Lokafyer Rae and I met up at the CSI Coffee Pub, located at Queen and Bathurst, on the bottom floor of the Centre For Social Innovation. CSI Coffee Pub is a quaint coffee bar that’s also a popular meeting place for a number of not for profit/ arts organizations, and their employees. We discussed her involvement with Lokafy, her work as a freelance fashion designer and the fashion design community – Toronto and worldwide.
What first interested you in Lokafy?
It was the human interaction aspect of Lokafy that really interested me – it’s not “Red Bus Tourism.” I couch surfed my way around Europe, well before Lokafy existed. Couch Surfing is awesome because you’re meeting new people and you’re meeting locals, so you’re getting the local experience. You get to do things you would have never known existed because they’re not in tour guidebooks. Every local has a different place that they go to. When you’re Couch Surfing you sometimes meet someone’s friends and family, and you end up having a wacky, wild adventure, and sometimes you meet them, and the connection isn’t good, and you just crash on their couch.
How do you think Lokafy has benefited your work overall?
I’m in fashion design and I’ve only lead one tour so far but the guy that I met was really nice and fascinating. He was originally from Mexico, and he was doing his Masters or PhD in New York City. We ended up making a nice connection out of it. Even if it doesn’t necessarily help my other jobs it’s a nice way to meet new people; you never know who you’re going to meet and how that’s going to get you somewhere. You meet the most fascinating people when you’re outside your comfort zone.
What are some of your favourite places for getting fabric and supplies around Toronto?
Right now the best nook is Queen West. My thing is making latex fetish wear! There’s only one person in Toronto selling latex sheeting the way I like to buy fabric, it’s called Kink Engineering. I get all of my hardware from Leather Sewing Supply, which is located at Queen and Spadina. Queen West is actually one of the routes I use when I do tours, because I was there everyday throughout my undergrad, picking up fabric. A lot of people know of Queen West as a good place to go for clothing, but what they don’t realize is that it’s also where people go to purchase their fabric. Fabric Land is dying out because there’s a bunch of smaller places popping up, and people are buying online.
Discuss the pros/cons of Toronto’s fashion scene.
Unfortunately, nobody considers Toronto a fashion scene, and on the international (fashion) market Toronto’s not a big deal. This is partially thanks to the Canadian government’s lack of grants for fashion labels, and that’s something that governments in other countries do. Fashion is perceived in other countries as important, and to be honest it’s one of the most integral industries in the world.
The Fashion industry employs more than half of the world’s population – it’s huge! A lot of people see it as frivolous, not worth investing in, despite the fact that it’s a huge industry. Most of the people I went to university with now either work in fashion design or they’re working retail. Some of them opened up their own store because there are no jobs here, or they moved to find work elsewhere. If they ended up finding a great job it’s definitely not in Toronto, or even Montreal.
How does Toronto’s Fashion Scene differ from other parts of the world?
One of the best things about Toronto’s fashion scene is its diversity. You even see it while walking around Yonge-Dundas Square.You don’t really have to stick to one image because fashion in Toronto is very fluid, and a lot of fun. You don’t feel like you won’t fit in cause you’re not dressed a certain way, because there isn’t really one way to dress.
I was in Berlin for a few months, and in Berlin everyone wears sweatpants. You see them walking down the street in high heeled shoes and a mini skirt, and you laugh, and you’re like: “why are they so fancy?” (In Toronto) you can be fancy, and you can wear sweatpants, and everyone’s happy. When I was Paris I stood out as tourist. I did a mini European tour but I felt really weird in Paris partially because I’m not tall and skinny. The other thing is that when I was there everyone was wearing really cute, fancy shorts (like the kind here in Toronto) that you’d layer with stockings or a beautiful, flowing pleated dresses. If you’re not dressed that way, they know you’re not from there.
Give us some insight into the fashion community in Toronto.
It’s influenced by the experience of being in university, and having deadlines. It’s nice! I like that! It’s inclusive! There are a lot of people trying to do different things, and we’re all trying to help each other out. I don’t know if I’m just lucky or if that’s what all of Toronto is like but a lot of people are trying to support each other, because Toronto is such a tough place to make it in the Fashion industry. The Toronto Fashion industry isn’t taken seriously, we’re not Tokyo. I think that if we don’t help each other out nothing’s going to happen, we’re not going to make it because there will be no market for our work here.
What has influenced your style as a designer?
I draw inspiration from a lot of places. I’m really into Native Tribal Art, I think it’s really beautiful. I like the thick lines, big geometric shapes and how they all come together. I also draw inspiration from history, there are a lot of really great historical periods that you can take elements from. I know that everyone says that everything comes back but corsets are never going to be worn again as everyday wear for women. You can take a lot of inspiration from how they constructed the garment to sit over the corset, or to be part of the corset. Corsets have been around for hundreds of years, and you can really see how that has shaped what was worn on top. Whatever they ended up wearing ended up shaping whatever was worn on top. There are a lot of interesting things you can draw from all of those historical periods in terms of how the clothing was shaped what was under it to get that shape, and what inspired it.
