His father’s mother, who he called “mama,” would say that he’s been designing since the age of five on the backs of her bingo cards.
Now, Métis designer Evan Ducharme is one of 24 designers to be featured in Toronto’s inaugural Indigenous Fashion Week, coming up later this month.
His passion for clothing design came naturally as his “mama” was like the community seamstress in St. Ambroise, Man., where Ducharme grew up.
“Whenever she was sewing I’d sit next to her, fiddle around in her sewing box, look at all the treasures and the items that end up in there, and I would draw dresses with her,” said Ducharme.
“She really fostered that interest with me.”
Ducharme said he was lucky to grow up in a close family and community that supported him, something he said more Indigenous children need.
“I was very fortunate to grow up in a Métis community very much connected to my culture, hearing the language and seeing the caretaking of the land,” said Ducharme.
Both identity and place are elements that inform and inspire his designs, although this was not always the case.
Ducharme kept his culture and his design work separate for a long time.
“I really wanted to prove myself as a good designer outright before having given anybody the opportunity to say ‘Oh, he’s good for a native kid,'” he said.
That changed with the designs for his Origin collection in 2016. He drew inspiration from his experiences growing up, signalling a major shift in his approach.
“My work was feeling very impersonal and I just needed to put more of myself into it,” he said.
He said remembering the garments that the men in his family would wear going out on the land to hunt or fish and using elements of those to inform his own designs was a way to reclaim the masculine roles that he wasn’t a part of.
Making clothes for his community
His latest collection that will be shown in Toronto is Atavism: Revisited, which is based on his previous collection, Atavism, that was shown at Indigenous Fashion Week in Vancouver.
The collection is being revisited to look at the processes he followed in its creation, but edited down with some new pieces incorporated.
The pieces have a Métis influence from elements of his upbringing, made into practical pieces that can be worn as work-wear. He uses textiles that are ethically sourced and organic when possible.
Another influence on Ducharme’s designs is remembering LGBTQ Métis ancestors who may not have been able to live an open lifestyle.
“I try to honour those invisible queer ancestors as much as I can … because they had to live in silence. I get to be loud now,” said Ducharme.
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“I make clothes for my community now. I make clothes for Indigenous folks; I make clothes for my family. I make clothes about our stories and I make clothes about our struggle and our happiness and our joy.”
Toronto’s Indigenous Fashion Week takes place May 31 to June 3 at the Harbourfront Centre.