefore this degree will be worth a lot.”

Calgary-based fashion designer and Mount Royal University entrepreneurship professor Kat Marks also made the move from Calgary to Toronto in 2004 to complete her bachelor’s degree in fashion design at Ryerson.nonieModel wears House of Nonie at Parkluxe 2015, Calgary’s only major platform event for emerging designers to showcase their work. Photo by Emily Thwaites

“(I) knew that I needed to be in a city that allowed me to access the bigger fashion industry for my own experience and education,” Marks says.

She felt a degree in fashion would set her apart from other aspiring designers, demonstrating commitment and giving her credibility.

Even if Calgary had offered the degree, Marks says she wouldn’t have chosen to stay in the city because she doesn’t “believe there is a strong enough fashion market here.”

That lack of a market was also the reason Sheila Wong left Calgary in 2005, opting to study fashion at Blanche Macdonald Centre in Vancouver.

“The fashion scene in Calgary… was not strong in terms of industry opportunities for young designers,” says Wong, who has since launched the Sheila Wong Fashion Design Studio in Vancouver.

This lack of opportunity may relate directly to Calgary’s population size, which is much smaller than that of Canadian fashion giants, Toronto and Vancouver. Statistics Canada shows Toronto’s total population has now breached 6,000,000, whilst Calgary’s stands at 1,230,915.

According to Marks, population numbers play a key role in the success of a city when it comes to its fashion industry.

“The fashion industry within Calgary is very small, which means opportunities are very small.”

By comparison, opportunities for growth and success in Toronto are flourishing for young designers.

Toronto is a huge and very fast-paced city, says Mawji. There are “a lot of fashion company headquarters situated in and around Toronto making it… more accessible for fashion jobs.”

As a fashion student, Mawji says making connections through networking is crucial.

funkyModel wears a piece by Edmonton designer Malorie Urbanovitch at Parkluxe 2015.
Photo by Emily Thwaites
“The professors are usually working in the industry right now, and there (are) so many ways to get involved on campus to get experience at an internship.”

Also in her fourth year studying fashion design at Ryerson University, Amanda McGroarty agrees the opportunities for fashion students in Toronto are incredibly advantageous for emerging designers.

“People in Toronto are way more exposed to fashion and have access to stores throughout the city. There is opportunity to define your own aesthetic style because there are no rules to fashion here,” she says.

As for Calgary’s future as a fashion hub, Mawji says it would be “amazing” to see a fashion degree program in the city.

Currently, there are only two options for post-secondary fashion programs in Alberta – the Fashion Institute offered through Olds College at its Calgary campus, and Ecole Holt Couture, a sewing and design school. Both offer certificates and diplomas upon completion, depending on the courses taken.

However, despite the absence of a fashion degree program in Calgary, designer Wong is hopeful about the city’s fashion scene.

“I would not say Calgarians are leaders but they are truly becoming influencers.” 

The editor responsible for this article is Zoe Choy, 

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