Vancouver Fashion Week is an interesting beast. On the one hand, people here are stoked to have a week celebrating local talent and designers. But for the past few weeks whenever we’d mention that we got press passes for VFW, there’d be at least one person with something bad to say. It’s poorly organized, there’s no permanent staff, no one gets paid… these are just a few of the complaints we’ve heard from our co-workers and friends who are more familiar with Vancouver’s creative scene than we are.
Luckily, a friend tipped us off that some people would be protesting the event’s unfair labour practices, so we knew we could put some faces and names to the concerns people here have about their only local fashion week.
We caught up with the protest’s organizers, Chase Porter and Jamie Gill, as well as protest participant and local model Rhi Blossom, about why they spent their weekend outside in the rain.
Protest organizers Chase and Jamie.
“Me and Jamie have been talking about the unfairness and exploitation of VFW for a few months before this started,” Chase said in an email. “After hearing so many stories and reading a few blogs trying to expose VFW for what it is, we decided there are too many negative accounts to ignore.”
At the protest, Rhi was adamant that the reputation of VFW has gotten to be so bad it’s actually harmful to the city and the fashion scene in general. Professionals in the industry have always warned her to avoid it, she said. “Most models with agency representation do not participate in VFW because their agents have blacklisted it for a plethora of reasons.”
Chase has been involved with fashion week before as a model “which was a very exciting experience,” he said. But then in 2013, he agreed to plan after parties for the whole week before dropping out when he learned no one would be paid for their time.
Jamie explained that she wants to see VFW pay their permanent staff in creative and leadership roles. “In a perfect world, everyone would be paid, but we believe that by at least paying those employees, they could provide more leadership and guidance to the interns in order to provide them with the educational experience all B.C. employers are legally required to provide to [unpaid] interns and apprentices.” She added, “At this point, I’ve lost confidence that the current organizer, Jamal Abdourahman, wants to or is capable of producing a quality event where creatives and staff are paid for their time and talent.”
Rhi said right now her goal is just to get people talking. “For now we hope just to get people talking and questioning the infamously shady event,” she said. “Obviously reform would be lovely, but right now getting VFW to communicate with us, which they are not doing, is challenge enough.”
On their third and final day of picketing, Jamie said one of their fellow protestors, Andrew Willis, got a ticket and looked for an organizer who’d be willing to engage with the protestors. He told her that when he provided an opportunity for the head of VFW’s marketing to come outside and acknowledge their concerns, she declined, stating “she didn’t want to get her feet wet.”
The marketing director might not have wanted to get her feet wet, but it seems like many of her staff didn’t mind. “Throughout the weekend we had about a dozen current employees and volunteers actually come out to chat and say they support what we’re doing 100 per cent,” Chase said.