By Julia Eskins
Every year, the annual Télio Breakthrough Designers Competition gathers more esteem for its support of Canadian fashion talent. Now in its seventh year, the nation-wide competition has raised the stakes, introduced new influential judges and appropriately given this year’s intense competition a “Rouge + Red” theme. The 25 finalists are now preparing to show their designs at Montréal Fashion Week in February, and vie for one of the five scholarships totalling $15,000.
“The theme this year is very interesting, I was even inspired myself. All the projects look really good,” says Montréal-based fashion designer Valérie Dumaine, who is also one of the judges of this year’s competition. “As designers, [competitions] are good for our self-esteem. We’re not always sure what we are doing and where we are going, so this is good recognition.”
Télio, a North American import and export textile distributor, began the design competition in Quebec with the mandate of giving back to the fashion community by showcasing emerging Canadian talent, says André Télio, president of the company’s fashion fabrics division.
“We hope to encourage them to stay within the industry and get positions within Canada,” he adds.
After reviewing sketches submitted by students from 23 fashion design schools across Canada, the judges have narrowed down the submissions to 25 finalists, who will use Télio textiles to create and submit their final garments by Jan.20.
This year’s jury, including Canadian fashion designer Joeffer Caoc and Chiccane.com boutique founder Annick Charbonneau, will be judging students from Canada’s most eminent design schools across Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and British Columbia, including La Salle College and the Vancouver Institute of Design.
“Mostly, we looked for designs that would be contemporary and fashion-forward, but at the same time wearable and feasible,” says Dumaine. “I am curious to see how the outfits will look. You always have surprises when you see a final piece in comparison to a drawing.”
One emerging fashion designer with her eye on the prize is Alison Duncan, a second-year fashion techniques and design student at George Brown College. As a former mechanical engineer, Duncan recently switched career paths and has since interned at Greta Constantine, Smythe Les Vestes and Jeremy Laing.
“Winning would be a huge deal, but I think when you’re in the competition you have to be persistent and outgoing about speaking to the people you would like to speak to,” she says. “You need to follow it up with good business skills. I would use the exposure as a networking tool.”
With guidance from her professors and help from previous employers in sourcing practice fabric for her structural design, Duncan says she was inspired by the colour red’s symbolic combination of strength and vulnerability.
She experienced a similar dichotomy upon finding out she was a finalist, adding that her excitement quickly turned to fear when she realized the magnitude of the opportunity ahead.
As this year’s finalists prepare to show their garments on the runway at Montréal Fashion Week on Feb.9, many see this opportunity as a foot in the door to Canada’s fashion industry.
Winner of last year’s Télio Breakthrough Designers Competition and Kwantlen Polytechnic University fashion student, Earl Mabaquiao, has since gone on to represent Canada on an international stage as a finalist in London’s renowned Hand and Lock Embroidery Competition.
“Being a young designer in Canada has its challenges, but Montréal, Toronto and other major cities in Canada are very supportive of their artistic talent,” says Duncan. “Of course, I realize it’s not going to be all trips to Paris and walks along the Champs-Élysées! [But] I actually like learning the hard business behind fashion!”