After immigrating to Canada from East Africa in 1990 and landing in Toronto, Jamal Abdourahman was eventually seduced by the West Coast’s mountains, ocean and fresh air, and made the cosmopolitan city of Vancouver his home in 1993.
To make money as a student, he began buying clothing at wholesale and organizing fashion and trunk shows at nightclubs, hotels and warehouses. He eventually opened a clothing store on Robson Street and later teamed with an investor who wanted to do fashion shows in Asia. Jamal closed the store and began jet-setting to fashion capitals including Hong Kong, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and London, and attended Paris Fashion Week in 1999. Back on home soil, he collaborated with a friend and started the first official fashion week show in 2000 which was named International Fashion Week. Continuing on his own, he rebranded the event Vancouver Fashion Week in 2002.
Now entering its 17th year and 30th season, Vancouver Fashion Week is the fastest growing fashion week in the world – creating a stage for talented local and international designers to reach global markets, fashion media and industry buyers. Vancouver Fashion Week has served as the gateway to designers who can’t show in the big events such as London, Paris, Milan and New York, and has helped launch many talents.
1. How has fashion changed over the last 30 seasons since VFW began?
There definitely has been a big change in the market. The current market has more access to fashion, which means it is easier to contribute and distribute. Another more obvious change over the last 30 seasons would be the visual aspect; many fashions have come and go in the last 17 years.
2. How do you make sure that VFW keeps growing and staying relevant?
When you’re part of a team, a greater sense of responsibility comes into play, the cause is no longer just about you. If it was just ‘my thing’ or just my work, it’s easy to lose drive and spend less hours growing it. However when you have people depending on you, you try to do more. Having this and the greater design community in mind, are some of the things that push me to keep VFW growing and staying relevant.
I also believe that every season gets better by our intent to have everyone benefit from VFW – from the young volunteers to the people who are working for the company, and of course the designers.
3. Based on what you have seen in the designer preview, how is VFW SS18 shaping up?
So every season, there has been more and more local designers – either designers that we sponsor or designers who are approaching us. This season is very exciting because some of our designers showing here are going to showcase their collections in Amazon Tokyo Fashion Week this October.
4. What trends do you predict will be showcased in VFW SS18?
I don’t really predict nor chase trends. But by travelling and attending fashion weeks in other countries like in Asia, Europe and South America throughout the year, I am able observe and witness a lot of things; only a few of them really stick in my mind. A few I have noticed for SS18 are prints and colour. Large bold prints with simple palettes; black, white and primary colours.
5. What made you leave the nightclub scene to chase the fashion industry?
It started out with one friend of mine who I knew that was a promoter. He had a fashion show in his club. And I thought, “I should do this to promote” and it grew from there. Since I love dancing, I did the choreographing of the fashion shows to begin with. These days we leave it to the professionals. It is my love for dance, and the creativity behind it that got me into this.
6. If you had to choose just one, what would be your favorite part about the whole week?
Working with new designers, and helping them work and grow their brand. It’s a huge honor to show their works to the world.
7. What are some struggles you face on a daily basis leading up to Fashion Week?
Managing myself is the main struggle. But if I am able to do this, everything is like a walk in the park.
8. How do you compare VFW to fashion weeks around the world?
VFW is similar to London and New York, but on a smaller scale; smaller shows and smaller designers. We also like to highlight a lot of emerging and international designers. We support those coming up while still paying homage to those who are more established.
9. Who and/or what inspires you?
First and foremost the fashion industry. I see so many amazing people out there working hard to grow the industry makes me want to contribute in a big way. Also, I come from a big family that has seen a lot of success within the business industry – and that right there is already a lot of pressure. One needs to achieve so much in my family. This is challenging but it’s motivating and inspiring to get things going.
10. What will make this season’s show different?
Kids Fashion Week is growing. Our season show is growing. Plus, those young designers that started out at VFW 5 years ago, are growing as well and they are becoming mentors to other designers.
On top of that, more local designers are showing this season. We have 39 designers from Canada this year and that is exciting!