School of Fashion alumna receives the Order of Canada

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By Samreen Maqsood

Susan Langdon, the executive director of the Toronto Fashion Incubator (TFI) and a Ryerson School of Fashion graduate, received the Order of Canada on Dec. 30, 2020. The Order is one of the country’s highest civilian honours and is awarded to those who have made significant contributions to the country.

Langdon was given the title for her contributions to the fashion industry as an executive, mentor and educator who has positively impacted Canada’s culture and economy. She is a Toronto-born, third-generation Japanese-Canadian, whose family was placed in prisoner internment camps in British Columbia during World War II. 

After graduating from Ryerson’s fashion design program in 1977, Langdon worked as a successful fashion designer. In 1994, she was appointed as the executive director of the TFI, becoming the first woman of colour to be hired in a leadership role in the Canadian fashion industry. 

“That was pretty groundbreaking back then,” said Langdon. “Nowadays, people don’t really think about it, but that wasn’t all that long ago, and it’s shocking to think that I was the first one,” she said. 

The TFI is a non-profit organization that supports Canadian fashion designers. According to Langdon, they offer resources and support to young designers starting their businesses, similar to Ryerson’s Fashion Zone.

“When I became the executive director, I think having somebody who’s [racialized] lead this organization really gave others confidence in our organization and they started joining,” said Langdon.

“We have to start nurturing [young, marginalized fashion designers] now”

In pursuing her education and career in fashion, Langdon faced racism and systemic barriers. “There has been always and continues to be, unfortunately, a racial bias against people of colour,” said Langdon.

Her parents couldn’t pay for her tuition, leaving Langdon to save up her summer job earnings and rely on OSAP grants to pay for school. For her and many other racialized people, that was the only way to get into Ryerson and attain a post-secondary education. “I would assume a lot of BIPOC people don’t come from wealthy families. I was lucky; as an undergraduate, I won a few awards that came with some money,” she said.   

“We have to start nurturing [young, marginalized fashion designers] now”

Langdon said there should be more grants and incentives for young racialized students interested in pursuing careers in their fields. Without extra support and funding, it may be hard for underprivileged students, including those interested in fashion, to kickstart their careers, she said. 

Providing support for young, marginalized fashion designers would “give them a step ahead” in entering a predominantly white industry and making their own mark, Langdon said.  

“By overlooking this group [and] underestimating their talents, the Canadian fashion industry or the fashion industry at large globally are going to miss out on some of the best talents in the world. We have to start nurturing them now.” 

Langdon worked on programs to provide this kind of support throughout her career. In the early 2000s, she organized Passion for Fashion, a youth entrepreneurship program in partnership with the TFI and Youth Employment Services. The program ran for six months and produced distinguished alumni like Sage Paul, the founder of Indigenous Fashion Week.

Langdon later revamped the program into Fashion Your Future, a free summer boot camp for racialized youth in Regent Park. It’s a project she takes a lot of pride in—many businesses that came from this program went on to be very successful, said Langdon. “A lot of those businesses are still functioning, they’re still selling. That makes me quite happy.”  

Through her work on an international scale, Langdon put Canadian fashion on a global stage. She worked with designers like Line The Label, a fashion line that has dressed members of the Royal Family, including Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle. 

Recently, Langdon has been working on Showroom Canada, a business-to-business wholesale digital platform that will connect Canadian fashion companies with 200,000 global retailers. The program—in collaboration with the Canadian High Commission in the United Kingdom, Global Affairs Canada, the Department of Canadian Heritage and London Fashion Week—intends to expand Canadian fashion outside of North America and into the United Kingdom. 

Showroom is set to launch on Feb. 16 on an online business platform called Joor. 

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