In Conversation with Jamal Abdourahman: The Evolution of Vancouver Fashion Week

Jamal Abdourahman, founder of the Vancouver Fashion Week

Margarita Kadochnikova: Could you tell us about the evolution of the Vancouver Fashion Week?

Jamal AbdourahmanVancouver Fashion Week started in 2001 as a small warehouse show with mostly local designers. At the end of 2008, we extended the original 5 days of VFW to 7 days, opened doors for more volunteers to help organize, and we also started reaching out to international designers. Now, VFW is a global show with international coverage and over 100 designers showcasing their collections every season. It has become one of the largest and fastest growing fashion weeks in North America and the only stand alone show in Canada to run for 17 consecutive years.

Do you support young designers or do you usually choose more established ones?

Definitely. Finding emerging talent and showcasing their work is very important to us. Vancouver Fashion Week sponsors about 20 up-and-coming designers each season, giving them a platform to showcase their work which might have been unattainable on their own. We also have the Nancy Mak award, a $5000 grant for one emerging designer that shows great potential. The grant is to be used to help the designer present their work at international shows, which we also help put together for them. We aim to showcase the collections of emerging talent alongside established, award-winning designers and brands as well, depending on the season.

Is the focus more on local or international designers?

We like to have an even mix of local and international designers. Canada has some amazing and talented designers who may not otherwise have the opportunity to showcase their work on an international stage. Having an equal mix of international designers helps keep things fresh, because there is so much talent out there worth showcasing. Vancouver Fashion Week is the only industry event that actively seeks out to showcase international designers from over 25 global fashion capitals including U.S.A, Korea, Panama, Australia, Ukraine, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, Pakistan and many more. Its also a platform for designers to take inspiration from other countries fashions and styles.

Pouneh Askarian at Vancouver Fashion Week. Photo by Ed Ng

How is Canadian fashion different from fashion abroad?

Canadian fashion doesn’t differ too much. Canada is an enormous country and of course, styles differ slightly from coast to coast, but given its close proximity to the U.S.A, Canada takes a lot of its fashion influence from across the border. I find that Canadian designers create their work with a lot of pride and use very high quality materials and production techniques.

How do you see Vancouver Fashion Week in 10 years?

I’d like to see VFW have an impact on the local fashion industry. It would be great to have people come to Vancouver to design and stay here, rather than move abroad, to become established designers within the west coast region.

What motivates you personally to continue and grow?

Over the years I have helped so many young and talented designers establish themselves through our show. Watching these local designers and the local industry continuously grow helps me grow and motivates me to keep going season after season. From the beginning I had a drive to accomplish something that seems unattainable, to create something out of nothing, and that’s how I built Vancouver Fashion Week from the ground up.

What do you do besides VFW?

When we’re not prepping for the regular seasons of Vancouver Fashion Week, myself and the VFW committee work to take local Canadian designers to international shows, where they can showcase their collections to a different audience. This October we will be taking several designers to Amazon Tokyo Fashion Week and hopefully to more cities in the near future.

What advice would you give to young Canadian designers?

Focus on your drive; identify why you choose to design and let that guide you. Go all the way and risk everything to get to where you want to be.