Welcome to My Story, our weekly series championing creatives of colour and their paths to success.
On September 24, 2021, a new annual awards gala is coming to town, and it’s saluting Black excellence within Canada’s fashion and beauty industries. Set to be held at Toronto’s Parkview Manor (increased gathering limits pending), the Black Fashion & Beauty Gala is geared towards celebrating local Black creatives and Black-owned businesses and its nominations, which open up on January 1st, 2021, span 12 different categories – think photography, makeup artistry, fashion design, fashion retail and much more. The new awards ceremony is the passion project of Ann-Marie Daniel Barker, a seasoned Toronto-based fashion and event stylist who’s been working in the industry for over two decades. The idea of uplifting and championing local Black Canadian talent was heavily influenced by her own career journey and what she’s witnessed, she shares. “What I find within Canada is that it’s a whole journey breaking into the [fashion and beauty] industry for Black individuals. When I started out, to crack into it, oh my goodness, it was the hardest thing! It wasn’t until I actually left the country and went to the States that I finally got my break. It wasn’t in Toronto.” She adds that her passion for such a celebration, which has a huge focus on mentoring future talent through bursaries and workshops, has been festering in her mind for quite some time and that she really began hitting the ground running in the wake of the recent urgent push for racial reform across the globe.
Here, Ann-Marie shares, in her own words, more about the personal life events that led her to create the much-welcomed Black Fashion & Beauty Gala and how her event is structured.
On past encounters that led to her idea brewing:
“I ran into a young woman in downtown Toronto some years ago during the middle of winter. She was a homeless Black girl without a winter coat and she stopped me. Often we just walk by people begging but, whatever it was, something drew me to her and I decided to turn back and talk to her. I was running to a meeting and there was a coffee shop close to where we were standing so I said to her, ‘If you want to sit in the coffee shop until I’m done, I’ll come back and look for you.’ When I came back, she was there waiting and we ended up having the longest conversation ever into her life and story. Her story was one that I found was very tragic and my heart just bled for her. I also asked her what it is she wished to do in life. She told me she loved fashion and always wanted to be a fashion designer, but that no one ever believed in her. No one has ever given her a chance. That wherever she goes, there’s always a door in her face. While sitting there listening to her story, I saw a part of me in her: the younger me in her. That struck a cord with me. Right at that point, I told myself that I’m going to take a chance on her because I also thought that, as a Black women myself, if I were in those shoes, I would have liked someone to give me a helping hand. I ended up finding her a place to stay and put her through school. She’s now living in New York and studying fashion design. I remember her saying to me, that day, ‘I promise you I will make you proud. You won’t regret it.’ And I have to say, I am very proud of her because she’s come a long way and is still going through the process.
While going through all of that, I also started hearing stories from other young people about how much passion they have for the fashion industry and that they want to break in, but it’s very tough.”
On the lack of Black representation which kept her idea wheels churning:
“I also realized that there’s nothing here in Canada recognizing and acknowledging Black creatives — period — and Black people within the industry say the same thing to me. One day I just sat down and thought through what was missing and came up with the idea [for an awards gala] some years ago, but it just was never the right timing for me: I was super busy with work and traveling all the time so was never in one place long enough. But now, with Covid, everything is on hold. Then the whole Black Lives Matter movement came about, too, and one night I was lying in my bed and the idea came back to me — that this was the time to resurrect it. I started making phone calls and before I knew it, a team was created and we started the process of planning the whole concept and putting it together.”
On why mentoring matters to the Black Fashion & Beauty Gala:
“One of the very important aspects of the awards for me is the mentorship portion and the bursaries because I feel that it is so important that we’re able to help, build and foster the younger generation by creating a platform for them. [Previous generations] have done it already — and are still doing it — so how do we go about creating something within the industry that gives up-and-coming talent a blueprint or road path. Something that makes it tad bit easier for them to crack into the industry and follow their dreams. The mentorship program would be an ongoing, monthly thing where we have workshops with industry professionals. They’d come in to facilitate and guide attendees. Right now I’m working on the outline and with the city of Toronto who is offering some support. Cloré Beauty Supply is one of our official sponsors for the awards ceremony and they have stressed that they would love to partner on the mentorship program as well.”
On how the BFBG bursary program will work:
“The bursaries will go towards up-and-comers who are going to school at a credited college and studying something related to the industry. It can be any program, as long as it’s fashion or beauty-geared and incorporates business. I put the business course element in there because I think that’s integral: One needs to know how to balance the books and run a business. How we’ve structured our bursary program is the public can apply and we have a team working on setting the criteria for the bursary that applicants will have to follow. We will then award the bursary winner on the night of the award show, which will be $5,000. For our first year, there will be one winner and we have decided not to give the funds directly to the individual. Instead, we’d like to arrange to give the funds directly over to the credited institution to ensure that we can be accountable for every dollar that’s going out from our sponsors. We structured it that way to maintain control and ensure that the funds are going directly towards what they were meant to. That not a dollar is going elsewhere. We also felt that the bursary can go towards someone who is starting their own business within the industry or a pre-existing business looking to rebrand, grow inventory, etc. So [education and entrepreneurship] will fall under the bursary program.
We plan to also follow up throughout the year to see how the recipient is doing and at the next awards gala, the goal is to have the previous recipient come up and talk about their bursary and how [the experience] has been for them.”
On the BFBG nomination process:
“The public can go in and nominate who they think is the best in whichever category. When nominations close, we collect all that data and there will be four people per category selected as finalists. We will notify them and images of those individuals will be posted on the website. The voting process will then open, and the public can go back and vote for their favourite. We’re really stressing that nominations are Canada-wide and not just Toronto-centric. On the night of the ceremony, each winner will receive a custom-designed statuette in the shape of the BFBG logo.”
On the response she’s received so far pre-awards gala:
“I have to say, the responses so far have been really wonderful. We’ve been getting a lot of direct messages and a lot of phone calls from people within the industry. People are very excited about the entire concept of feeling like they’re being acknowledged. Almost every message or call that comes in states, ‘This is long needed.’ That having this platform is a way for Black individuals [within the industry] to finally get their shine. That’s really and truly what this is about: to acknowledge and showcase the many talents within Canada’s Black community. This is also to show Canadian companies and agencies that we’re here — that you don’t have to hire and bring in Black talent from the US. We have that right here in Canada. Yes the States has a lot of great talent, but we’d like some of the opportunities to stay here. Open up that door and let [the opportunities] flood in. I’m very passionate about that.”
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