Introducing the Black Fashion Canada Database

At the end of each school year, Charmaine Gooden asks her fashion journalism students for feedback on the course. And the feedback that stands out the most is when her black students tell her what their motivation was.

Fashion journalism professor Charmaine Gooden pays attention to feedback she receives from black students at Toronto Metropolitan University.Handout

“I was constantly hearing, ‘Because I saw you, I went further,'” says the professor, who teaches at Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly known as Ryerson). “And I thought to myself, I have to show you more. I need you to receive more reference frames.

Born and raised in Jamaica, Gooden knows all too well what it’s like for young black people who don’t see fashion as a world they belong in. At the time she was deciding on the path her life would take, there weren’t many of the successful black models, photographers, and other fashion designers highlighted in the mainstream media.

“I didn’t really start to think I was going to be successful in this career,” she says.

So, armed with feedback from his students and galvanized by renewed conversations about anti-Blackness following the murder of George Floyd, Gooden approached his journalism students at TMU in the fall of 2021 to see if they would be interested in helping. to create what is now the Black Fashion Canada database.

Its mission is simple: to document the stories of still unknown pioneers Black models, muses, designers, photographers and other talents working in the world of fashion from the 1960s to the 1990s, “so that young people see that there are others who have gone before,” she says.

Launched this week blackfashioncanada.ca hosts a profile of each individual, breaking down their childhood and career and how they broke down barriers in the fashion world. Gooden and her team have prepared stories about legendary black models, actors and performers from across Canada, including Hondo Flemming, Linda Carter, Denise McLeod and Ethne Grimes from Vienna, many of whom are alive and have agreed to be interviewed for the series.

Gooden – herself a force in the industry who spent his early years working in fashion journalism and public relations at institutions such as Holt Renfrew and Chatelaine magazine – got the ball rolling by reaching out to possible topics on Facebook.

“I started where I could with people I knew,” she says. “Right now the roster is mostly made up of models…designers and creatives. But as we go into round two, I’m going to try to focus more on entrepreneurs — vintage store owners, beauty salons, dressmakers, people like that.

Goode connected his subjects to the students who would interview them. For Darya Soufian, it was an opportunity to learn more about the people who helped shape the fashion world, but who aren’t often seen as trailblazers. Her portrait of Flemming, a former Montreal model and actor, traces her rise in the fashion world from Quebec to Europe.

“I think he knew he had some sort of influence, but I don’t think he knew the impact he was having on the industry today, which I think was an element important part of this project,” she said. “Truly highlighting the impact these people are having on the industry then and now, even if they’re not working in it yet.”

Another call came in to Barbados-born hairstylist Adrian Carew. Based in Toronto, Carew has been styling the city since the 1990s. And while he has won several Canadian titles, has been featured in publications such as Vogue Italy and has appeared in fashion shows for Marc Jacob and Chanel., carew knows that the fashion landscape can be a busy and toxic place for people like her.

“When you don’t see that you’re recognized, you feel a little left out,” he says. “You feel like, why me? I know I’m really good, let me be seen for my talent and be recognized for my talent.

Carew is also working to make the fashion space more inclusive and welcoming to black talent. For the past two seasons, he has worked with Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana (an Italian non-profit fashion organization) and Show Division (which produces fashion shows around the world) to train hairdressers in Milan. how to style black hair properly – a skill that is rare in the white-dominated industry. “We teach a whole bunch of stylists how to work with black hair, its importance and how to handle it properly,” he explains.

For Carew, to be recognized alongside some of the biggest names in fashion – whom many admired – is an honor. But for Gooden, the database does not only concern recognizable personalities. “There are a lot of very famous people who have a strong voice and a strong social media presence. I give them credit, they deserve it, but I wanted to unearth some of the lesser known players,” she says.

And after decades in an industry that has long kept people like her away, creating something meaningful for her community is her #1 priority. “I find joy and pleasure in raising worthy people,” she says. “I really do.”

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