INTRO to diversity

It’s Friday night and Clara Purdy is quickly pinning a white dress to cover a fresh red marker stain.

“The designer’s out there,” she said.

Meanwhile, Nadia Ebrahim is pacing back and forth with a clipboard in hand, making sure that the row of models is in order.

All of these last-minute tasks are what goes into INTRO, a fashion show produced by second-year Ryerson fashion communication and design students.

The production features day dresses made by students in their first year as part of a class assignment.

The dresses were made in petite and plus sizes, and the models reflected this. The show had an emphasis on diversity and Ebrahim, the model co-ordinator, kept this mind when casting models for the show.

Ebrahim said her own identity is very intersectional and diverse and that influenced the way she went about the search. “I don’t see that anywhere, so when I got this role I made it my personal mission to make this as diverse as possible,” she said.

When casting models, Ebrahim searched through Instagram and brought in her friends to put together a group of professional and non-professional models to walk the runway.

Models were chosen based on the dresses that were going to be in the show. It worked out that they ended up being different races, sizes, heights. There was even one male model.

The executive team, made up of second-year students Alicia Churilla, Tiffany Hon, Zoya Shaban, Purdy and Ebrahim, began working on the show as far back as April.

The team looked to people within and outside the Ryerson community for help. Every detail of the show was run by students, even the lighting.

Ryerson’s school of fashion chair Robert Ott describes INTRO as an “excellent learning experience.”

The spontaneity of INTRO isn’t possible at a show of a much larger scale like Mass Exodus which is produced by fourth-year students and the school’s faculty. The show is completely student run, said Ott, who attended the event to show his support.

“(It) allows students to be a little bit more experimental. So from that fact that it’s not polished, that they’re not perfect, it’s a good thing,” said Ott.

An hour before doors are set to open, organizers and volunteers are racing to get models fed and dressed before guests are meant to arrive.

Models and volunteers are spread throughout the makeshift runway and the hair and makeup stations that usually serve as studios in the Ryerson school of interior design’s building. Nobody seems worried about the rush, because they planned for this. All part of the experiment.

The diversity emphasized in this show is consistent with the philosophy of the school, said Ott.

“The different size ranges (showcased at INTRO) isn’t so much a theme, as it is a deliberate attempt for our school to get students to think differently about fashion,” said Ott.

“We just want them to be aware because they are bombarded with images that are very one-dimensional and it’s our job as a university program to broaden their horizons.”

“The typical fashion industry does not represent the population at all, especially with a globalized market and especially here in Canada, being a melting pot for every type of person,” said Purdy.

Some fashion world fixtures have recently started to incorporate diversity. Dior, who has been known to favour white models, recently made history when they announced that Rihanna would be the fashion house’s first black spokesperson.

But still, fashion week and ad campaigns are dominated by tall, thin, mostly Caucasian models.

Completely the opposite of a show you’d expect to see at Paris Fashion Week, models of all different races, heights, and sizes walk down the runway at INTRO. They represent the diversity at not only Ryerson, but in the city.

Despite the show starting later than scheduled, everything went smoothly. What will Purdy work on now?

“Homework.”

With files from Hania Ahmed.

Check out photos from the fashion show below.

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