Joleen Mitton is proud of her Plains Cree, French, Scottish heritage. Born and bred in East Vancouver, BC, she spent 18 years traveling the world, working as a professional model. Joleen is the Owner/Operator of All My Relations Entertainment, a company that produces Indigenous Fashion shows with clothing designed by local Indigenous Designers and worn by models of First Nation/Metis and Inuit descent.
Although Joleen loved the art aspect of the fashion world she didn’t always agree with it and wanted more substance in her life. Now residing back in Vancouver where she’s dedicated to working with Indigenous communities through numerous non-profits; connecting through art, fashion and understanding. Through Producing Aboriginal Fashion Shows and Basketball Tournaments across the city, Joleen has succeeded in raising awareness for local indigenous fashion and the Native Basketball community by hosting tournament’s and producing Fashion shows in Vancouver.
Joleen is dedicated to improving the lives of people in her community, working intimately with a number of local non-profits, putting her PR, marketing, social media and producing skills to good use. Joleen works weekends with the Aboriginal Urban Butterflies Day Camp, a program for children in foster care and the Mentor Me program, which is for Native girl’s aging out of foster care, and somehow manages and plays on All My Relations women’s basketball team in her free time. “Basketball has done a lot for me” she says. “ It has connected me to my culture and got me through the tough times in my youth, don’t know where I’d be without it”.
There were no signs in my childhood that I was going to follow this path of becoming a model, I wanted to be a police officer. It wasn't a choice, it was more of a calling. One day I was picked out of a line up by a scout and the journey started. The passion for modelling came later after I had started traveling and working for a bit.
What (and when) did the inspiration arise to found Vancouver Indigenous Fashion week?
Indigenous Day in 2014 I was doing a fashion show that celebrated us. During the show there was a moment when a bunch of the youth ran up to the stage and were in awe of seeing their culture and people who looked exactly like them. I always knew we were underrepresented, but this was a turning point where I knew the indigenous youth needed more heroes to look up too.
What was the process to accomplish launching an event of this calibre? What roadblocks and/or hurdles did you face as you worked towards your first event?
The process of starting VIFW took 7 to 8 years to create. It took time and patience for it all come together as you see it today. Had to build all the necessary relationships and get people on board with it. Giving up on this dream when it seemed to be attainable would have been easy.
One of the biggest hurdles is still trying to convince organizations that showcasing Indigenous events, people and culture matter.
We have deep connections to the local host Nations and many other coastal Nations. As a proudly West Coast event, VIFW recognizes the vital role our oceans, lakes, and rivers play in shaping identity and history. With guidance from the Wisdom Circle, we’re exploring the connections between water and humanity, examining water as both kin and medicine, and the lessons we can learn from it,”
We are dedicated to celebrating Indigenous cultures, resilience, and creativity while embracing the teachings of our ancestors in a modern world. VIFW’s growth and reach is increasing every year and we are so grateful for the support we receive from everyone, Our audacious goal is to infuse the fashion industry with Indigenous values, and with every edition, we’re succeeding.
Can you offer a few highlights of what those attending can expect to see this season and a little bit about the theme for each night?
The theme for the overall event is We Are Water
Red dress night – It is one the events most powerful nights. It is in honour of our murdered and missing people. You can expect a lot of emotion in the crowd as well as resiliency and beauty in clothing. We haven't forgotten this ongoing genocide.
All My Relations — Traditional practices mixed with contemporary aesthetics. This year taking the runway will be Patricia Michaels with special model Tantoo Cardinal.
Indigenous Futures — Features streetwear designs that advocate for Indigenous Sovereignty. This night is about the youth and where we are going. Expect to see youth on the run way showcasing designs that represent themselves in art and fashion.
Spirits of the West Coast — Highlights the uniqueness of the land and its people. This night will showcase coastal designs at the highest level of creativity.
As this is your fourth edition, I would love to have you share a favourite story (or two) from previous events. Highlights that have become fond memories.
I created this event because of the youth, and I currently volunteer with a program called Girls who LEAP. Last year, I Invited the girls to come be part of the event. Leading up to them making their debut, they had multiple classes learning how to make moccasins with the end goal of wearing them on the runway. Why this is an important memory is because the youth is sacred, they are our future and using fashion as a vehicle is a way I used to protect them.