The Future of Toronto Fashion: Heidi Ackerman
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The Future of Toronto Fashion: Heidi Ackerman

As it happens, the fifth post in our Future of Toronto Fashion series will be the final one—mostly because the writer (hi, and bye) is departing, but also because we found a designer who sums up everything about young Toronto that we love and believe in.
If you care about avant-garde clothing design in this city, do yourself a favour. Sit for ten whole minutes. Read this honest, insightful conversation with the talented Ms. Ackerman. She, like the other designers we interviewed, talks about sustainability and eco-consciousness—because if we don’t look at that when we look ahead, we’re not looking very far ahead at all. She thinks about architecture and public space, not only as inspiration, but integration—also the way of the future, in which no art form can remain an island. And she’s frank about the fact that, no matter how earnestly we aim to catch up with other world cities on the catwalk, it won’t be fast enough. If (when?) she leaves Toronto’s fashion scene, at least she leaves it with some hope.

Torontoist: What drew you to design knitwear?
Heidi Ackerman: I love knitwear because it allows you to design and experiment with both the textile and the garment. The options for graphics, texture, and volume are limitless!
Who or what’s influencing you right now?
While studying in Belgium last summer, I went to an amazing design museum in Ghent and discovered the craziness of Memphis. Dali’s museum in Spain and the amazing architecture of Berlin are all swirling around in my head at the moment.
Your designs probably get the “futuristic” tag a lot. Do you agree
or disagree?

This season turned very futuristic in a very organic way. Suddenly it seemed that surreal and bizarre space creatures had taken over my studio. I am really interested in creating sleek, exaggerated, and bizarre clothing that is also sustainable because I think those things combined are our future.
To get really difficult here, what will “futuristic” design look like… in the future?
Design in the future will be a combination of smart technology, sustainability, and re-purposing old materials. It will be more thoughtful, wiser, while at the same time pushing and stretching our boundaries further.
What do you think Toronto will look like in 2020? What will people
be wearing? How will the city look?

I think the arrival of the new Frank Gehry buildings in Toronto signifies an exciting new chapter and the future of our cityscape. Something I loved about Berlin was their use of public space—I would love to see the Toronto landscape engage the public by creating more stimulating public spaces, parks, and squats. Toronto in 2020 combines refined design, green technologies, and our many Canadian identities.
Do you think that, in order to make it internationally, fashion designers have to leave Toronto for New York or London?
Unfortunately, I do think it’s necessary to leave Toronto in order to become an international name in fashion. The industry is more valued and appreciated outside of Canada.
What about you? Would you leave?
I will eventually leave Toronto to find the right market for my line and become part of the international design community.
Where would you go and why?
There are a million different places I would love to live and work. Berlin, Antwerp, Copenhagen, and London are top on my list. But how to choose?
What kind of cool customer do you envision being able to wear your extreme shapes?
I definitely envision [women] like Peaches, Karen O, or Feist wearing some of my pieces. They have such amazing, strong styles and personalities; they could pull off the extreme shapes effortlessly. The less extreme shapes and pieces are great for women looking for
something original and a bit bizarre.
Does that kind of “cool customer” base exist here?
I am able to sell some of the more basic items here in Toronto, but the extreme shapes and prints are not an easy sell in Canada—actually an impossible sell. Although I am not able to sell those pieces here, they have been quite popular with stylists looking for editorial pieces.
I think I would find the type of customers I am looking for more in the European market—countries such as Belgium, Germany, U.K., the Netherlands, and Sweden. I would also love to sell my line in Japan.
Because my pieces are sustainable, it opens a different market that can be found in Toronto and Montreal. There are many Canadian women looking for sustainable clothing that is fashion forward.
Will it ever?
I am not sure if Toronto or Canada will ever really regard fashion in the same sensibility as Europeans or the Japanese. Toronto has many great fashion identities but values more vintage, do-it-yourself, and mixing and matching pieces—not [as] interested in investing in long-term pieces.
You showed at both LG Fashion Week and FAT (alternative fashion week). How
did the experiences differ?

Both experiences were amazing and totally different. I have done FAT for the last two years and have gotten so much from it each year—great people and great exposure. I love being tapped into and part of that culture. FAT is really bringing something new to the Toronto fashion scene—it’s more experimental, more courageous, and more accessible.
Showing at LG Fashion Week was really exciting and part of a different world in the fashion industry… Being in contact with Robin Kay and the FDCC has really helped me to think about my line in a production and business sense.
The combination of FAT and LG Fashion Week is the perfect balance between experimental and commercial. Both have been really supportive.
What do you think Toronto’s fashion industry needs to do in order to compete with New York, London, Paris, and Milan as the fifth style capital?
More support from customers would really push Toronto to new levels in terms of the fashion industry. If customers were more willing and able to take risks with their clothing, I think we would be better able to compete with the big fashion power houses.
I would really love to help put Canada and Toronto on the fashion map.
All photos by Sai Sivanesan.