Then there’s nature. You can always get inspiration from nature, and also whatever is happening in social movements. I’m doing a collection right now that’s androgynous. A lot of transgender people have been in the media recently, and I think there’s really going to be a nice movement into “androgynous chic” that was really “in” in the 90’s. My latest collection was partially inspired by a friend who dresses very androgynous, and I thought, “Hmm, that’s really interesting! I’d like to do something based off that kind of look!” Also: bike pieces, I was really inspired by the shape and gears in bike pieces.
Any advice for the fashion lovers that are visiting Toronto?
Bring your wallet! There are a lot of hidden gems in Toronto that you can’t find anywhere else. Things here aren’t cheap, but you’re paying for Canadian-made, quality product.
What’s the best part of living in Toronto?
Oh I love Toronto! I went to Europe – and I came back – so that’s all I can say, because a lot of people who go to Europe stay in Europe. I think it’s familiar, which is really great! The grid system that all the streets are on makes it difficult to get lost. Obviously you can get lost in Toronto but you’re going to end up back at a major intersection eventually, and you’re going to know to turn South. There’s also lots of interesting things to do here. A lot of people think Canada is tiny, and there’s not much to do here, but Toronto is a very large city a lot of things to do and see. I know a lot of people go “oh the club scene is better in Europe,” which is true; the club scene is better in Europe but ours is unique. We have a lot of really cute bars, clubs, and activities.
There’s even an axe throwing club where people get together, drink beer and go axe throwing. There’s all these really interesting things that a lot of people don’t even know about. If you really wanted to do something interesting there’s the Paint Lounge where you can rent a canvas, drink and paint. But one of my actual favourite things about Toronto is its diversity. You’ll meet a lot of people from a lot of different backgrounds. There’s a lot of respect in our city for people speaking, and wanting to speak their native language. In Toronto it’s socially acceptable for people to speak their native language, make their native food and share it with the communities.
Which neighbourhoods are you most familiar with and what aspects are worth showing people?
I know Queen West cause I was there so many times getting supplies for school. I lived in St. James Town. You know how there’s St. James Town and there’s Cabbagetown? If you go to Cabbagetown everyone has money, and they’re really clean, and everyone seems really nice, and you cross the other side, where I was living, and everything smells like urine! You don’t walk home alone (in St. James Town) except I did anyways. There’s people smoking in the hallways of your apartment, and lots of stuff like that. So I’m sort of familiar with those areas just cause I’ve been there for a while.
I’m less familiar with Kensington market, but I hang out there a lot. My friends and I like to relax in the park late at night. Bellevue Square Park on a Saturday is just a bunch of people just hang around, just chilling. It’s fun and you meet strange people. Last time I was there we saw a group of pirates burying treasure so I of course walked over and was like: “what are you doing and what is going on here?” They were part of an annual Pirate Party, and their buried treasure was part of a scavenger hunt.
What do you consider the best annual events in Toronto and are there any upcoming ones you’re looking forward to?
Well there’s Pride Week. Pride is a week of partying and it’s always awesome! I know a lot more about Toronto’s Fetish subculture events because I attend them for work. There’s also Subspace that’s basically a Fetish Clubbing event, where you all look alike, cause you’re all part of the same subculture. I also know that there is also a bunch of Craft Beer Festivals coming up that I’m really looking forward to; there’s a Craft Beer Night, and a Craft Beer Festival happening in September that I’m super excited for, because you get to pay your entry, and try all these different beers.
In terms of actual street festivals, I love BuskerFest. The crowds are a bit insane, but it’s so much fun to check out the acts! It’s basically like a talent show for a weekend where you get to watch everyone’s wacky, weird talents. One of the things I always look forward to is Nerdy Burlesque. There’s this one troupe that picks nerd themes – they had a Josh Whedon theme once, and they did Game Of Thrones. I can’t remember when and what the next burlesque event is but I always look forward to burlesque events in the city.
What other advice do you have for people thinking of visiting Toronto?
Call Lokafy! Make friends with the locals, and get them to take you out because you’re going to have a much better time than if all you do is hop on the Red Tour Bus. You want to try and get the experience that you’re not going to get anywhere else. My advice for anyone thinking of visiting Toronto: find a local through Lokafy, and get them to show you their favourite place. It’s going to be a lot more interesting, and a lot more of a cultural education than what you’d typically get on a franchised tour excursion.
For more information about Rae check out her profile on lokafy.com’s Toronto section.