At Vancouver Indigenous Fashion Week, Red Dresses Carried a Powerful Message

The arresting color red boldly calls attention to the important movement, though it also has spiritual significance (in Indigenous culture, red transcends the physical world). “Red represents the fire of our people—a flame that can never be extinguished, no matter how hard it gets,” says Yolonda Skelton, a Gitxsan designer who created a gown made of precious metals and suede. She also incorporated imagery of a phoenix onto her design. “The phoenix itself is a symbol of rebirth, resilience, and transformation. It represents the strength and resilience of Indigenous women, girls and [Two-Spirit people], and their ability to rise above adversity.”

A model wears a look by Helen Oro.

Photographed by Alana Paterson


Since 2017, the annual Vancouver Indigenous Fashion Week (VIFW) has served as a crucial platform for Indigenous designers to showcase their contemporary designs. More than just an array of fabulous fashions (though it is that, too), VIFW is a space that’s created for Indigenous people by Indigenous people. Founder Joleen Mitton, who is Plains Cree, established it as an event that fosters community, collaboration, and even healing. A prime example of the latter is VIFW’s annual Red Dress showcase, which was held on Monday night as this year’s official kick-off event. “The Red Dress event is part of our healing process,” Mitton tells Vogue. “At the opening night of every VIFW, we come together as a community and we honor our departed loved ones. We come together to remember and celebrate.”

VIFW’s Red Dress showcase draws inspiration from Métis artist Jaime Black’s REDress Project, a national art movement in Canada that utilizes red dresses to represent the thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and Two-Spirit (MMIWG2S) people in the country. Indigenous groups in Canada continue to be disproportionately affected by violence; From 2015 to 2020, the average homicide rate involving Indigenous victims was six times higher than non-Indigenous victims. At Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Native designers were asked to create red designs that drew attention to this ongoing epidemic. “The red dress has become a powerful symbol of remembrance and a call for justice,” says Mitton. “Recognizing and addressing this issue is crucial for the well-being and safety of the community.”