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by Karon Lui

Vanja Vasic sits in the dimly lit corner of the Ram in the Rye wearing a vintage blue ’50s housewife dress with a touch of Little House on the Prairie.

As the executive-director of Toronto Alternative Fashion Week (FAT), a five-day event beginning today, the third-year fashion student barely contains her excitement, spilling her beer as she talks.

“We’re the opposite of skinny. We’re FAT. We’re new and pushing the envelope of fashion. We have artists who are still in school and artists who are established in what they do. We want to see as much variety as possible. We don’t want to be the judges of fashion — we want you to decide.”

The first annual FAT provides an outlet for young artists looking to showcase their work in venues such as the OCAD Gallery and the Drake Hotel.

“It’s difficult to make a name for yourself. I wanted something where young people could get their start. L’Oréal Fashion Week (formerly Toronto Fashion Week) is for people who are already established. It’s important for young people to have an outlet,” Vasic said.

Vasic unveiled her first collection, X-Rated, on Fashion Television last year and completed an apprenticeship at the Hoax Couture fashion-design company.

When Vasic worked abroad for clothing company London Fake Genius last year, she saw London’s Alternative Fashion Week where fashion-school students would show their end-of-year projects.

Vasic wanted to make Toronto a fashion design capital and produce its own alternative fashion week to give young designers a push. When she came back to Toronto she prepared a book of potential show locations, recruited talent and students, created funding proposals and approached different galleries and spaces.

“From the people we expected support from, we didn’t get it. I contacted the Fashion Design Council of Canada and wrote a letter to president Robin Kay asking for her advice. After a long time I was scheduled to meet with her but she didn’t even show up. I was later told that she never even heard of the event. I felt insulted as a young designer.

“I also contacted the Toronto Economic Development office for fashion and I was told that FAT would bring competition to L’Oréal. It was a big disappointment.”

So Vasic looked to Ryerson, and contacted Donna Smith, associate dean for the faculty of communication and design, for funding help.

“When I see that our current students are getting involved in entrepreneurial activities outside of Ryerson, anyway that we can support them is wonderful,” Smith said. “My hat went off to Vanja for taking a leadership role along with Ryerson designers.”

As a result, Ryerson is a major sponsor of FAT not only in terms of funding, but also in talent and volunteers. More than half of the people with FAT are Ryerson students who are either volunteering or exhibiting their work in a show that was put together in four months.

Vasic said that guests should expect a lot of eye candy. Exhibits include paintings, photographs and clothes ranging from couture to street wear, as well as video installations and DJ sessions.

“This event will be modest but it needs to be done,” Vasic said.

FAT kicks off tonight at the Kabat-Wrobel Gallery at 11 p.m., running until Oct. 2.

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