Does Ottawa have fashion? Yes, and the community says is growing –


Does Ottawa have fashion?

Creators Jacob Racco and John Balser teamed up with videographer Ben Telford to explore capital style in this Creator Network piece.

CBC Ottawa’s Creator Network is a place where young digital storytellers from diverse backgrounds can produce original video content to air on CBC and tell stories through their own lens.

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Decades-old Doc Marten boots. A soft flannel shirt from hippie days. Eighties-style graphic T-shirts.

The clothes may be old, but for the most part the buyers aren’t at Ottawa’s Fly Market, a pop-up vintage clothing sale that brings together discerning and mostly 20- and 30-something shoppers looking for second-hand and designer items each month, in what’s been called a “melting pot” of vendors and buyers.

Does Ottawa have fashion? Creators Jacob Racco and John Balser teamed up with videographer Ben Telford to find out. (Ben Telford)

No more ‘beige,’ ‘vanilla’ Ottawa

Jacob Sparks, who co-founded the event three years ago, says it reflects an explosion he’s seeing in Ottawa’s style community. 

All kinds of vintage and one-of-a-kind clothing items are for sale at the Fly Market pop-up events. (Ben Telford)

“It’s definitely grown massively. From the time I was in high school many years ago (I won’t be specific) to right now the fashion scene in Ottawa has probably blown up to 10 times the size,” he said.

Specifically, he believes it’s young people who are helping to change up the city’s old reputation as “vanilla” and “beige,” adding provocatively, “the kids really have style and the old people need to catch up.” 

A woman stands next to a clothing rack.

Gwen Madiba says she launched a new label called Sponsored by God during the pandemic because she wanted to showcase the diversity of Ottawa’s fashion community. (Submitted by Gwen Madiba)

Gwen Madiba is more diplomatic about this city’s clothing taste.

“We’re more laid back in Ottawa, we’re chill. I mean, we’re stressed out sometimes with the government and other stuff, It’s always more like a working city,” said the model and designer, who’s also known as a human rights advocate and speaker, and the founder of Equal Chance.

“What I love about Ottawa is that it’s so diverse,” she added. “You can’t really name it, because everybody’s so different. Everybody’s on such a different vibe.”

Two women on a runway.

Gwen Madiba says she organizes events like the ‘I am fashion’ show pictured here to make the fashion world accessible to all. For her, ‘Ottawa always had its own sense of fashion — every city does. And that’s what’s beautiful. And that’s what makes us unique.’ (Submitted by Gwen Madiba)

During the pandemic, Madiba, who has modelled since she was a child and organized a number of fashion events, started a new clothing label called Sponsored by God in October 2020.

Her clothes have since been picked up by Beyonce’s stylist and LL Cool J’s team. But she says it’s seeing people like her, walking the streets of Ottawa wearing her trenches and sweats, that motivates her.

She says that after being rejected as a model at age 12 because she’s Black, she’s driven to make the fashion world more diverse.

“Everybody is fashion, everybody is part of fashion, everybody makes fashion. But also our city, Ottawa is fashion,” she explained.

“We have to learn to celebrate one another and celebrate our own local artists as well.”

A man and a video camera.

In his interview for this CBC Ottawa Creator Network piece, Chris Afolabi of streetwear label Severe Nature says he’d love to see more support for young creatives in Ottawa’s fashion community to put it on the map. (Ben Telford)

Support for young fashion creatives

That’s something Chris Afolabi would like to see more of. Ten years ago, he launched a streetwear label called Severe Nature, based in Ottawa and Nigeria.

He says it can be a struggle to find buyers in a city that bundles up for half the year. He also argues there could be more support for young creatives in Ottawa and Canada generally, so this place is recognized for its own kind of style.

A woman shows off her sewing.

Jessica Wong is a freelance designer for Severe Nature, a label based in Ottawa and Nigeria. (Ben Telford)

“I think as much as some people will say ‘Ottawa doesn’t have fashion.’ I like to say Ottawa has fashion, but we’re just trying to find the perfect direction for it,” he said.

Portraits of three men.

Creators Jacob Racco, left, and John Balser, right, worked with videographer Ben Telford, middle, to put together this video for CBC Ottawa’s Creator Network. (Submitted by Jacob Racco)

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